Nike of Samothrace

—Her fish scales, her chains, the woman’s headless                                  
wings and blown

tunic of Parian marble. —The wet-see-thru
camisole. By sea she’s

arrived, lighting on the ship’s prow. One leg
thrust forward, the draped sails

of robes. (Somewhere near, between defeat and prayer, a drive-by
shooting. —The candy thrown around the body, the ambulance. They stole

the dead girl’s dog, while far away outside Jakarta
in sweatshops some work for 20 cents an hour, and there’s

one with his mouth taped shut in sunlight.) From a sanctuary
she was unearthed and taken to the Louvre

where on the grand Daru staircase she stands, stolen, moving           
in several directions at once.


Copyright © 2022 by Mark Irwin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 8, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

Nike of Samothrace, one of the most captivating works of art in the Louvre Museum, also presents the goddess of Victory as captive, a sad reminder of colonialism. Originally excavated in 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace by the French vice-consul and amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau, she now rests atop the museum’s Daru Staircase, as if just alighted there, elegantly windswept, and headless—a metaphor whose terrifying irony suggests that beauty may make us temporarily forget, but cannot hide the violence and dark secrets of history, secrets no different from the exploitations of capitalism, where chic athletic shoes are assembled in foreign sweatshops. I originally drafted this poem in Paris.”
Mark Irwin