Aphrodite and Athena
Of Cypress born Kytherea we shall sing who brings gentle gifts to mortals. With you I begin, and having begun with you, I turn to another song.
-Homeric Ode to Aphrodite
I devoured my sister, when she surrendered to me.
Children are my domain, for they are only born with me. They are only raised with me. They stand tall while their creators sleep into the ground. You can know how to make children, but just knowing isn’t enough. There is a spirit to it, and a flow of love that passes down through children. People are not fish who leave their eggs in the shallows and swim away. Children must be loved.
Everything fades but love. Love builds new generations up like tall towers while old bones grind to dust.
I am also the goddess of my own destruction, for it will happen because of love.
The first gods and goddesses claimed no territory, only being or not being. Then came wars about what places would be held, what dominions would be taken. No one bothered grasping for the intangibles, where the domain could not be held in the palm and transformed easily with the force of will. Even music and hunting were tangible actions in the old times, when it meant something to sing at a fire and run through the night with a spear. They stumbled into their domains, taking what they could, and fighting for what they wanted. I didn’t bother with any of that. I fell out of the ocean onto the shore like a nymph, and I was so beautiful that I couldn’t help anything. Everything was laid at my feet. Love is like gravity or bait. I didn’t do anything to make myself so. I stepped onto the shore, and I was born the goddess of love, and that is all I’ve ever known.
Everything that was is old and gone, now. My father’s mountain fell. These things happen. It was probably an argument, or something. Maybe a war. Who cares except Athena? She hasn’t told me anything about it, and I never bothered to ask. It was bound to happen. The mountain fell and that was that.
There’s a channel on cable dedicated to natural forces of the earth that happen all around us. Maybe it was because of the weather, or the geologic rumblings of time.
Maybe it was love. Maybe it was me, and how everyone’s love drifted towards our dominions and away from each other.
All of us dwindled off to obscurity when the mountain fell.
Well, almost everyone dwindled. Lightning and storms collapsed down inside of circuits and coils of ingenuity, this divided electricity up so small and so small that there was no place in the world of men for all the micromachinery and closed grids beneath plastic shells. There is no place for such raw, naked power among the people, now. Lightning was never really that interested in being among people, anyway. He struck hard and quite quickly. He loved women that way, and threw his sons and daughters at the world like brush fires. Then, he moved on from men, for the mathematical mysteries of static and electronics and sub-molecular fission.
I care for him, for I love my father dearly, but I will not disintegrate with him into the sub-atomic level, his rage billowing up with an occasional mushroom cloud instead of thunderbolts. If he’s still with anyone these days, it’s the bill collectors and military men that would push a button instead of looking a rival in the face, and I don’t begrudge him these bitter fruit as his lingering human supplicants.
Oh, but that was just one of us. There were so many of us. We were all there when the mountain fell. I fell, though I wasn’t really paying attention to what was happening, and it was all so fast. Athena struck me with a mighty blow and after that I was just flowers for a while, with no plan what to do with myself. I smelled sweet. I drew men up the mountain with my scent, who had all come to spit in the face of the old gods’ absence.
Later on, for instance, these days, when I think to write to someone – for what am I if not devoted to love letters – I send my letters into the world, and everyone who touches the envelope is haunted by the memory of the perfume. My words are never as important as the aroma of them.
I am the goddess of letters, because every letter is a love letter that is not a bill.
I am also the goddess of false idols, for that is an unrequited love.
I am the goddess of automobiles. Not the making of them, but the being of them in the world, and the way it feels to sit behind one alone in the car for the first time, and all the roads of the world open like a vast, territory of adventures and freedoms and futures as branching as the highways and byways of two-hundred years of men building roads.
I am also the goddess of clothing for pets – even those simple collars that come in different colors, occasionally rhinestoned, but often not. This is often an unrequited love, but sometimes it is a love as pure as mothers and children.
I have always been the goddess of lipstick. Flavored lipstick. Rouge. Chapstick if it comes in colors, and the promise to soothe and soften for a kiss, not skiing. I am the goddess of advertising, and agency men who create advertising. I am queen of all enticement. After all: Sex sells.
I am the goddess of lines drawn in charcoal on rough paper. The muses are my shadows. I wear them like the night when dreamers sleep in my arms.
Everything changes but desire and despair.
And, of course, like I said before, the mountain fell. These things happen, and we had all changed enough by then to accept it when it did.
My brilliant sister and I were all that was left, standing in the ruins of our grand halls of stone and cloud, and at the time she believed we were at odds, like reason struggling with passion, as if there was conflict between us. She struck me down with her shield before I could cloud her eyes with love, and I fell deep into the ground, becoming only flowers and dreaming of the time I visited my cruel uncle for the sake of a mortal man. I dreamed that all was in darkness, and that the love I had for the man was like a lure to me in the dark, drawing us together where not even the jewels of the underworld glistened to show the way.
I am the goddess of funerals, and mourning the dead.
I was his flowers, then, the Narcissus flowers.
Always, I fall into his flowers, for I am the goddess of flowers and bees and pollinating insects, and all the matchmakers of the world who are the bees for their clients and their friends. I would invite every lonely heart to a party, if I could, and lock them all in the world’s largest closet with others who are lonely, too. Despair is my domain, but I do not want that for you. I want someone to help you. Everyone should help everyone, always. When will everyone find love?
I was talking about the mountain. Many men came to the top of it. I will call him one.
A man came to the top to prove his worth to a rich man with a beautiful daughter. He looked around. He wondered where the palace was. He had always believed there should be a palace there. There was barely an altar there, to mark what had been changed. It was just rocks in piles as if piled upon a fallen body. My body. A flat stone was on top, where one could, if one were so inclined, place a sacrifice on the altar of the old ways.
Had we moved, he wondered. Had we wandered down the mountain, lost ourselves for centuries among the world of mortals?
I was just a field of flowers, at the time, spilling out from the rocks of the mountain’s peak, and I let him carry pieces of me down the mountain. I let myself spread in this way, returning my flower to the world.
He carried me because I was the sweetest flowers he had ever smelled.
Amaryllis Aphrodite. Narcissus. Paper Bush. Rose.
Down the mountain, I went.
I fell in love with the man that plucked me. I loved that he had climbed a mountain only to bring back a handful of flowers to prove his love. I was his goddess and he was mine.
Return, then, my lover, to see what my sister hath wrought in my absence.
I am also the goddess of the first day of college, when a young woman stands in front of the mirror and looks herself in the face and feels exhilarated and terrified, like she’s been preparing for this day her whole life, and like she has to check her make-up again one more time because she might meet her future husband today, on this campus, and pick her college major and create a whole world of her life, right there. She stands in the mirror at the moment she will run to grab the nebulous threads of new fate from the very air itself.
I am also the goddess of first dates before they happen, in a moment’s fleeting eye contact on a train, and clammy hands shaking afterwards, a phone call, an exhilarating message on a machine. No matter what happens, pay homage to me, for I alone with passion can bend the three grey sisters against the nature of their own thread and needle. I am the grey sisters, weaving and hoping and loving all of you, and I am the trickster that creates on a whim from what is possible.
All is fair in love and war. All is possible in love and war. With desire and despair… Did you know I am a war goddess?
Patriots die for their beloved country. People write letters home to their mothers and wives, and beg for absolution from the terrible things. Pray to my brother for a glorious battle, but pray to me to return home to your wife which is a greater urge than glory. My shield is greater than Athena’s, for it carries you home, always home, on its back.
Leave no man behind.
Reason and strategy create no heroes. No medals come without honor or valor, which are prismatic aspects of love. I forgive you all for your sins, weary soldiers. I’d forgive you anything you did in the war. Just come home, all my sons and daughters far of the bloody fields and mortar shells. A mother wants her children to marry, not die to the cry of a bugle. Ride the train to a decent, quiet job, and see your life’s love on the train. See your true love for the first time, and I will help you smile a little and be brave, soldier, for the first thing to do is speak and it takes such courage to say something that first time, like charging out of the trenches of your known, know-able life across the no man’s land to a new country.
War is the servant of love.
The man who came down from the mountain was called a liar, because he said there was no palace on the peak. This was no lie. To prove himself, he led a group of men up the mountain. A thunderstorm came that scared many of these men, but they stayed together and stayed low and it passed. Farmers knew the storms, how the tallest trees were struck down and staying low would be enough until the clouds passed. Do not stand up to my father, or raise your head. Stay low; stay bowed. Pray or not, but look humbled. Everyone knew.
When the storm passed some went home. They had families, wives and sons, and would not tempt gods. The rest climbed up, their desire for a world without such fickle guardians pouring confusion onto the heads of men, such misery, leading them on – my scent of love leading them on. Their desire to end despair driving them on.
I am the goddess of mountain climbers. I am also the goddess of abandoning the mountain for the sake of fear, which is a form of narcissism, or maybe the concern of a family. Either way, I am the goddess of that, too.
When Narcissus leaned over his own reflection, I touched the water to hold it still. The water itself, imbued with my fingertip gazed upon the boy as if upon it’s opposite: sharply-defined and closely-contained and chiseled like a statue that heals where stone erodes. Opposites attract. They fell into each other. Echo’s despair was my doing, too. There is narcissism in so much drama. There is a selfishness to it, in her impracticality she never spoke to him except to feed him back himself.
Love is what they say, but always longing. I am the goddess of an empty bed, and the feeling of it in the night, empty. When it means something. I am the goddess of staring at a ringing phone, terrified of it. Staring at a silent phone and wanting to scream at it.
People take care of each other. Storms roll in and wash away the cities of the shore. People there climb higher and higher from the flood, screaming prayers and trying to help each other. I’m in the space between their fingers, holding them together even as the waves pull them down.
Uncle is so quiet, these days, and only raises his tides to remind people he is still there, but there is no sacrificial maidenhead or altar raised upon the rocky shores that will appease him. He has closed his ears to pleas. He has become enamored of all that is inside of his aqueous form and the frantic, ecstatic lives and deaths of the teeming hordes within him. He has abandoned his interest in the immutable men upon his shores.
There are more fish than men. There is more sea than land. Why should he bother listening to the people on the shore? Because they build ships? Because they build submarines? Have you heard the song of the whales? It is more beautiful than submarines, and more pleasing to the ears of my old uncle.
Fish are nearly nothing to me. Most of them mate in selfless abandon and die in it, immune to everything but their own instinctual urge. It is still holy, but it is little concern to me. They that form families are mine. Not even my uncle begrudges me that among his kin.
The old ways dwindled, closing up the palaces and altars and ears of us upon the world of men, except for two of us, sisters and both of us young. We were both born by accident from the body of our father. From the head, my sister carved her way out of his skull alone, furious and pure. From the loins, I came, when his essence was cast into the sea, and swirled in the ancient salt loam that had once birthed bacteria from minerals and heat.
Like a beached whale, naked and raw and ripe for cutting, I crawled onto the shore. To my naked corpse they came, and cut into me. I was devoured. They made an alter from my bones to bring my spirit peace. They burned oil of my flesh with Narcissus flowers, and it smelled so sweet.
The kingdom of our fathers ended not with a war, but with a sigh. All of the older ones and most of the younger ones having tired of all the noise and motion of dealing with each other, and people didn’t surprise anyone anymore. There were no more affairs among mortals, for what was the point? What new thing could be discovered among these people that never seemed truly grateful for all that was done for their sake. We all just stopped talking to each other and to them. Finally, they all slipped away into the domains they deemed more interesting. Not my sister and me. We were patient. She did so because she knew this strategy was more effective than destruction, as her father had once wrought to claim the sky. I did so because I could never stop loving these brilliant, needy, wounded, courageous beasts that walked on two legs and wept at the grave of their mothers though years had passed since her death. In her brilliance, my sister knew she could not wait for my ennui. When I was all that remained, between her and the world, she struck me down with her shield. I loved her so much, that I allowed her to take everything she wanted. That is what you do for someone you love.
When my sister struck me down, she did not kill me, but I allowed her to act as though she had. She walked down into the world, at first, to choose her portion of everything before I could. But, that was the old way, and everything had changed now that we had claimed domains that could not be held in your hand.
No one else would have recognized this, but she was brilliant and logical.
She saw her defeat, then.
For without me, the world was a herd of squid shimmering into a chaos, grappling any tentacles at all in the rush of the crowd, and dying without a thought in moments. What was the point of building factories if there was no home to return to in the night, with children to hold and the eternal blessing of a kiss?
She, from the head, and I, from the body, and in the end the body always, always wins, between us.
When I stretched my legs, and walked back into the world behind my beautiful mountain-climbers, my sister was there, kneeling before me. She said she had tried but could never defeat me in this world.
I took off her helmet. I pushed her hair back from her clean, ivory brow. Love.
She was trembling in fear, weeping. Despair.
I devoured her, then, like a god of old. My virginal sister’s flesh was sweet as nectar. Her blood was ambrosia and fresh goat’s milk. I ate all of her, in entirety, and she did not raise a hand to stop me. She did not scream or writhe in pain. She could not bear it. The stoic goddess of warfare and tactics knew when she was beaten, and accepted it all.
It wasn’t her death. Perhaps it is her strategy. I cannot kill her any more than when Cronus swallowed all his immortal children like heavy stones.
I think something is growing in side my heart, between the two of us, and I hope, when the girl is born at last, she will let me hold her a while to my breast, before the world changes all around her shadow, and even I must bow low.
Prometheus, when I awoke again to the world, I first found where you had been kept while my father was still paying attention to your sin. You were bones picked clean without the rage of a god to imbue your regeneration.
Everything in the universe begins with a great passionate fire that slowly cools down and down unto dead stars, and my father could be no different than the universal powers that obeyed him. Matter cannot be created, and cannot be destroyed.
It can only be changed.
Reason uses things for what they are.
Passion uses things for what they could be.
In time, all change is entropy that is reasonable. Love makes change more than what is lost.
Prometheus, I placed a kiss upon your bones and a kiss upon the bones of the vulture that starved without your liver growing back each morning like a purple blossom.
I love you all so much.
I am the goddess of the great city at the mouth of the Hudson. They placed my greatest idol there, with the flame of desire in my hand. I watch them in their tiny rooms, hurtling like rockets upon the streets, slamming into each other and making a mess of everything, trying to make something beautiful from the mess of everything. All of this is what I say to the men and women on their ships: be free here, be more than what you were. Make a better life for your children. Send money home to your family so they can come be with you. Be free. Be free.
I am also the goddess of credit card debt, and retirement planning, and weekly paychecks wasted on whiskey and dancing.
I am the beating heart.
I am holding your breath.
I love you all so much, I can’t even speak.