Poem of the Week | January 18, 2021
Kelly Weber “Actaeon”
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Actaeon” by Kelly Weber!
Kelly Weber is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press) and the forthcoming chapbook The Dodo Heart Museum (Dancing Girl Press). Her work has received Pushcart nominations and has appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Brevity, Cream City Review, Palette Poetry, Southeast Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University and lives in Colorado with two rescue cats. More of her work can be found at kellymweber.com.
You stumbled here to look at this body, your ring clinking on the neck of the bottle dangling from your right hand, your left parting snowberry at the river’s bank to see the hair, the breasts, the hips hitched to blue water’s circles. Line of her back the bruisable sting of a cactus. Areoles scrubbed with current’s broken silver. Silt corset. You came here to bury your habits in the shore and wade to her bathing, to undo the faded sky of your jeans and lick her thighs, to taste mud’s veil and gasp your name into the red nave until she was saved from a life without want. Teach her to be woman, you a man. You were made of every man’s hands, fashioned by saliva, desire, rust, power, this. I turn to see and change you into a blunt-muzzled hunger. Shattered into a furculum of tongues. Skin split by muscles overtaking your body, stones clattering beneath your cleaving hoofs as you outrun afternoon’s gold and shuck your testicles between a different set of haunches. I make a myth of you to teach us all how to be something better. I take everything we’ve excused you with—lust, libido, my body—and make it wordless. Each of us have carried you for a time, thought of you as our own, this god we have made inside all our bellies with each retelling: he was made to hunt, she to be hunted. With you we have set the table for the fathers to feast in unending line. I am making a new heart, blood-heavy and true behind the flushed blind of your nipples. I am trading your voice of brute godhead for a stag’s clean thirst. I am setting you on a new path. The hounds that press close will not be strangers; the sky, familiar with teeth.
When I started writing about my personal experiences as an aroace woman, I turned to the myth of Artemis as a model. What I found compelling about the story of Actaeon and Artemis is how it differed from other myths like that of Daphne, for example, who becomes a tree to escape Apollo. In the Actaeon story, it’s not Artemis who must change but Actaeon. His entire way of being in the world must fundamentally shift, putting the burden of change and responsibility for his actions back on him instead of the one he gazes upon. (In my poem’s version of the myth, he comes to find her naked on purpose, not on accident.) And in the poem, I wanted to make it clear that Actaeon is not so much one person as much as the internalized patriarchy we all carry in some way. My sense of Actaeon’s entitlement to my body—my desire for his attention and validation, even as an aroace woman—is something I have to continually work to undo. This is part of why the poem is a failed double sonnet, unstitching a neat corset of twenty-eight lines and turning in the middle to reveal the woman as the actual speaker. Though this wasn’t originally a prose poem, I found that shifting it into my favorite form created space in which I could somehow breathe and articulate in a more honest way.
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