Temper

At the forge Hephaestus works
hot metal into shapes so exquisite
the gods submit to tears.
Club-foot, care-ridden, Hephaestus dips
dense matter into flame. He batters it.
He cools it and the metal
seizes on a shield
he’s tailored perfectly
to balance on the arm that holds it up,
every weight accounted for,
even the outstretched
forearm it depicts in such detail
you can trace the imagined sword’s heft
through the bicep
to the shoulder of Achilles,
whose other arm is hidden,
holding up the shield this shield displays
so minutely most observers lean in
looking for an infinite regress.
This, after all, is Hephaestus’ compensation.
This is what he gets for being ugliest
of all the gods—this
and Aphrodite’s hand in marriage,
but anyone could have guessed
how that would end.
Even on Olympus,
there’s no justice. Some
get more and some
are just more godlike, more
beloved, more glorious,
no matter how brazenly
wrong they are,
and there’s no way to make it right.
You weave a net so fine
that it’s invisible. You snare
your wife in bed with Ares
and drag them to the palace of the gods,
and the gods just laugh at you.
They laugh: They haven’t laughed this hard in years.
Lacking Hephaestus’ subtlety,
I tell this to explain
why I was screaming on a crowded subway—
again—how I ended up surrounded
by commuters looking down
because they couldn’t look at me,
hardly able to see my book my hands
are shaking so badly, and all I want,
the only thing I really care about,
is showing this asshole not 15 feet away laughing
with his friends, show him and everyone
that this can’t happen, not like this,
that what he did (he shoved me,
arms extended,
in his hurry to get on the train)
is not acceptable,
not possible, that everything about this
is wrong, him most of all, show
that what I’d screamed—what the fuck
are you doing?—was reasonable and
he didn’t answer because he couldn’t,
could he, and this is not, not yet, a place
where you can do that, not a world
where no one else is outraged nor
should anyone mistake
my outrage for a sign that I’m at fault,
and the shame and the frustration
are still exactly the same, it’s
as if it never stopped,
the old injunctions,
the shame of having felt too much—
again—the one thing anyone
was serious about, policing that,
as if the very act of caring
threatened care. Mismatched,
hopeless, always focused on
the wrong thing, always accused
of what, and why did no one say?
And who cares? Really: who?
The people who won’t look at me
are right. I’m being ridiculous.
It’s absurd
to go this far into a fortunate life
still this upset, still trying to answer
every slight, arguing
for my importance
with such greed
and always surprised
that it doesn’t work,
more wounded every time
it doesn’t work.
O exalted
and inferior, how
Hephaestus, greater
than the countless mortals, longs
to be more godlike, how clumsy he feels,
even at the forge; even as
the sledgehammer arcs over him
as smoothly as a sword,
how much of him is balanced to account
for that imbalance, the strong foot
braced against the world
that he in showing sees
more clearly than he can show.

Jonathan Farmer

Jonathan Farmer

Jonathan Farmer is the author of That Peculiar Affirmative: On the Social Life of Poems and the editor in chief and poetry editor of At Length . He has written about poetry for publications that include Slate.com, Literary Hub, Los Angeles Review of Books, Kenyon Review, and the Poetry Foundation. He teaches middle and high school English and lives in Durham, NC.
Jonathan Farmer

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Author: Jonathan Farmer

Jonathan Farmer is the author of That Peculiar Affirmative: On the Social Life of Poems and the editor in chief and poetry editor of At Length . He has written about poetry for publications that include Slate.com, Literary Hub, Los Angeles Review of Books, Kenyon Review, and the Poetry Foundation. He teaches middle and high school English and lives in Durham, NC.