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Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man II, 1960

Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man II, 1960, bronze, Gift of Enid A. Haupt, 1977.47.7

A Walking Man

Ilya Kaminsky

“Giacometti is not working for his contemporaries, nor for the future generations: he is creating statues to delight the dead.” –Jean Genet


Perhaps you too, upon seeing Giacometti’s “Walking Man,” 
will run from the National Gallery of Art hollering 
into the Potomac, will strip 
off your shirt— 
as you splash, the gulls will 
toss your pants back and forth 
making a game 
of what cannot 
be eaten. 

Perhaps you too have an enormous, impolite need to drink with the long-legged statue, but no  
beverages are allowed in the gallery & even Giacometti’s  
“Walking Man” is afraid of the guard & wishes  
him bird droppings in his hair. 

Between the flashes of tourist cameras, I 
see it: Giacometti’s “Walking Man” is 
a political 

A public lecture 
on how people’s 
souls are unbandaged and how  
we will die of them. 

The air is raw with joy. 
Sit, heart, rest  
from the soul’s south-west 
Why so much life? 
I don’t know what to do with less! 

I have given up all I have 
to the giver of bread and breath. 

Outside, Washington DC 
is a theater where police vans play the role of police vans 
and senators pretend to be senators 
a taxi makes a city more a city 
and boys still don’t read except for what is written on women’s t-shirts. 

At 10 am, the gallery opens and you zigzag between  
our nation’s most important people parading between important 
paintings. Someone’s 
camera flashes— 
a politician 
hurries by as if he were 
Giacometti’s “Walking Man” 
but he looks more like a well punched  
bus ticket. 

Why so much life? 
I don’t know what to do with less 
I have given up all I have. 

When I die, 
find me at the National Gallery of Art 
I’ll be flat on the floor 
in front of Giacometti’s “Walking Man” 
a little flask of lemon vodka in my pocket  
I want the last joy of putting my cheek 
to the stone floor 
of whispering 
you in whom I do not believe, hello.


Please note: We have tried to preserve the formatting of poems, but some devices may distort how text appears. Read the poem in its original formatting here.

Top image: Visitors cross a bridge in the National Gallery’s East Building Atrium next to Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man II.

Ilya Kaminsky

Professor of creative writing, Princeton University

September 15, 2023