I've been doing some research on a goddess known as Ishtar, goddess of fertility, sex, war and love in the Babylonian pantheon. She is often compared to the Greek of Roman goddess Venus or Aphrodite. But of course, many civilizations have their own equivalent, such the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who I became familiar with in the novel The Red Tent. Ishtar is particularly interesting because even though she represents all these good things (save for war), she is essentially a very volatile character. She is spoiled, bad-tempered, and not to mention all of her lovers she comes to scorn. When she appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh trying to win over Gilagamesh, this is what he has to say to her:
"Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing [...] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong [...] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."
The poem I wrote today is a recanting of Ishtar at the underworld gates in her own voice. I debated whether to retell the entire story and ultimately decided that I wouldn't, at least for now. Also, I was further inspired to write this after reading "Medusa" by Patricia Smith.
ISHTAR AT THE UNDERWORLD GATES
I came to the gates and demand they let me enter.
I am not the kind of woman who stands in line by the street. I
have places to be seen at and people to screw.
I told them
they had one more minute to act like they didn't know me--
before I got Big Bad Wolf in here. I'll huff and puff and blow this
shithole to the ground. Do you know who I am?
I'll call up the dead and have them gnaw you lifeless. I'll
call up the dead and have them take all this over. What
choice did they have? Of course they let me in.
But they were still hating on me, talking about I had to take off
one article of clothing each gate I passed though knowing I'd be
naked by the time I even reached in there.
Joke was on them though. I live in the nude. Nobody's body
talks as loud as mine does. I mean, anybody who sees me
wants to touch me, that's how shiny, how sweet I am.