Here’s another of the Sheldon Museum poems, this one about a portrait of an extraordinarily handsome man that hangs upstairs in the Sheldon’s office space. There are a few letters of his in the archives, too. He died fairly young, in Paris. One woman who viewed the portrait was heard to say, “He could only have been shot by a jealous husband.”
PORTRAIT OF DAVID NICHOLS, ARTIST UNKNOWN
What is the use of a person’s living if he can’t enjoy himself?
None! say I–and if one can’t enjoy themselves
when they are in the bloom of life,
when can they?
~D. N. in a letter to Dugald Stewart, Dec. 28, 1841
Did I meet your ghost in Paris–
slim shadow brushing by that night
on the street in Montmartre?
I like the way you look at me
after all these years.
That rose that fell
from the balcony in Pigalle
and landed at my feet–did it drop
from your long fantomatique
fingers? Maybe it was your esprit
in terrible French as I sunned
in a green chair in the Tuileries.
Your breath on my neck while I lingered
in the café drinking red wine
and watching the moon . . .
I want to run my hands through your hair,
trace the shape of your long nose.
Was it your spectre I glimpsed, waving
an immaculate handkerchief
from the Arc de Triomphe?
I’m glad you died
in Paris. Vermont was too small
for your élégance, exubérance,
“real Yankee” though you claimed to be.
It was “utterly impossible to raise a dance”
here in winter, and I cannot imagine
you in Vermont, in winter, not dancing.
There’s something about the gleam
in your eye and–oh, I don’t know–
your Mona Lisa smile.