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Ask Venus if she’s a myth?
She’ll say to you, “Why don’t you try me?”
She’ll ask if you’re another poet
like Homer, or Ovid, or Shakespeare,
rutting around to find metaphors
or, like Mars, worth her intimacy?
That’s how it began for me.
She showed up at my studio door
wearing a provocative pose
and asking if I know how to draw?
“I hear you’re looking for a model,”
she said, “and I am out of print.”
She was sick of the words poets write,
“all those bards who treat me as chattel
and blinded by their misogyny
call my passions adulterous,
wanton, lewd, lascivious, and worse!
I warned that lecherous, lame old man,
Vulcan, if they forced me to wed him
I’d make a brothel of his bed,
I’d break his blacksmith heart and the laws
of Father, Husband, and the Male Gaze.
My first lover was his brother Mars.
They say he seduced me but the stars
watched him lose his heart
and drop his pants,
invoking me with oaths and rants.
Shakespeare said I ‘foiled the god of fight,’
and called him ‘captive to my coy disdain.’
I made him rage like a minotaur
and weep like a conquered god of war,
and love as love was not made before.”
Without warning she was standing nude,
filling space with her attitude,
arranging her figure in a pose
that made her stillness acrobatic
and the act of drawing fraught with risk.
I stared for an eternity
as I dipped my pen into dark ink
and felt the impossibility
of seeing her, right before my eyes.
The more I stared the less I could see.
Without moving she stepped out of time
and slid my hand across the blank sheet
as if it were her unmade bed.
Metaphor or not, I thought, I’m screwed,
but she leaped back into her body
laughing as she said, “Just draw me, dude.”
She liked my draftsmanship enough
to trust me with more of her story,
“a pack of lies, rumors and bad press
penned by men with no stomach for sex
that outburns the sun’s eye and breaks
their palsied grip on power.”
She showed me her publicity
— all those old literary clippings
from concupiscent classic texts
on the scandal of Venus and Mars
and other such sordid love affairs.
Homer was first to make her love lewd,
leaving out of his telling how she
was given away to pay a debt
her father owed blackhearted Vulcan,
his wife’s misbegotten, cast-off son.
In the Odyssey Homer blamed Mars who
“with adulterous lust
The bed dishonoured of the King of Fire.
The sun, a witness of their amorous sport,
Bore swift the tale to Vulcan; he apprised
Of that foul deed, at once his smithy sought,
In secret darkness of his inmost soul
Contriving vengeance....he forged a snare
Of bands indissoluble, by no art
To be untied, durance for ever firm.
The net prepared, he bore it, fiery-wroth,
To his own chamber and his nuptial couch,
Where, stretching them from post to post, he wrapped
With those fine meshes all his bed around,
And hung them numerous from the roof, diffused
Like spiders’ filaments, which not the Gods
Themselves could see....”
Venus, reading these lines with a sneer,
asked why Homer had no words to spare
for unbridled love, for love laid bare
on a bed set ablaze with the fire
of a wild stallion and wilder mare ?
She had no more stomach for Ovid’s
telling in his Metamorphoses,
although she liked the way it ended:
"Now when that Venus and hir mate were met in bed together
Hir husband by his newfound snare before conveyed thither
Did snarle them both togither fast in middes of all theyr play
And setting ope the Ivorie doores, callde all the Gods streight way
To see them: they with shame inough fast lockt togitrher lay.
A certaine God among the rest disposed for sport
Did wish that he himselfe also were shamed in that sort.
The resdue laught....”
The shame was Vulcan’s, she said, not ours.
He freed us for a ransom and thought
he was the hero of this myth,
parading like some cock of the walk,
as the gods guffawed behind his back.
He sleeps alone in an empty cave
while unrestrained Mars and Venus unbound
give lovers their dreams of making love.
Then Venus gave me a fiery look,
drew close and said, “I need a new book.”
She liked all the movement in my art,
my paintings of acrobats in flight
sensuously tumbling into light.
“That’s what making love with Mars is like,”
she said. “You will draw us together.”
When they arrived in my studio,
by some magic only the gods know,
walls dissolved into geometries
of a new space where I discovered
the story no words have ever told,
told here in paint.
Note: Translation from the Odyssey by William Cowper, 1791. Translation from Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding, 1567.