Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Nightingale-Bamford School, New York, NY
Educator: Maggie Tobin
VENUS USED TO BE A GODDESS OF LOVE BUT NOW SHE’S JUST A PILE OF BONES (The Male Gaze & Other Tragedies)
I know that you are trying to piece yourself together.
I remember back on the sweaty blue gym floors,
the mats that were never quite as soft
as you thought they were going to be when you fell into them
shoulder-first, I remember when they told us
that we would be prone to tunnel vision, when the waters rose.
That everything would close around us,
and the world would be made of stained glass.
And we were all little homunculi
of stringy hair and missing teeth, and I don’t think
that the tunnel vision was conditional at all.
I know that your reflection is only made up
of a thousand tiny things: the curve of a hip;
an eye, caught mid-blink; a shallow-hilled knuckle;
the knotted wood of your navel, through which
you feel the brushstrokes of Renoir.
The prick of the thin chisel. Men elsewhere
dream of Venus on the half-shell, and briefly it seems
that you live in a scrapbook shack
of flowers tossed on stage. Outside,
the Babylonian gods light cigarettes
and you can see only the flash of their teeth.
Jealousy strikes a match in your alabaster rib cage.
I heard that the bulging statues of the cave-women,
and I don’t want to summon up Flintstone snatches
of whatever you think a lion’s skin looks like,
even less so the lumpy faces rendered on ancient computers,
the skulls touched by so many hands. The dash, I hope,
means you must see it twice over—women and caves—
and consider what a cave really is, how it is not like a house,
the masses of bats and beetles that choke the mouth,
packed like quicksand, as if you could stick your arm in
and be consumed. Do caves travel sideways? Downwards?
The shape is incomprehensible. You may place
the women there, and in doing so let them become
barely nightmarish, twilit, let them glint in the moon-water
of the stalactites. And these statues, so I’ve heard,
they were made by these cave-women,
not by their male companions as a stone manifesto of bodies.
They were made by looking down. The rough fingers
trace over the face as if it was also clay.
The body is made of caterpillar sections,
swelling lumps of breasts, stomach, thighs, and feet.
Did they mean it? Did they mean themselves?
Or did they believe, in the cloud of their consciousness,
which I see is made of primordial soup, and I do not much care
if the two are a billion years apart,
that a fleshy mass followed them, perhaps under,
but perhaps simply outside. Was anybody ever
just a bundle of nerves, a snake of sensation
that consumed itself in its passion, growing two new heads
in the process?