In a sublime continuum, all the Venuses rise from the ocean’s foam in succession. Usually depicted naked, Venus comes bearing myrtle, whose sweet white flower is used in purification rites and as an aphrodisiac. She drinks honey, seduces lovers—both gods and humans—and blooms under your gaze. She rides a scallop shell, or dandles Cupid on her thigh. Titian’s Venus wrings water from her hair. The Venus de Milo drapes her slim hips in a loose mantle, and loses both arms. The Pompeii Venus rides a quadriga of elephants. Botticelli’s Venus is blown ashore by Zephyr. All the Venuses stand contrapuntal, one knee slightly bent, their torsos forming sensual S-shapes, hips not aligned with the shoulders but slightly turned to one side—a pose considered particularly feminine and alluring. Looking, I become shadow. Venus not only holds my gaze, she is visual pleasure embodied. Those breasts, those hips—all the parabolas. How can I look away?
Kim Roberts is the editor of the anthology By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of our Nation’s Capital (University of Virginia Press, 2020), selected by the East Coast Centers for the Book for the 2021 Route 1 Reads program as the book that “best illuminates important aspects” of the culture of Washington, DC. She is the author of A Literary Guide to Washington, DC: Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers from Francis Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston (University of Virginia Press, 2018), and five books of poems, most recently The Scientific Method (WordTech Editions, 2017). http://www.kimroberts.org