The Bistro Styx

By Rita Dove b. 1952 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 bearded 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.

Rita Dove, “The Bistro Styx” from Mother Love. Copyright © 1995 by Rita Dove. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Mother Love (1995)

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Poet Rita Dove b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Parenthood, Eating & Drinking, Painting & Sculpture, Living, Activities, Arts & Sciences, Mythology & Folklore, Heroes & Patriotism

Poetic Terms Sonnet

 Rita  Dove

Biography

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952, the daughter of one of the first black chemists in the tire industry. Dove was encouraged to read widely by her parents, and excelled in school. She was named a Presidential Scholar, one of the top one hundred high-school graduates in the country and attended Miami University in Ohio as a National Merit Scholar. After graduating, Dove received a Fulbright to study at the University of . . .

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SUBJECT Parenthood, Eating & Drinking, Painting & Sculpture, Living, Activities, Arts & Sciences, Mythology & Folklore, Heroes & Patriotism

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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