"The Exile's Home Gallery"

A poem by Elise Partridge

One ancient bayside city in a balmy palette:
peach façades, a fuchsia door,
boys flipping open a creel.
Five shirts take their ease on a jigging clothesline, 
white sleeves buoyant and secure.

Virgil was schooled here,
just beyond this etching.
How hard, the next pastel suggests, to leave any city
that invented opera buffa,
not to mention the mandolin.

Three hallway maps immortalize
hamlets in baroque fonts.
Trees neat as a row of asterisks
fleck a diagrammed bosque.
Mountains look cozy as tents

ringing another town, settled in shuttles
of Celts, Slavs, Germans —
Paleo-trench to oppidum to stockade;
its Bohemia became renowned 
as a magicians’ haven.

But Nero summered in one city,
shelling unroofed two more;
that bosque gardener’s son
couldn’t rise (and who even thought of
the mapmaker’s daughter?), 

coins weren’t worth bottlecaps,
plague deployed rat-tailed crews,
farms shrivelled with famine, and streets
where prayer-shawls had fluttered three hundred years
were cleared of Jews.

Just one painting by an amateur:
pads of cumuli;
heeling on cobalt waves, a brown skiff.
Those watching it tilt, weeping, 
can’t catch the voyager’s eye —

a girl in black — thin arms — 
gazes toward no sign of land.
Her face is turned away;
she grips a jolting tiller 
in her too-small hand. 

“The Exiles’ Home Gallery” is from The Exiles’ Gallery copyright ⓒ 2015 by ELISE PARTRIDGE. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press, Toronto. www.houseofanansi.com