Series 4: Aspects of the Elephant lives on two pages. This myth poem
begs to be read it many times over for there is much here to
contemplate in regard to love. Personally, I might have titled it: The
First Valentine’s Day. But that’s just me.
Contributor Series 4: Aspects of the Elephant
The God of Apathy
By Robert CJ Graves
Tell us, Muse, of divine un-doings.
Rise from those deep wells:
those wine-dark waters,
those warm nights in the rain.
Told and retold are the old tales of castaways,
refugees drawn together on sandy shores,
and a queen who stepped self-impaled
into the pyre for love. But Muse,
we must know the truth, the ruins.
Tell of fires smothered and waste-desert shores,
and the one who really steals and steels hearts:
Love’s and Rage’s child who drains our souls.
II. The Forge
First, there was fire, the crippled god’s brood,
a churning, jealous firestorm in his soul.
Vulcan hobbled about muttering aloud,
“My loving wife. Love!
Love? Am I a fool!”
His body flickered as he paced, hung-legged.
Visions of them boiled in his heart:
Her eyes rolled back; Mars’ mouth, arrogant bloom,
curled with triumph and delight.
A Cyclops, called Altus, worked the enormous bellows,
and soon the frowning forge glowed thousands hot.
Vulcan smashed copper into the tonguing flames
–lapping, roiling red and green, orange, blue–
until the melted metal glowed lux-purple.
Then he swirled in sun-yellow, molten tin
and alloyed the perfect bronze: tiger bright,
supple, but with tremendous tensile strength.
Altus lifted the ceramic melting-caldron
from the forge and poured the glowing bronze
into long, lost-wax casts for hair-wire,
where it cooled fast to wispy, honey rays.
Vulcan hammered and soldered the bronze strands
tightly together into a gossamer-
thin hunting net–inescapable yet invisible,
if not for its glancing dazzle-stars in the jealous firelight.
III. The Goddess’ Bed
Vulcan took his airy net to the palace
where his wife kept her bed, and there they were:
Mars and Venus making love–her long, smooth legs
wrapped around him, the silk bed singing.
“Goddess of Love!” Vulcan bellowed and flung his net,
an angel’s cape of motes in the dim candle flicker,
and it draped them in chains of airy, bronze gossamer.
No matter how Mars raged,
freedom would not come–the net held them tight.
Venus cooed to her husband, thinking she
knew just how to delight the old smith’s ear,
but her songs only elicited a scoff.
“We’ll see who’s the fool now. All the gods will,”
and Vulvan called for Jove and Juno, Diana,
Apollo, Minerva, called the gods all
to witness the shame, and they gathered about
the goddess’ bed, where Love and Rage lay,
chained in their fecundity.
The goddesses would not look on them
and turned their fair heads.
But the gods reveled in the chance to ogle
Venus, her naked body through the net.
Mercury, waspish messenger of Jove, said,
“I wouldn’t mind being in Mars’ place:
I’d feel lucky she could never escape.”
The other gods agreed and laughed, but one,
Vulcan, whose face was creased with rage.
In a moment he had removed the net
and pulled Venus from the bed.
“Don’t touch me!” Venus scolded
and walked out of the room.
“Make me a fool?”
Vulcan was silenced.
The gods and goddesses made their way out.
Mars was led away by disapproving Jove,
only Juno stopped to give her son a word,
but, “Oh my dear boy,” was all she could say.
Vulcan picked up his net and gazed on the shape
pressed still in the bed, the disarray of sheets,
and he felt drained, no love or rage left.
IV. The Birth of Marvenus Apathius
Vulcan took the empty net back to his smithy
and dropped it in the melting-caldron,
where it collapsed shapeless as hot honey.
“Altus!” called the smith to his Cyclops servant.
“Melt this net; recast the bronze as coffin nails.
A god may not know death, but I can bury
my dead heart, for it rots now with all my love.
I’ll build a coffin of ash then pull the rank organ
from my chest like a stinking, black molar.
I’ll seal it in the ash box with brazen
nails of humiliated love and hate!”
Altus did as he was told. Silently,
he took the fire-bowled net to the forge
and placed it on a shelf deep in the oven
where the coals always glow hot. He brought fuel,
charcoal made of wild pistachio,
and spread it across the hungry embers.
Next he manned the bellows, forcing hot blasts.
2000 degrees and bronze melts.
Smiths of old faced agony if they slipped while casting.
But a Cyclops could drink molten bronze with little pain
or fear, and perhaps that’s why Altus wasn’t more careful.
The caldron slipped away from his hands,
and the hot bronze spilled, splashing in the fire.
Life is detours, collisions.
That melted dumb-bronze net, gleaming with sex,
erupted with life as it hit the hot coals.
Born was a creature of cool liquid metal,
and he rose honey-colored from the forge,
hovering above the hearth, mother-womb,
staring down at Altus, who was bowing:
“Thou art a god, obviously, honeyed one.
We Cyclopes give praise to all gods. Tell me
how I shall call you and many will be
the cattle I slaughter and smoke in your name!”
Marvenus was much like the other gods,
in body like men: two arms, two legs
two eyes, two ears, nostrils, hands, feet,
a mouth–but he was of a translucent bronze,
supple and gorgeous.
“I am Marvenus Apathius: the bronze-net
fertilized by a goddess’ perfect willingness
and the raging lust of a great god,
but wombed in the burning, jealous forge.
I rise anathema to Mars and Venus,
for I’ve come to dull the beating of hearts.
There will be no more love and no more rage.
Worship me with rituals of apathy.
Sacrifice to me your passions, your heart.”
With this, Marvenus was gone.
Altus rose and went to tell Vulcan,
who was building his heart’s coffin
under the ash and pistachio trees.