The Bistro Styx
by Rita Dove, from Mother Love

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

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
thatís 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 Iím late," she panted, though
she wasnít, sliding into the chair, her cape

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

"Howís business?" I asked, and hazarded
a motherly smile to keep from crying out:
Are you content to conduct your life
as a cliché and, whatís worse,

an anachronism, the brooding artistís 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 admirationÖ"

    The Chateaubriand

arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute
in its fragrant crust, a black pug 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 weíve managed
to support our Art"--meaning heíd convinced

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

by rabid cocker spaniels. "Iíd love to come by
the studio," I ventured, "and see the new stuff."
"Yes, if you wishÖ" A delicate rebuff

before the warning: "He dresses all
in black now. Me, he drapes in blues and carmine--
and even though I think itís 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 Parisí
dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue
wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral.

"And he never thinks of food. I wish
I didnít have to plead with him to eatÖ" Fruit
and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes.

I stuck with café creme. "This Camembertís
so ripe," she joked, "itís 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,
smeared every 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."
Iíve lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.

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