Naked Gods

When I sift through the files on my computer, I'll usually stumble across MSW docs with old poems. I came across a poem I wrote in 2011 or 2012 in response to a painting called Mars Concurred by Venus by Krassimir Kolev (image and poem below).

The imagery of the poem is a bit strained in spots (I'm not sure feet dripping with fancy wines is the most apt post-coital description), but I like the poem's simpler images. This poem also signals a small, but significant, transition in my own attitude toward bodies.

Before Mars Concurred, I was at ease with nudes in older paintings that sat in museums. They had been baptized into the purity of classical art, the purity of God (who, rather awkwardly, appears to approve only of nudes from the West and from a limited era in history). Portrayals of naked bodies in this context felt somehow safer since they fell under this approved rubric.

But Kolev's painting felt different to me. I loved its sensuality and let myself love it even though it didn't fall into the sanctioned categories (even if it was of similar stuff). More importantly, I loved it not because the Western tradition had slapped on labels of "true," "good," or "beautiful," but because its details intrigued me: its colors, shapes, and textures, its composition. I let myself write a poem about it, trying to fashion with words an image of the visual image I had encountered.

Concurring Gods

Kolev's painting is both contemporary and evocative, a nod to (or perhaps a play on) Botticelli's painting, Mars and Venus. 

The scene in Botticelli's painting is often described as "Mars conquered by Venus," the god of war overcome by the goddess of love. Kolev's title plays on this. Mars is not conquered, but concurred: he is in agreement, coincides, coexists. The language of war becomes the language of mutual desire.

This mutuality is also revealed in the way Kolev positions Mars and Venus differently than Botticelli does.

Botticelli's Mars and Venus lie apart after lovemaking. Mars sleeps, naked except for a cloth draped across his loins, while a fully clothed Venus looks on. She has conquered him and he is drained by the ardors of intercourse, but she is fully awake, unspent, and quickly puts her clothes back on.

Kolev's Mars and Venus lie together, their exhausted bodies tangled on the pile of clothes and armor onto which they have fallen. Both sleep unclothed. Both rest in the sensual satisfaction of mutual desire. Neither has conquered the other. Love and war are both undone.

Above them, Cupid hovers. You could presume he is behind it all: that Venus and Mars have been struck by Cupid's arrow and sent into a frenzy of love. But I like to imagine that Cupid is too late. They do not need the little god's arrows to hurl one or the other into a passion.

The young god curses. This had better not happen again or soon he'll be out of a job. What will become of him when the lovers of the world, whether humans or gods, discover they do not need Cupid's arrows in order to be struck with desire?

Mars Concurred by Venus by Krassimir Kolev. Retrieved from Saatchi Art.

On Mars Concurred by Venus

The gods lie tangled

like two sheaves of wheat


by prairie gusts,

skin bright as beaten bronze,

but raw and pliable as clay –

their fallow feet, long and

leathern, drip

Dolcetto, Moscato, Arneis.


Their bodies recumbent,

limbs protracted, loose and


after the ardors of love,

knees bent in consummate sleep,

spent as copper deer

beneath a charcoal moon.


And above them a nascent god

hovers, lustily clutching his arrows,

cursing his late arrival.