By David Wojahn
Featured Art: The Pearls of Aphrodite, 1907 by Herbert James Draper
From the clear vein a stream immortal flow’d
Such streams as issues from a wounded god.
Pure emanation! Uncorrupted flood,
Unlike our gross, diseas’d terrestrial blood…
– Pope’s Iliad, Book 5
Diomedes in his rampage cuts a hundred Trojans
Down into the dust, a bulldozer
Knocking over pines for another subdivision.
He is chainsaw, IED, a six-foot spinning razor,
An Ugly Customer. In a helmet topped with boar-bristle,
He’s hacking men to bits, his sword a red blur
& then he spies his prey, already spread-eagled,
For a fellow Greek has flung his spear into the hipbone
Of Prince Aeneas himself; its point burrows to marrow.
Spurting arterial blood, face against the dust, Aeneas moans
& the blackness, Death’s imperious Stygian
cloud, inevitable now, settles everywhere over him.
What can you do then but call out to mother, begging
to die in her arms? Diomedes strides forward in his fury.
This is what he came here for—to finish off a prince.
But the mother Aeneas wails for is Divine Aphrodite,
Who descends to the plain, all backlit glow & milk-white breast.
There, there, little one. She lifts him upright
But warlike Diomedes in his rampage doesn’t care shit
For the Goddess of Love. He lifts his sword & thrusts
Toward even her, now tugging Aeneas heavenward so that
He may live to fight once more. & thus Diomedes gets
a piece of the Immortal Goddess. She raises a hand
to parry his blow & his dazzling sword cuts it almost
to the bone. Ichor—“that which runs in the bless.d divinities’ veins”—
goes spewing forth from the exquisite wrist. Imagine
Aphrodite’s shriek: never has she known of pain
Beyond the nip of a love bite. Diomedes’ grin—
It rictus-es his whole bronze-helmeted face.
Some speechifying now: “How puny is your passion,
Queen Bitch, your allure & musk. How does this other wetness
Feel upon your gorgeous fingers? How it must sting.
Amor? Agape? We terminate them with Extreme Prejudice,
Power our aphrodisiac. Screw freedom, screw license.
For tenderness we trade the gouged eye, the arm
Severed off & quivering a moment on the dusty plain.
Go back to the boudoirs of Olympus. Stroke your storied quim
Up there & leave us be.” & thus the Goddess,
Weeping, returns to the abode of the Olympians.
In Syria, the controls of “The Flying Carpet”
Have three settings. The ride commences at 3 a.m.
The Shabiha agents take you shackled from your apartment
To an undisclosed location where they hose you down.
Setting One: they fumble with the electrodes—
Just enough wattage so you don’t pass out. Give us some names.
If no names are forthcoming, Setting Two & a rubber hose—
Against the legs at first, then the feet & genitals.
You want to cry out but you seem to have no voice.
No one, it’s said, survives Setting Three; the controls
Ratchet up to the Red Zone. Here the Goddess
Cannot intervene. Diomedes the insatiable
Sweating in his uniform, grins & fidgets
With the glowing dial. The brazen son of Tydeus,
Smokes & contemplates. Diomedes the insolent,
Bravado-drunk, berserker, inching the dial to Six
As he yawns & clips his nails. Dial to Seven,.
To Eight. Diomedes the bestial, the hellhound, the furious,
His jackboots gleaming as his fingers take the dial again.
David Wojahn is the author of nine collections of poems and two volumes of essays on poetry. He teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, and in the MFA in Writing Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Originally appeared in NOR 14.