Rachel Hadas

Mars and Venus
(Botticelli, ca. 1475)

Gold tape gently billowing with her breathing,
triple V’s at bosom and sleeve and ankle
point to partings, leading the eye to where her
          body emerges.

Wait: This painting is an enormous V-ness.
Look how unemphatically, almost absent-
ly her left hand seems to be plucking one more
          labial gilded

entry between her waist and her knee. Reclining,
she becomes a series of languid valleys
who herself creates an entire other
          landscape of V-ness

in her consort. Slumbering, numb, the war-god—
head thrown back; neck, shoulders, torso open—
seems oblivious equally to the lady
          and to the satyrs,

naughty toddlers, trying on Mars’s helmet,
blowing conches into his ear, or crawling
gleefully through his corselet, their behavior
          an awful nuisance

all for nothing. Here in this vague green valley
lamb and lion, love and war are united
by indifference equally to these babies
          and to each other.

Do the little faunlets call Mars their Daddy?
Either way, his answer is not forthcoming.
Drained by amorous combat, the god is elsewhere.
          Vigilant Venus

gazes, not at him, nor at us, but rather
seems the merest eyeflick away from over-
seeing Sandro putting the final touches
          onto his family

portrait: Mars and Venus, it’s called. Or Father
sleeps while Mother’s keeping a watchful eye out
not on the children (are these the couple’s children?)
          but beyond; elsewhere.

Violence sleeps. Desire is in need of further
sustenance: her V’s are unfilled, her fingers
seem to press, to promise, half hiding, showing
          translucent treasures

he has seen and savored to satisfaction.
Rhyming, secret, intimate, and familiar,
their two mysteries mingle in this: deferral
          of ever after.


Sappho, of the numberless kinds of apples
we have two, and one of them ripens early,
striped with sweetness, fragrant and lambent, by mid-
          August already

falling even on utterly windless days in-
to high grasses, ditches, to lie, wet, rosy,
partly hidden, bluejay-pecked, squirrel-nibbled,
          crawled through by hornets

like the apricot jam on the cafe table
where I sit now, back in the city. Autumn
haze; cathedral. I witness parents, children
          kiss, tug at parting.

Hard to separate cleanly! Our other apples
cling to the branches. Pick them—you clutch at twigs and
leaves, or just as likely you find that you are
          hoisted and dangling

from the bough. So that by late September,
when the soft fruit long has let go and fallen,
the stern tough tree’s loaded with glossy apples,
          hard, dry, and woody

to the tooth; to the eye, globed, rosy beauties.
All the pitiful few we could reach we’ve picked, but
seen from the roadside the tree is untouched, a virgin
          beaming sheer ripeness.

Rachel Hadas is the Board of Governors Professor of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University and the author of numerous books of poetry, essays, and criticism.  She coedited THE GREEK POETS: HOMER TO THE PRESENT (Norton 2009), an anthology of greek poetry in translation, and her latest book of poems is THE ACHE OF APPETITE (Copper Beech Press 2010).  A prose work is coming entitled STRANGE RELATION: A MEMOIR OF MARRIAGE, DEMENTIA, AND POETRY (Paul Dry Books 2011). “Mars and Venus” first published in THE EMPTY BED (1995); “Pomology” first published in HALFWAY DOWN THE HALL (1998)