In this empowering and feminist retelling, Mateer transforms the mythology of the goddess into 224 pages of modern poetry and full-color artwork. Broken into sections alternating between the perspective of The Poet and Aphrodite herself, the work within tackles the timeless topic of loveromantic, platonic, and self-love. The collection addresses issues like heartbreak, sexuality, womanhood, trauma, and the restorative power in taking control of your own lore, speaking your truths, and rewriting your origin story. If you let her, by the end of this book, Aphrodite will make you believe in the possibility of your own healing.
"If you were only made to be beautiful, we wouldn't have put you down here in the dirt."Perfect for fans of Amanda Lovelace, Nikita Gill, Rupi Kaur, Elizabeth Acevedo, Rick Riordan, and Madeline Miller; or anyone interested in Greek myths, tarot, and Instagram poetry.
Try Trista Mateer's other book of poetry, Honeybee.
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APHRODITE AIRS HER GRIEVANCES
I was worshipped on the battlefield once.
They brought me blood before they brought me perfume.
They started wars in my name.
After a little time, men did what they always do. They didn't try to understand, they tried to explain.
They made me earthly. They branded me woman. Then they saw things in me that didn't mesh well with woman. They saw parts of me they didn't understand and they broke them off. They called me a hundred different names, an epithet for everything. Couldn't even bother trying to comprehend it all together — that I could be bloody and beautiful, that I could be divine and approachable. Men wrote the stories of my birth as if they were standing on the shore when I was spat up onto it. They picked up their pens and waxed poetic and nobody questioned it. Nobody asked me instead.
I am older than the poets and I am older than the pens.
I am older than the stars and the ocean I crawled out of.
They called me Gravedigger. Shining Queen of the Underworld. Aphrodite the Unholy. I had glorious names before they called me anything sweet. Before they started calling me smile-loving, shapely Aphrodite. They took my name and dragged it through the mud kindly. They catcalled me until people couldn't separate my name from sex. They made me a goddess of love and then vilified me for loving freely, for kissing and fucking and strolling boldly down the streets of Cyprus. They married me off in the stories so they could call me Adulteress, but I brought the god of war to his knees.
I belong to no one. They never wrote that part down.
The church turned me into a symbol of lust.
Called the apples in my cheeks sinful.
Said heaven would spit my body back out because it had no place there.
I never needed anyone else to make a place for me.
I have run naked through Eden.
I have chased the universe to its end.
They whittled me down one piece at a time.
They took my anger.
They took my voice.
They took my story.
They colored me pink and wrapped me in floral. They scrubbed the dirt from under my nails. They wanted you to believe that love is weak, that you cannot curse and kiss with the same mouth. They wanted you to believe that the root of love is romance, soft and wide-eyed. See what they did to my stories? My temples? My statues? Regardless of whether you desire it, love is what sits at the core of the world. It is stronger than greed and hate and jealousy and pain. What brings us together will always be more powerful than what keeps us apart.
I am deathless.
I will have no eulogy.
I will have no mourners.
Mine is the mouth that fueled creation.
Mine is the hand that wields the blade and I will never let you forget it again.
THE POET AIRS HER GRIEVANCES
I knew love could draw blood and I still never went into it with bandages in mind.
I went into it with ink.
I wrote my own story and still said all the wrong things.
I'm afraid to ask for what I need. I'm afraid of my survival seeming selfish. I'm afraid of my mental illnesses. I'm afraid of my sadness. I'm afraid of my anger. I'm afraid of the things that I want. I'm afraid of what people will think of the things that I want. I'm afraid of what people think. I'm afraid of my voice. I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing. I'm afraid of saying the right thing. I'm afraid of not knowing what the right thing is. I'm afraid of taking up space. I'm afraid of public transit. I'm afraid of the dark. I'm afraid of what men have done to me in the dark. I'm afraid of cisgender white men. I'm afraid of saying not all men and then having my face held down in the dirt by another man. I'm afraid of sex. I'm afraid of never getting over my trauma. I'm afraid of putting things down. I'm afraid of letting things go. I'm afraid of the emotional abuse I knowingly allowed myself to endure. I'm afraid of what I will let myself go through for love. I'm afraid of global warming. I'm afraid of being queer in public. I'm afraid of kissing someone in front of my mother. I'm afraid of not unlearning the bad things my parents taught me. I'm afraid of having children. I'm afraid of living alone. I'm afraid of checking my bank account. I'm afraid of wearing shorts in public. I'm afraid of driving. I'm afraid of driving and wanting to crash on purpose. I'm afraid of going to the doctor. I'm afraid of a doctor telling me to lose weight instead of listening to my concerns. I'm afraid of chest pains. I'm afraid of panic attacks. I'm afraid of not having health insurance. I'm afraid of moving away from home. I'm afraid of staying at home. I'm afraid of never loving someone as much as I loved the last person who broke my heart. I'm afraid of never being understood. I'm afraid of being understood. I'm afraid of forgiving too easily. I'm afraid of losing touch with my brother. I'm afraid of love. I'm afraid of other things.
My soft body was a crime in my mother's house.
I still don't know how to love a thing even my mother is ashamed to look at,
but sometimes I grow out all my wild just to sit alone with it in the dark.
When I say I'm not looking for love, what I mean is:
I don't like losing the part of myself that disappears when I date other people / I don't know how to let another person touch me anymore / I'm okay with my body when I'm the only one looking at it / I don't know enough about healing / I had to step back for a while to get to know myself again but now I don't know how to step forward / I worry it's safer to sleep alone / how can I possibly love someone right when I was raised with the worst examples?
I drew the tarot cards. I made the rose water. I sat out under the moon. I put on my grandmother's perfume. I crushed petals in the palm
of my hand. I split a pomegranate in half and let the seeds spill onto my dresser. I pressed some to my tongue. And I sat the rest out for her.
Aphrodite notes the romance novels piled by my bedside, their tattered covers and their dog-eared pages. She says, "I thought you weren't looking for love."
I say, "That doesn't mean I'm not hoping it will find me."
I say, "Isn't everyone looking for love?" She pauses for a long moment before she says, plainly, "No."CHAPTER 3
APHRODITE SPEAKS ON LOVE
In the stories,
I cursed out of boredom.
I killed over jealousy.
I started wars for beauty.
In the stories,
I was given agency only when my actions would make me seem spiteful and shallow.
They fabricated stories of my deeds until people didn't know whether to worship or fear me. They said I was to blame for things that had nothing to do with me.
I live with one version of history.
Everyone else lives with another.
No matter what the stories say, he was mine. Adonis, the one who chose me still, after seeing me for what I was. He was mine. Bled to death in my arms and he was mine. I felt grief for the first time and I taught the world to mourn with me. I taught them how to howl with pain. Just like I did. Like I still do. You'd think time would make me forget, but everything is written down. There is no forgetting.
It was my blood that made the roses red.
Did they tell you that?
My pain shaped the whole world.
Some people treat lost loves like stars, like guiding lights in the dark. You can spend your whole life following the past around if you really want to. My sister never did let a single thing go. It's true, she put Orion's body in the sky when he died. Now she sleeps under its light forever. It sounds romantic but her heart is so sore.
I treat my greatest loves like seeds.
When I'm ready,
I put them down and I seldom look back at what has grown behind me.
I keep my eyes trained ahead.
There is always more ground to cover.
I spent so much time with Venus that our stories tangled like legs in bedsheets.
People forgot the difference between my life and hers.
Things are just like that sometimes.
Love knows no face.
Love knows no gender.
Love knows no sexuality.
Love knows only love.
We waste so much time trying to explain ourselves.
We thrive best like gardens,
not singular plants in lonely pots.
When people say you cannot love others until you love yourself, they fundamentally misunderstand love. Nothing thrives in isolation.
But you must do the work to make yourself ready to love others well.
No one else can be responsible for your healing.
MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS ON LOVE
love that doesn't last is still important / not everyone is meant to stay forever / love teaches lessons / love is more than the lessons it teaches / it does not have to be heavy / it does not have to be requited to be worthwhile / no one owes you their time or their affection / cherish your friends and the family you find with them / love has little to do with blood relations / and more to do with who you choose to bleed for / it's okay to walk away from things that don't feel right / your love will not always look like everyone else's / you will not always grow it the same way / you will not always express it the same way / people can love each other and still be bad for each other / people can love each other and still be incompatible / love never means you have to stay / it means your heart is open / fight to keep it that way
It is simple. You believe in the triumphs of love despite growing up in full view of its defeat because you are brave.CHAPTER 4
THE POET SPEAKS ON LOVE
QUEER GIRL OVERTURE
I have this dream where I am not afraid to hold your hand in Texas. This dream where I don't have a visceral reaction to seeing gay pride flags. This dream where I can invite you home for Christmas dinner and my mother is so kind to you. And she asks where you went to school and she doesn't choke on your gender identity and she pulls me aside later to tell me how sweet you are. I have this dream where people on the internet stop changing the pronouns in my poetry. I have this dream where I know exactly what to say when my Southern Baptist relatives ask if I'm dating someone. I have this dream where I don't have to keep coming out over and over. Where people don't think my sexuality is a phase unless I can produce a girlfriend on command. Where people stop asking me who fucks better, men or women. Like those are the only options. Like the answer wouldn't be a gross generalization. I have this dream where people aren't always waiting to say, "maybe you haven't found the right guy." Where I don't imagine them jumping out from behind doors and bushes and shower curtains to say, "I hope you get over this in time to have children of your own." I have this dream where all of my queer representation isn't murdered on TV. I have this dream where my queer friends aren't murdered on the news. I have this dream where I feel safe. In rural Kansas. At my grandparents' house. In a gay bar. At Pride. I have this dream where I only write you love poems and none of them have to say, "I'm so glad we're alive."
My mother says:
are you still doing that gay thing? / can't you just pick one gender to kiss and stick with it? / if you have to like girls couldn't you at least like pretty, feminine ones? / why are you doing this to me? / maybe you should see a therapist
My mother says:
as the mother of a son, I hope people aren't listening to just one side of the story / yes okay I am also the mother of a daughter but that's not relevant / rape accusations can ruin men's careers / women lie about this kind of thing all the time / they lie / and they lie / and they lie
The night I was raped, I walked right past my mother and said nothing. I was afraid to be dusted for fingerprints. I was afraid to be called a liar.
To stop resenting my mother I had to unlearn the idea that our parents are these infallible beings who always know the right thing to do, and do it. I had to realize that she's more than a mother. She's a person with unresolved trauma and she's scared of being alone and she's frustrated with existence, just like everyone else.
But this is how children are forced to bear the weight of their parents' traumas. This is how dysfunction breeds its way into family lines. You forgive your mother for the things she did wrong, because of the things that were done wrong to her. You expect your children to do the same. Everyone's backs ache under the weight.
Understanding doesn't have to mean granting forgiveness.
And forgiveness doesn't have to be a free pass.
abridged list of things to let go if you want to be happy:
old versions of yourself / ideas about who and what you were supposed to be / other people's expectations of you / societal expectations of you / gender norms / heteronormativity / internalized ideas about what your life is supposed to look like / the idea that romantic love makes you whole / relationships that cause you more grief than they're worth / people who cross your boundaries / family that makes you feel unsafe or unwelcome / the need to make your happiness look like everyone else's
I'm trying to remember to make room in my life for the person I am now,
not just the people I have been.
It's important not to isolate yourself when you're healing but it's also important to be able to sit quietly with yourself.
- make art
- plant trees
- practice a skill
- teach yourself something
- learn to cook
- go for a drive
- make a new playlist
- get organized
- travel solo
- go for a walk
- go stargazing
- take a long, hot bath
- go to a museum
- write a poem
I'm still trying to figure out who I am alone so that I know who I am in front of other people. I will not be the girl who plays dress up. I will not be the girl who masquerades. I will not disappear into every relationship if I know [begin strikethrough]which pieces of myself are worth holding onto[end strikethrough] that I am worth holding onto.
Aphrodite tells me that love is like wine. If your cup is already full and you try to add more, it will just spill onto the carpet. Some people try and try and just stain everything. Their fingers are purple with want. She says you shouldn't open a new bottle if you're still holding onto an old one. I tell her I don't drink anymore and she says to me, "You have to let something go. You carry too much in your heart. There's no room for anything else."
HOW TO LET GO
1. Go somewhere quiet that you can sit peacefully. Breathe slowly. Center yourself.
2. Think of the person you need to let go of. Go over the relationship in your head. The good parts and the bad.
3. As you reach good parts of the relationship, thank them. Thank them for their space in your life, the kindness and the comfort, the happiness, the support. Thank them and release them.
4. As you reach bad parts of the relationship, consider them. Remember why you walked away. Remember your boundaries and your needs. Remind yourself why these moments are things you don't want to repeat. Send them away.
5. With the relationship fresh in your mind, write down what you still have to say. What is keeping you from moving on? Why do you still think about them? What would you say to them if you had the chance to be completely honest without repercussions? Write it down. Write until you have no more words left for this person.
6. Read the letter aloud to yourself. Give yourself the opportunity to speak your words. Put them in the air.
7. Dispose of the paper in a way that feels right to you, but that gets the thoughts and feelings you've written down moving away from you. The easiest method is sometimes to just go for a walk or a drive and to throw the letter away somewhere outside of your home. Trust the universe to carry it the rest of the way.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Aphrodite Made Me Do It"
Copyright © 2019 Trista Mateer.
Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Aphrodite Airs Her Grievances,
The Poet Airs Her Grievances,
Aphrodite Speaks on Love,
The Poet Speaks on Love,
Aphrodite Sings of War,
The Poet Sings of War,