I am sick of drawing this connection: there is no document
of civilization that isn’t also its ruins. Ask for rapture, get a god.
Ask for Venus, private stones winter underground.
Today I am vain enough in my commute
to peak my reflection in the train window,
overhear a man say You can tell the pretty ones from the ugly
under subway lights. My face mobs between plexiglas,
my anger where the dark face of my queen turns away.
See also a woman’s age hidden in her hands,
the veins’ bubonic ghosts. For Venus, I wish only our beautiful women
dead and scattered beneath the earth, decently, decently.
The Venus of Willendorf was found
in 1908, a leap year, the same year oil was found in the Middle East.
The archeologist called her Venus
but there is nothing Western
about the mounds of genitals, the faceless bravery of womanhood
there caked with a silt called loess
See then the man turning her over to dust time loose
from her breast. Mundane artifacts litter the streets, they make
a country’s gradients like a flag I’ll dare its spitted grounds to worship.
A sick woman over her cart now bites her lips into white ash
and I want to declare ourselves a company of women below the earth,
but, dear city, know so help me I won’t help her stand for her stop.
As the Venus was nothing but stone, I won’t even look in her eyes.
At what age does a woman’s body become
the insult of a woman’s body. In answer, my hands crack another year
and I sit bored. I want to stand plain here until bled out, but don’t.
I am just another punctual slave abandoned by her queen.
Man is free until he wakes, when time returns with the drama
of throwing an ether vial into the flames.
The document of civilization digitized and on the clock
Wednesday Thursday Friday without relief
or dignity, the Venus of Willendorf’s document clean as a third-degree burn.
No I’ll resist the urge to see myself walking in the building glass.
I’m vain in a hurry my youth is fading and earth it isn’t sad
earth has no name as Venus has no name. I cross the street,
the heat of trucks wish me dead. If the space in my office
could spread just an inch my joy would tear every curtain of this city down.
In every scene, I am always the handsome spectator delighting
in the spectacle to delight in himself, time blank and dumb
as a glass eye. But what I want is Venus, my vision of thrones
and queenless moors, the heathering iceland where she was conceived, mothered
to stone and dirt. So go our desires. Our flesh dares us be bovine, I’ll starve it out
to wear it like the cloth of a flag, an allegiance founded
in the vinegar bruise on an arm.
The city sun sets every day now like Muybridge’s horse, suffering time.
I think of her creation when I sit in my office,
when my hands rhythmically knot and unknot my hair
and I am the image of a network of thoughts always about to happen.
You see it isn’t her art that confounds us but the hands the body
of men if they were eager to make her, was it divine inspiration or
was it boredom, the cold literature of Europe’s ice age, boredom
likewise in the flesh of the survivor, boredom which serves to end us
with desired relief. Could they see no errand in the snow, no ramshackle
beauty in death. How else to express the air as harsh, the women as willing,
the earth a delicate dish for their plastic and shit. Her purpose
was her mimesis of riches, the fat breasts like our towers:
without owning them their sight provides a propriety still.
This sick glint of empire bores me of empire.
In this city of boredom, how blankly everything is mine.
What will amount to our kingdoms, our Willendorf in the sand.
Can I speak for the Venus, the alien object, the way one walks
over seeds buried loose in the snow, can I speak for her
the way a grave-good decorates a ritual, the way styrofoam brims
laughably in the municipal trash. I will speak for her as I spoke
for myself as a girl behind her bedroom door. When I found her
she was marked in Grandpa Leo’s anthology an ugly thing to watch:
in her image the hands still combed her form, a log against nothing.
I’ll quit the Venus to invent this place: the cities’ conspired eternity
false, the doomed sensation of unwrapping the soft high-fructose
pastry false. As a pigeon lights in bramble attempting a nature,
her discovery galvanized us, gave us the potentiated
human as participant and prophet Monday Tuesday Wednesday—
her brute bauble of god, of slut and man, her hue and cry saved
to my browser history Monday Tuesday Wednesday. Man would be
the ruin of his choice like a city inspecting itself to minimize the damage
of unforeseen calamities like a man turning her over to theorize
origins, her non-diegetic tooth and war, the pain I presume her
to possess in her fissures see since pain is a woman’s only natural
possession. What, forsooth, could I know of the Venus body, belly obsessed,
running its dumb country into the ground. Do you see the very falsehood
—no. No, man wears his hubris like an invisible hat, like a single feather
in the snow: we want to belong without question to solution, ha!
With hilarious privilege I watch a man I never loved disappear in the silt.
The death and life of great American cities is about negotiating
influences and the impression of citizens, according to Jane Jacobs.
I try to remember the last time I said the word tribe
without the ballast of guilt and privilege that begets my America.
A city is not a work of art, it does not show our humanity nor can it
represent its own artifact though I feel the desert sun on my shoulders
waiting to banish us. See I’ll place the invention of city over the figurine:
whether out of idleness or expression, she was formed but could never
stand upright, she was the anti-city in her impractical mobility: no man
could enter her. I had a city when the harbor lifted, when the tunnels
collapsed and became my dirty sky. I could claim proof of residency,
I could set conditions for my city’s diversity based on my size and zoning laws.
When my timesheet was my entrance liturgy. When I imagined
the figurine fused to my joints, how discovering artifacts morphs
the archeologist into their sole creator, I imagine myself an incredible
bone artist until I imagine myself millennia from now dug up,
polished, and set again. The people then will they see the pride of their
creations further established in these bones of mine, will the text read
as nonsense, should I consider the importance of my own longevity
enough to stop drinking. In my Venus city, I will bury the burning lights,
roost over what is left of dirt to seed. I go home and I go home.
I read my queen from the couch to the bed,
her absence like a freezer door left open in the night, the cold touching
even the moon’s dead holes. This idea that we can survive the air
coming down from the city, step over crude development planning
without seeing it, the homeless barely tucked in the avenues’
fissures, the dust of our loss, means we can be both the animal and what kills it.
All night the city flickers like Plath’s fevers. We can think
of this moment as a sign of dumb calm, the city a kind of
silhouette portrait in which we recognize a past, the future
subject to an artifice we can’t as yet conceive. I keep
making the switch from it
when addressing the Venus.
It’s not that she was ever human but at some point her form
became her fiction—what Jacobs would call the self-destruction
of a city, the relentless competition of a space until its primary
economic function becomes the loss of its function. In this sense
I am lost if the Venus is more art than stone. I have laid out my markets,
these lyric schematics, I wanted to draft and redraft the very function
of her lump kind on my psyche, what it meant to call her mine,
what it meant to own a thing without the debt collectors getting wind
and waiting with a stranger’s ease at my door. I should starve
my limbs more, I should be a new exaggeration too like my little bitch god.
My grandmother became too sick to horde the corners of her enormous life,
so I inherited her writing desk, her books (a first edition of The Old Man
and the Sea
), and the whole ocean’s floor of my grandfather’s life
though I never met him past my cow-eyed infancy. His textbooks
so outdated science sounded like gossip, the world then loosed to clouds
of American cumulus, an altogether remote land that reveals the fears
of our surfaceless, still undocumented ends. In the pages the Venus stood
ugly therefore forgettable like the cold remains of an uneaten meal,
like a city I visited once and never again where
not even the dinner plates were warm. Hard to say what brought me back.
My heart was broken over a man, I should say I was what he spit out
when he was done chewing the trash of my body. My days were occupied
with nothing but writing Venus poems, a necessary way to escape
the politics of addressing the I
. Rather, the politics I wanted to be there
but weren’t but were again when I considered that the gulf between
tour de force
had a good deal to do with the male and
female voice: to think there could be an exact anguish, a certain stone
dug up and carved and set again in the dirt. The I
should be so nameless
in any work I say as I load and cock the gun. I’m through as the metal
cold against a man’s throat, daddy daddy scuttling across silent seas through
There is a drama in every construction. It’s useless, a rat’s last breath.
Diversity is achieved with greater success in larger cities because quite simply
more can be done. I start to imagine the Venus of Willendorf in terms of
aesthetic scale: today a woman decorates her house and incorporates African
masks to give the space a pan-cultural design and no one thinks to stop this.
The Venus is about four inches in height, and I think a mistake in thinking
of her now is the impulse to consider her beauty. We see a naked torso
of a woman and think to worship it, but it isn’t worship
what we’re doing
we’re checking emails we’re responding we’re filing resignations into the dirt.
The parts still segmented, zoned, a distance grows out of a distance when the body
is warped and frozen this way. What was beauty for the people who lived
nowhere, what could beauty do with the enormity of snow. I see the seeds
impossible, uncurling their greens for want of nothing below and above the ice.
In love, my body diminishes beautifully. When my skin was a dead moth’s wing,
hair fell out in chunks. The I
became a joke to write about steeped as I was in
my declension. I was sorry to be in love with a man made of silt. Back to my hands
they weren’t mine they looked aged, the sick skin of mule.
Charles Olsen said once to love the world and stay inside it. In the fumes
of loss the Venus city rises out of the sand so that when I was a camel when
time was the infinite desert I didn’t move to drink. The lion ages in me still.
This is my inventory, the world. Each day I pack and unpack my objects, the subway
cars, the elevators, windows, steel, coffee cups, each wrapped in greased pelts,
the wi-fi connection like disseminating seeds in snow, brideless marching citizens.
The city like the phenomenon of color is there and I bless the sun for its ability
to hurt us, to stare into an invention like the angry god in wait sharpening its killing
knives in the kitchen sink. I had a city when I dug the Venus out of my anthology,
when her brute angel rose like a crippled hand in the subway fluorescence
and I could say I loved nothing, my form was a medicine I took at the edge
of a lake. Venus was my wife I stayed inside her and the towers
they were connubial steel, forms were the quiet shapes behind closed eyes
I dripped and bled to touch, a way to say I was part of this
To Olsen, art is borne out of love: what remains is the city’s function,
what can’t be displayed only lived inside: consumed and marveling
whatever pastries are left in the landscape of oblivion. I take the Venus
like a doomed man clasps an amulet. The skyscrapers write their odes
to a distant village. In their glint there are chains unmoving
where our beautiful dead women won’t return to her wilderness.