Alec Soth's Archived Blog

January 26, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 1:38 am

I’m currently in Paris. Working like a dog (no time to blog) – but eating like a prince.

The Bistro Styx
by Rita Dove

She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her. What’s this,

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that’s when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a kittenish cashmere skirt and cowl

down to the graphite signature of her shoes.
“Sorry I’m late,” she panted, though
she wasn’t, sliding into the chair, her cape

tossed off in a shudder of brushed steel.
We kissed. Then I leaned back to peruse
my blighted child, this wary aristocratic mole.

“How’s business?” I asked, and hazarded
a motherly smile to keep from crying out:
Are you content to conduct your life
as a cliché and, what’s worse,

an anachronism, the brooding artist’s demimonde?
Near the rue Princesse they had opened
a gallery cum souvenir shop which featured
fuzzy off-color Monets next to his acrylics, no doubt,

plus beared African drums and the occasional miniature
gargoyle from Notre Dame the Great Artist had
carved at breakfast with a pocket knife.

“Tourists love us. The Parisians, of course”–
she blushed–“are amused, though not without
a certain admiration . . .”
The Chateaubriand

arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute
in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming
like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy;
one touch with her fork sent pink juices streaming.

“Admiration for what?” Wine, a bloody
Pinot Noir, brought color to her cheeks. “Why,
the aplomb with which we’ve managed
to support our Art”–meaning he’d convinced

her to pose nude for his appalling canvases,
faintly futuristic landscapes strewn
with carwrecks and bodies being chewed

by rabid cocker spaniels. “I’d like to come by
the studio,” I ventured, “and see the new stuff.”
“Yes, if you wish . . .” A delicate rebuff

before the warning: “He dresses all
in black now. Me, he drapes in blues and carmine–
and even though I think it’s kinda cute,
in company I tend toward more muted shades.”

She paused and had the grace
to drop her eyes. She did look ravishing,
spookily insubstantial, a lipstick ghost on tissue,
or as if one stood on a fifth-floor terrace

peering through a fringe of rain at Paris
dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue
wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral.

“And he never thinks of food. I wish
I didn’t have to plead with him to eat. . . .” Fruit
and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes.

I stuck with café crème. “This Camembert’s
so ripe,” she joked, “it’s practically grown hair,”
mucking a golden glob complete with parsley sprig
onto a heel of bread. Nothing seemed to fill
her up: She swallowed, sliced into a pear,

speared each tear-shaped lavaliere
and popped the dripping mess into her pretty mouth.
Nowhere the bright tufted fields, weighted

vines and sun poured down out of the south.
“But are you happy?” Fearing, I whispered it
quickly. “What? You know, Mother”–

she bit into the starry rose of a fig–
“one really should try the fruit here.”
I’ve lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.


  1. Well, if you’re in London I’ll buy ya lunch

    Comment by Tom — January 26, 2007 @ 4:24 am

  2. God, that poem is sad. Or maybe it’s just my own maternal melancholy. But it made me cry and that is a testimony to the brilliance of the poet!

    Comment by Renee — January 26, 2007 @ 8:51 am

  3. Il you are in Paris and if you like food try this places:

    “L’Ami Jean” 27 rue Malar 7e. Basque food, friendly, creative. Reservation.

    “The kitchen Galerie” Little bit expansive, but new tastes, fantastic.

    Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte 6e. Macaron and Hot chocolate for tea time.

    Completely different but interesting, the popular “Roi du Fallafel” rue des Rosiers 4e, to eat your fallafel in the street…If you are walking around.
    “Le New Newlaville” 32 rue Orillon 11e. China’s food, popular, out of time..
    Have a good time.

    Comment by François — January 27, 2007 @ 7:53 am

  4. One more reason never to have kids

    Hope Paris is well.

    Nick (formerly of magnum).

    Comment by Nick — January 28, 2007 @ 12:08 am

  5. In Paris agog,
    you work like a dog,
    without time to blog,
    but eat like a frog.

    Comment by Media Mike — January 29, 2007 @ 8:58 am

  6. Oh this is a lovely book to read – Dove’s book, Mother Love, I think, no? Where she takes the Persephone myth and applies it first to her separation from her mother and then her daughter’s from herself. I forget whether Paris is earth or the underworld, but it must be earth/spring (of course). I am remembering this imperfectly as I read it several years ago now, but this poem here reminds me that I should go find it and read it again. Which I will. Enjoy the food.

    Comment by J Ake — February 9, 2007 @ 10:11 am

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