Rita Dove

Agosta the Winged Man
and Rasha the Black Dove

Schad paced the length of his studio
and stopped at the wall,
at a blank space. Behind him
the clang and hum of Hardenbergstrasse, its
automobiles and organ grinders.
                                                    Quarter to five.
His eyes traveled
to the plaster scrollwork
on the ceiling. Did that
                                     hold back heaven?
He could not leave his skin — once
he’d painted himself in a new one,
silk green, worn
like a shirt.
                  He thought
of Rasha, so far from Madagascar,
turning slowly in place as 
the boa constrictor
coiled counterwise its
                                    heavy love. How
the spectators gawked, exhaling
beer and sour herring sighs.
When the tent lights dimmed.
Rasha went back to her trailer and plucked
a chicken for dinner.
                                 The canvas

not his eye, was merciless.
He remembered Katja the Russian
aristocrat, late
for every sitting,
                           still fleeing
the October Revolution —
how she clutched her sides
and said not 
                   one word. Whereas Agosta

(the doorbell rang)
was always on time, lip curled
as he spoke in wonder of women
backstage to offer him
the consummate bloom of their lust.

Schad would place him
on a throne, a white sheet tucked
over his loins, the black suit jacket
thrown off like a cloak.
Agosta had told him
                                 of the medical students
at the Charité,
that chill arena
                        where he perched on
a cot, his torso
exposed, its crests and fins
a colony of birds, trying
to get out…
                   and the students
lumps caught
in their throats, taking notes.

Ah, Rasha’s
                   foot on the stair.
She moved slowly, as if she carried
the snake around her body
she brought fresh eggs into
the studio, flecked and
warm as breath.
                               Agosta in
classical drapery, then,
and Rasha at his feet.
Without passion. Not
the canvas
                 but their gaze,
                 so calm,
was merciless.