There Came a Soul

By Rita Dove b. 1952 Rita Dove

After IVAN ALBRIGHT’s Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida

She arrived as near to virginal
as girls got in those days—i.e., young,
the requisite dewy cheek
flushed at its own daring.
He had hoped for a little more edge.
But she held the newspaper rolled like a scepter,   
his advertisement turned up to prove
she was there solely at his bidding—and yet
the gold band, the photographs ... a mother, then.

He placed her in the old garden chair,   
the same one he went to evenings
when the first tug on the cord sent the bulb   
swinging like the lamps in the medic’s tent
over the wounded, swaddled shapes that moaned   
each time the Screaming Meemies let loose,   
their calculated shrieks so far away
he thought of crickets—while all around him   
matted gauze and ether pricked up
an itch so bad he could hardly sketch   
each clean curve of tissue opening.
I shut my eyes, walk straight to it.
Nothing special but it’s there, wicker   
fraying under my calming fingers.

What if he changed the newspaper into a letter,   
then ripped it up and tucked the best part
from view? How much he needed that desecrated   
scrap! And the red comb snarled with a few   
pale hairs for God in his infinite greed
to snatch upon like a hawk targeting a sparrow—
he couldn’t say At least I let you keep your hair
so he kept to his task, applying paint
like a bandage to the open wound.

Pretty Ida, out to earn a penny
for her tiny brood.
He didn’t mask the full lips
or the way all the niggling fears
of an adolescent century
shone through her hesitant eyes,
but he painted the room out, blackened   
every casement, every canvas drying   
along the wall, even the ailing coffeepot   
whose dim brew she politely refused,   
until she was seated
as he had been, dropped
bleak and thick,
onto the last chair in the world.

Rita Dove, “There Came a Soul” from Transforming Vision: Writers on Art (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Rita Dove. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Museum (1983)

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Poet Rita Dove b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Money & Economics, Parenthood, Photography & Film, Living, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Rita  Dove


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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Money & Economics, Parenthood, Photography & Film, Living, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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