Postcard Gallery

Thumbing through glossies gleaned from countless trips
– Old Master paintings, drawings, and prints reduced
to four-by-six impressions – we’re induced
to walk through pictures. Unmoored, the mind’s eye slips

through memory’s gilded frame and into halls
of house museums, sets sail down chapel aisles,
funiculates up hilltop towns, recalls
clear vistas, plein-air sketches stretching for miles.

Dear travel mate, you’ve made a long career
of recollected dates and artists’ names:
collect with me more shoebox souvenirs
to bring back home. The art of travel frames

our lives in postcards, years of unsorted, dog-
eared archives, the painted ground of travelogue.

 

At the Louvre

One summer I trekked through Greek antiquity,
exploring reconstructed Attic pots,
poring through metope fragments grouped in lots
in rooms arranged in strict chronology.

Another year French paintings were surveyed
– gold grounds, Fouquet, the schools of Fontainebleau,
Poussin, La Tour, Le Nain, Boucher, Watteau –
each label read, the audioguide replayed.

But you, my connoisseur, afford new ease.
Whether Chinese porcelains, Flemish tapestries,
Italian frescoes, sub-Saharan masks,

or German altarpieces, your practiced eye
and learnèd breadth will casually supply
answers to questions I didn’t know to ask.

 

Le Sens de la Visite

Bulletproof glass recessed into the wall
is strobe-flashed by a mob of paparazzi
cordoned behind rope stanchions, straining, antsy
to edge still closer, catch a glimpse. That’s all

that can be seen from across the room, our backs
to Veronese’s wall-wide Wedding at Cana:
a swarm abuzz before the shrine of Mona,
the ultimate gold brick bunkered in Fort Knox.

So what are we all looking at? Curators
privy to her frameless in the lab
report that her sfumato smile’s intact,

but no one milling here can tell if craters
of concentric craquelure disturb
the diva’s features, her beauty just an act.

 

Still Life with Figs
after Luis Meléndez (1716-1780)

To cleanse our palates of Baroque machines,
you motion to an unassuming nook
most passersby and paid guides overlook,
partitioned space where hangs the seldom seen

enhancement of earthbound matter made serene.
Against a background brown with Spanish silence,
chiaroscuro’s mystifying science
casts basket, loaf, green figs in a subtle sheen.

Arrested by these lucent elements
whose tactile volumes optically project
beyond the picture plane from a depth of space

that draws us in, we search for evidence
of a shaping hand: the maker who perfects
real presence in oil on canvas as if by grace.

 

Café Scene

Shall we proceed according to our plan
now that we’ve eaten omelets, salades vertes,
and read the Herald Tribune? Or just command
more wine and let the street parade divert

us from another self-conducted tour
of one more two-star Gothic church set forth
by Michelin? Why bother to demur?
Shouldn’t we, ensconced, play this for all it’s worth?

Bless Baedeker! For now let’s not contrive
one more grand tour. The locals take delight
in where we are, so let’s people-watch till five.

No need for one more recommended sight,
our tickets punched as tourist cognoscenti.
I recommend rosé. Drink up! There’s plenty.

 

Brad Whitehurst is a native of Richmond, Virginia. He lives in New York City, where he teaches at the Nightingale-Bamford School. He earned degrees in English from the College of Willliam and Mary (B.A.), Georgetown University (M.A.), and Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English (M.Litt.).  His poems have been published in Shenandoah, Meridian, The Sewanee Theological Review, and other venues.

 

These poems are among the entries for the Society of Classical Poets’ 2012 Poetry Competition.

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