Before I even know what I am seeing
I know this one is Woman.
Her beauty took me by surprise,
This gorgeous, glorious goddess.
She is Athena, giant-sized,
Smooth, and white, and feminine.
There is a burst of recognition
Which then spills throughout my chest
Like warm liquid, telling me
“This is where you come from.”
This is the face that launched a thousand
Models of what faces must be.
A giant thigh bestrides the plinth,
Her breasts are encased in armour,
Gentle folds of fabric fall
With stony innuendo,
And Medusa howls with bitterness
On her plated chest.
Home is such a tricky place
But it is home all the same.
I think it does not help us
If we do not know to name
Our whiteness, from these whited stones,
Pilfered from their homeland
In marbled and in storied form:
The Greeks instruct the Romans
Who instructed us, who instructed them,
“This is what faces must be.”
I am part of this tradition,
Studying this goddess
(Medusa, screaming on her chest,
Will not let me go).
How could I do otherwise
When centuries of history say,
This is what beauty looks like?
White is not a nothingness,
White is not neutrality.
White is warlike in this way,
White is women with tiny mouths.
White comes with an empired waist,
White is pale Athena.
The placard tells me that her head
Has undergone some surgery:
Some gentleman of Oxfordshire
Has recreated it.
We have endlessly gone on,
To endlessly create
A white Athena in each girl -
You have a lot to answer for.
Athena’s sisters, down the hall,
Are missing limbs and half-headed;
A toenail has somehow come off.
Some don’t even have faces.
And that hurts, as every woman
Who has been reduced to just a body
A part of me just longs to be
A pale Athena, striding on
With shield and spear and plated breasts -
But then Medusa screams and I
Must lift my recreated head.
Athena strides on, white and warlike.
The giant women cast their giant shadows.