A laurel wreath of gold encircling his head,
Napoleon holds aloft a bejeweled crown
for her, for Josephine, who kneels
three shallow steps below him. We who know
scarcely a living soul in the gallery know
who they are, that pair in matching regalia
(crimson velvet busy with golden bees
and ermine-plush) and snap salutes
with our smartphones. Those others who dwarf us?
A card on the wall depicts them in outline,
each of them boasting a number that goes to a name
on a list. If only one could worm his way
through this too solid throng … though who among us
will not swear in a foreign tongue that he’s melting?
You turn, and she, whose name you read,
Madame Récamier reclines on a sofa.
White muslin tumbling from her crossed ankles lures
the eye to her feet, while the see-through sleeve invites …
Her stare defies you to run your gaze
along that bare forearm to those bare feet.
A black hair band … restrains you say to yourself
as though the curls were writhing. Nesting rather. Sets
them off—as does this other’s red
hair ribbon. Red too the sash around her waist.
White sleeveless gown (a peplos, yes?) baring a shoulder,
Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun
enfolds in long, white arms her nine-year-old
Julie, whose arms, in blue short sleeves,
encircle her mother’s bare, white neck.
Faces with names that turn your way, whose stares
you return—you aim your phone. Each time I do,
she’s there, an older woman,
her brown hair yielding to gray at the temples—one
my age. All right, whoever you are
in your black skinny jeans, white poet blouse,
I’ll snap you too. A glance my way, a nod,
and off she scoots. At whatever paint-fixed face
I aim because its look has caught her eye,
at whatever face with a name, away she shies.
A distant gallery offers lunch
on a shiny salver, a herring, which eyes me, a roll
on the wooden table, Rhine wine
in a tall, thin flute (and an earthenware pitcher).
Now there’s a snack with ham, rolls too
and … are they bagels? and sliced brown bread,
a wheel of yellow cheese and one of white,
the carved cold joint in a clove-studded jacket of fat
arranged on a wooden table, on creased
white linen, from which a knife extends
to me its pewter handle. After all,
how could I not be hungry? I’m hungry for real.
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