A time, there was, before the Kiss,
when Love was mild and demure.
Romance brooked “holding hands” and “hugs”,
but Passion not, you can be sure.
Then came the Kiss: first thought quite strange,
it little spoke and had no name.
In form: so fine! Of skills: such range!
Not well-controlled, not one bit tame.
None could resist such welcome change
and Love would never be the same.
Yet, just how all this happened had
been lost. And no one knew
If gods or man conceived the Kiss
nor how that spark of genius grew,
Until, by chance, Cupid and I
a disagreement had, or two.
And in the struggle, was revealed
a history that has no peer,
with myriad players and a plot
t’would make you laugh then shed a tear,
wrinkle up your face in disbelief
or jump out of your chair and cheer!
I’ll now relate that marvelous tale,
part myth, part fact, all True!
And the gist of the proof consists of this:
the Gift I have for you.
Yesterday, in a rummage sale,
I saw a rare and antique “mirror”.
The frame was bronze, blue-green with age,
the glass, like a lake: deep blue but clear.
I took it home and found the edges
dense with figures brash and bold:
of gods and heroes, like Achilles’ shield
that Vulcan made of old.
I puzzled looking at the glass
that, like the surface of a pond,
had gentle undulations through which
I could glimpse the depth beyond.
But … there was: no telling if the Top
would be in This or That direction,
No way to distinguish Front from Back,
its Purpose defied detection;
It was … most clearly … a waste of funds
upon closer inspection.
Yet, ’round the face, in ancient Greek
so faint ’twas almost missed,
Was a myth first told when Love was young
and no mortal had yet been kissed.
It began like this:
and a tipsy Dionysius drawn,
Then critiqued by amorous Aphrodite
who felt the basic plan was strong,
but needed time ‘alone’ to ‘study it’
and several samples, while she was gone,
of Hard, Soft, Playful, Tender, Breathless,
Lingering and Long.
Poor Aphrodite everything’d tried to woo Adonis’ heart.
Cupid, wishing to help, had shot him with a holy dart.
A drift of adoring dryads steered Adonis’ eyes in her direction.
But, his jealous mare perceived the threat, and stepped right in between them.
The dart, thus, doubled his love for his horse (who liked to hunt as much as he) …
And left unhealed, the wound of Longing deep in Aphrodite.
Rumor tracked Kiss-laden Venus to a lakeshore blind,
Her quarry: that horse-loving Hunter, handsome as the wading hind
That there transfixed his Romance-barren, Orionic mind.
She distracted him with Playful and then stunned him with a Hard,
Drowned him in a flood of Breathless (which on every test had starred)
Then, nursed him back with Long and Tender. He, his new eyes opening,
Took her in his arms, and Kissed her Softly Lingering.
Now, Pan was on a date so great, he arrived one day late for the trial.
Rumor unburdened herself to him of all she’d seen meanwhile.
Pan, hurried to Dionysus’ pub
And … Rumor’s Latest passing on,
angled for one Unforgettable
and a couple Quick, but Strong.
But his Mentor sighed, ‘I have been told:
when Venus left on her foray,
she, so it seems, ‘borrowed’ the mold.
So, we are out, I’m sad to say.
But the view is fine, please, have some wine.
The Graces will dream more up some Day
and ’til then, dance the Nights away!’
Pan, three drinks after Caution left,
told Regret, ‘Smooth-talking de Milo
Is keeping the Kiss from the rest of us!
She’s stolen Happiness and surely knows:
Her Adonis loved but horse and chase,
On arm, his falcon, in hand, his bow.
Some sample smooch his soul’s replaced:
Her arms are now his bungalow!
His sack once brimmed with fowl and pheasants,
he slept in saddle, drank but rain.
Now, he beds til noon and brings her presents
the only game his packs contain!
Her changed Adonis suits her liking
so much she’s now safe from Lack
and, as such Love knows no declining,
may never bring the Kiss mold back!’
Regret, thinking “No silver lining!”,
foresaw his ruminating ranks explode.
In prep, to test how much Distress
his devotees would know,
He recalled a future Kiss-less Day …
and oh, that Thought brought him so low,
He hermes’d his friends, The Fates, saying
‘There’s something you should know…’
Taking a skein of Tears and Rain,
The Fates flew to the Loom of Never
And began to spin and weave a World
without a single Kiss forever.
Regret told Pan what he’d achieved,
but Pan just laughed and said: ‘Whatever.
If you had ever seen their work,
you’d know the Graces are so clever
not even The Fates
(your Omnipotent, Arch-enemies of Bliss!)
could ever corral The Kiss.
Now, Venus is another matter.
With Vulcan wrapped around her wrist,
She’d lock it in a box so strong
t’would take an inside job to free
the Catalyst of Trysts.’
(No one knows just how that ‘job’
appeared on Chance’s Might-Do List.)
Mischievous Mirth some Foolishness
had snuck beside its heart
Quite sure the Kiss would never, ever
be but Hope or Art.
Though, History had larger plans
for the Kiss right from the start.
He intimated to Disaster:
‘Delphi slipped me a prophecy
Of (possibly) the Fall of Troy,
that she needs to come true, you see,
Suggesting we might intercede
or even do the deed.
I wondered if you would agree:
one Kiss is all we’d need.’
Gossip overheard them and
sent Fame to check the lead.
Fame glimpsed a ‘French Kiss’ through the curtains
as the Graces finished up that day
And spread the word: ‘Love soon to be
a dessert served on a tray.’
At that news, Cupid jumped and
beelined to the studio,
to see if Rumor might be right:
the Kiss could trump True Love as just
some chocolate gateau.
He arrived, saw with Relief, that Fame
and Truth were having quite a row,
And grasped at once the power
of one with Kisses AND the Bow.
He considered how to get a Kiss:
he could mortgage both his wings,
Sell his golden quiver,
hock his spare bowstrings,
Lend a couple arrows to
some lovelorn lass or beau,
Electing to just steal the Kiss
and pretend to nothing know.
By Chance, Chance glanced at his Might-List
as Cupid passed in burglar-dress,
And clairvoy’d Venus with the key
a hiding-place to find, hard pressed.
He sents his barn owl minion who
asked rapt Adonis, as a jest,
If there was any bit of Venus
he had not kissed yet?
Adonis rose, stole to her side,
and Kissed her on the neck.
She dropped the key and made a note
some more of those to get.
Cupid, watching from the window,
patient as a sloth,
Awaited that Kiss’ full effect,
snatched key and box, and, zip, was off.
As soon as Cupid had the Kiss,
he wished to give it back.
His wings were dragging on the ground
as he whimpered on Pan’s lap:
‘Every nymph to whom I give one
just wants more and more and more.
Now the line runs ’round the block.
I can’t use my front door!’
Pan gave a thoughtful nod and said,
‘Why not … make them by the score?’
Keeping hid behind a cloud,
C. straight to Vulcan flew.
He thought about that long, long line
and what a Kiss could do,
then told the god, ‘In gold, one thousand,
no … let’s make that two.’
The Great Smith rolled his eyes and said:
‘Two thousand? Are you sure?
You think this is ‘a real thing’
And not some fling du jour?
Let’s see …
The workmanship is intricate,
I spy the Graces’ expertise:
Line, Timing, Feelings, and Suspense,
Raw Passion-wrapped, it’s quite a piece.
I’ll have to use the finest gold,
And still, t’won’t be an easy pour.
If the nymphs decide ’tis démodé,
The price will fall right through the floor.
When your mom hears of that … well, well …
her Ire none can endure.’
Cupid umbrage feigned, but whispered,
‘Spare no expense, and stock more gold,
By the time she’s out of samples,
I’ll have all the first run sold,
and, with Disaster in control,
she’ll be glad you have the mold.’
No sooner had Vulcan finished
than Apollo caught Cupid in his snare.
After hunting him for centuries,
this was Luck beyond compare.
Ne’er would he break another heart
or shoot his passion darts.
Kept fast in iron chains he’d be
Three thousand years to start.
But, Cupid squirmed, stretched hard full length
And fired right through the net
Striking the smiling Sun god squarely
In his blazing chest.
Just then his cousin Daphne happened
to be passing through.
So full of Love, Apollo grabbed
the Kisses and pursued
Her to the Woods to make an off’ring
to Her, but his good
Intentions and his sacred ardor
And, all the worst believing, turned
into a Laurel Tree
In whose limbs, Apollo, grieving,
hid the Kisses for Eternity.
Stoic Vulcan heard this tale
and from his eye a tear
Fell upon his ancient anvil
and there formed a mystic mirror
in which a true love lost forever
could be glimpsed again.
He cast a frame telling his friend’s sorrow
and placed the mirror in a glen
Seeming to be a shimmering pool
where love-lost gods and men
for a thousand years would seek for solace
and remember when.”
The translation done, I looked up:
The “mirror” … was shimmering. With all my ken,
I reread the last paragraph,
thrice checked my work, and then
tossed away my pen:
The white elephant from the rummage sale
standing in my den
was Vulcan’s teardrop from the glen.
And, that was not the end:
Narcissus wandered through those Woods,
A hummingbird observing,
And saw a soft and flickering glow,
both attracting and unnerving:
A host of naiads swarmed within
a beautiful Laurel’s limbs
around a simple linen sack
high up where ’twas too dim
To see without the luminescence
of the Numinim.
Curiosity, his constant fellow,
came and lifted him
Up on his shoulders high enough
to loose Apollo’s binding
And, like a bear with a honeybee hive,
the naiad stings not minding,
Opened the bag of Cupid’s wonders
Nothing of interest finding.
Narcissus noticed his thirst flamed
as if ’twas Hades-made;
Curiosity grabbed the Kisses’ sack and
they headed to the glade.
Cupid, by Chance (that Omniscience
even Fate cannot evade),
Tired of searching for the Kisses,
was napping in the shade.
As soon as Cupid saw the sack
he jumped up, plucked and drew.
Narcissus, about to take a sip,
was hit with Love so true
That the mystic mirror showed him himself
and as that fresh love grew,
The purpose of the thousand Kisses
suddenly he knew.
Snatching the sack, he poured them all
into the pool so blue.
I was studying the frame and tale:
Their authenticity was palpable,
But for that source, the rummage sale …
a provenance so laughable
Even I, if asked, would have to cede:
Then, a couple thousand Kisses just came
pouring from the mirror.
The rain of Kisses stopped and as
I stumbled on what to do,
Cupid with wings, darts, bow and quiver
tumbled after too.
He hastily checked himself
for injury or de-elation,
Divined I was no threat due to
my abject consternation,
nor had the mix or wit to fix
his favorite libation,
Gave a bow t’excuse his dropping in
without an invitation,
Then saw the scattered Kisses and
flashed back to his fixation.
With god-like quickness, Cupid put
the Kisses in a pile.
Fast though he was, filling the sack
was going to take a while.
He had his back toward me, and as
my focus strangely narrowed,
I remembered sage Apollo, and swiftly
seized his bow and arrows,
Triple-chained them, and prepared
to throw away the key,
but saw that Cupid’ stopped and now
was motioning to me.
Then He showed me Each of those Golden kisses
Specially made for you,
Enumerated how You deserved them
All thousand or two.
I didn’t have to think. I just gave him back his bow.
I took the Kisses, but he shot me with his last lit arrow.
Which had not e’en the least effect: it just fell on the floor,
For my heart’s so full of love for you, there is no room for more.
Assuming I’d be swooning from the power of that dart,
He snatched the sack and quickly sprang up ready to depart.
But he could not.
I still had the drawstring locked securely in my hand;
Those Kisses were Yours
as he’d explained
with the eloquence of Rostand.
It was only fair: His Arrows for the Kisses, as we planned.
He gave a Yank that would have pulled
out all Cerberus’ teeth,
the rug from under Polyphemus,
or Medusa off her feet,
The shuttles out of The Fates’ dark hands
to delay an ominous stitch,
e’en the Irresistibility from the Siren’s song
but it did not budge my grip.
His mind raced searching for precedents
Prometheus til Now. Those conjoined twin imps,
Puzzled Wonder and Disbelief, vied to rule his brow:
The dart was lit, the bow was strong, but I held on somehow.
Slowly then he realized, I was in love with You
And that love gives me a power even gods cannot subdue.
So, Cupid frowned and stamped his foot, then shrugged and said, “Oh Dear!
Vulcan will have to make some more” and flew toward the Mirror.
Venus sensed her wayward son had passed into another Life.
Regret told her she wished they’d spent more time as friends and less in strife.
She thought about the good times and Regret tossed out: “It would be nice
To go down to that lovely Glade and offer him a sacrifice.”
Never much for burning up, except in bed and late at night,
She thought eating a box of chocolates in his honor would be just right.
Vulcan heard from Gossip what had happened in the Glade
And began to wonder if he never ever would get paid.
Guessing Venus might miss her son and learn of his teardrop demise,
He planned to intercept her as she left her mourning at poolside.
Heating up the mold, instead of gold, some dark chocolate he tried,
Then, cast a dozen Kisses and a box as a surprise.
He picked a lightning bolt too straight for Zeus to ever mess with,
Poked one end in the Laurel grove, the other leaned against Olympus,
Greased the backside of his leathers, mounted with a youthful ease,
And slid like lightning down that bolt, landing amongst the trees.
Chance’s owl had told the Graces Vulcan had the mold,
And it dawned on Apollo: “Graces plus 2”, his chariot would hold.
The Graces went and got their shades, Pan wore his favorite cap
With horn holes fit for bill-in-front, -left, -right and -straight-in-back.
They arrived at Heaven’s foundry but saw Vulcan sliding down the sparus.
So, Apollo cracked his whip and whistled to his trusty lead, Eous.
Pyrois sprang against the harness, Aethon and Phlegon joined in,
And down the Mount the chariot flew trailing their hoofs’ resounding din.
Pan and Fame were dancing when that entourage passed by.
He caught the nearest Unicorn, she arc’d across the Sky,
But was delayed by a hurricane she’d caused by spreading such bold lies
Zeus raised a storm of satiric Derision that made the Clouds laugh til they cried.
Regret recalled Venus would wish she’d stuck with long tradition.
Venus, fashioning a boat of leaves, was caught by Indecision:
Just how much chocolate did she need on Cupid’s funeral pyre?
“Just some sprinkles”, Hunger whispered, and lit the sacred fire.
The Laurel homage boat and holy flame began to float away.
Venus looking at the “water” felt a sudden urge to wade.
She took a step into the pool with its strange bronze frame shore,
felt warm the embrace of the Deep, and then was seen no more.
Vulcan sitting on the cool veranda of his tree house grand,
Six rooms and spiral stairs he’d made with one wave of his hand,
Saw his golden goose and jewelry-judge just simply disappear(!),
Put down his scroll of Famous Swords and dove into the Tear.
The Graces lined up on the shore, hoping Vulcan could swim
or that Chance had made sure the sole Kiss mold was not with him.
Sweet Pleasant Breeze was teaching singing to the Laurel trees
And opened up the score of Pan’s Chorus for Autumn Leaves.
Splendor’s dress, her balance stole, as Breeze reached a Forte,
She grabbed Abundance by the arm, hoping her fall to stay.
Abundance peering at the pool was lost in a heart question,
Quite sure she’d seen Vulcan below (though ’twas Curiosity’s reflection).
Mirth seeing Abundance tipping, took her hand and pulled with might.
Apollo grabbed Mirth ’round the waist to save them all and would have quite,
But Regret, who knew he’d regret it, bumped him ‘accidentally’,
And the four line dancers, one by one, fell in the little sea.
Pan figured why not join the fun and jumped, eyes closed tightly.
Adonis thought he might be next in line for Cupid’s job.
He took his bow and arrows, saddled up his late heart-throb,
Followed Venus’ trail o’er hill and dale, and with the Love Glade just beyond,
cried “Whoa”. His jilted mare said “No” and threw him in the pond.
Curiosity got the best of himself and, hanging like a fool
(His toes on shore, one hand around a branch both just above the pool),
was trying to determine where the others could have gone
without the slightest ripple, underwater for so long.
Narcissus angry Curiosity was blocking the view of his true love
Without of moment of reflection, pealed his fingers off the bough.
Curiosity speechless, Disbelief asked for an explanation.
Narcissus scoffed and off’d them both to Peneus’ wet nation.
With Narcissus, Regret, Gossip and Fame the sole souls left behind,
The wise old owl surveyed the Future in his timeless mind.
Chance, smoking Vulcan’s pipe, affirmed Owl’s feeling: “In this case
The Rest, though surely to be missed, are in a better place.”
Seven thousand years later, in my den, about ten feet below,
Cupid paused and cocked his head, the blue glass shimmered so.
Then, Venus alighted from the Mirror without a loss of poise,
Vulcan somersaulted to the bookcase and sat up quite annoyed.
Adonis o’ershot the lazy boy and landed rather hard,
Apollo gravitated to the window, Pan fell behind the bar.
The Graces floated to the couches, and then wished a pot of tea.
Curiosity, last, who’s eighteen-two and eats voraciously,
Came down like a great tree and landed smack on top of me.
With Curiosity there (’twas hardly fair), we had their full Attention.
Cupid explained with Meter and Rhyme the doleful situation:
How my love for You had bested him… the room buzzed uncontrollably
while Puzzled Wonder and Disbelief ran around with knavish glee.
They Cupid pressed: what god was I and what my talent, boisterously.
He clarified: “He’s just a man in a year known but to Destiny.
And that Year is a date so late”, he paused, “The Olympian gods and crew,
The Myths included, are no more considered to be true.
And humans have so well unlearned our Mother Gaia’s Wisdom,
Science’s laws enthrall, but they bend All to suit their Whimsdom.
But, Good News!, Love’s alive and well, though Caution says ‘Take Care:
Thanks in part to History and Disaster, the Kiss is everywhere.’
“Somehow, one side of Vulcan’s Teardrop’s in 5000 years B.C.
The other is here, in his den (that’s obvious, I see).
The Reason could be this: he has a girl beyond compare,
His love is True, he’s learned well, too, the power Love’s gifted share.”
I passed around your photo, and told about the Day we met,
They asked what you were like, I said: No one you could ever forget.
Venus praised your Poise and Beauty, Bearing, Wit and Taste,
of Evening, Dawn, The Peach and Pear, new Hope and Youth, she found a trace.
Adonis breathed Adorable, Spendor extolled Your eyes.
Abundance marveled at your Tender Kindness free of Pride.
Mirth smiled at your Charm and endlessly infectious Humor
and thought You’d giggle at the trick that Fame had played on Rumor.
Pan pointed to your Shyness, Elegance and sweet Humility.
Apollo beamed “Fair Daphne in her youth is coming back to me.”
Curiosity wondered if the Stars had highlighted your hair with their own hands,
And Vulcan homered: “For Helen, but one. For You, they’d launch Five thousand!”
Cupid sighed, “Though oft-maligned, I’m still not giving up my bow.
But, the World’s so much in need of Love, I hoped for help from those … (you know).
I’m asking if you ALL agree: the Kisses can go to Her?
With all you deities in the room, he is now outnumbered.”
The nods went round: “The Kisses are Hers”,
Until they got to Venus.
Her sometime-servant, Ire, had usurped rule of her face.
Vulcan stared down at the floor, Pan hid behind a vase.
Then, Cupid, having lost all Hope, began to think the tide
Had turned, now flowing his way with The Goddess on his side!
“How does she fit so much Displeasure in such little space?”
And Splendor said, “So perfect, the Reverse would almost be a Grace.
And, by the way, where has Mirth gone? There’s no one in her place?”
Adonis recklessly arose and offered her a spot of tea,
Suspecting that Distraction would tweak Ire’s A.D.D.
But, Venus just waved him away, and stood imperiously,
Scanning the room who felt their Doom arriving momentarily.
Then, Mirth stopped her Pretending’s Ire and Venus cracked a smile:
“We had you all fooled! Didn’t we? We were Bad but we had Style!”
The room broke out in great guffaws and Mirth flooded the den
With all twelve amphorae of Laughter Chance dropped in the pool just then,
relieved Relief recalled the jokes needed to pop them open.
“OF COURSE, she gets the Kisses! My eyes glistened just like yours!
Chance probably set this whole thing up, knowing how she’s adored.”
Vulcan, with Pretending’s help was holding back a tear
(none could divine if ’twas Mirth’s work or Friendship’s joy sincere.)
Clearing his throat and blinking twice, The Smith declared: “I have the mold.
If Venus agrees to free the Kiss, and helps me buy the gold,
I’ll get the apron out again, clear forge of shield and sword,
And, shouldering that Herculean task, get on with making more.”
They all stood up, thanked him sincerely, and slapped him on the back.
Pan batched up some Ambrosia, and they all toasted his hat,
Then, making a line and holding hands,
let out an Olympian cheer,
Took a launching run from the living room
and jumped back through the Mirror.
And that is why the World
is still awash in broken hearts,
But I have a thousand golden kisses
for you, or two, to start.
You may feel, as any Venus would,
that after ALL of this,
I’ve failed to even hint if C.
rostanding so eloquently
Just happened to have shared with me
the tale of the First Kiss.
In this I’ve been remiss:
A local naiad and a faun
from Olympus’ other side,
who’d seen each other
across the fire
at Harvest Eventide,
Chance’d by the “Kiss Critique” and spied
a plate of tiny untouched cakes
after Venus had passed by.
The card by the plate said “Innocent”
though neither nymph nor faun could read
the written word and instead relied
on body language for that need.
They made a plan, with a wink agreed,
and sidled slowly to the plate,
she, combing out her cascade of tresses,
he, scolding his pipes for some grievous mistake.
In a blink, they were back in the fields
giggling and divvying up their take.
But, this was new … each cake had two
entwined halves, that whenever
separated and placed near
would snap right back together.
The naiad, laughing, took one half
the faun picked up the other,
and made up a little jousting game
as if sister and brother.
Stopping to catch their breath, each dared
the other to taste the cake,
then, again with a wink, agreed
to each a nibble take
at the very same time and give
a thumb score on the taste.
Looking into each other’s eyes
to enforce their ‘wink contract’ as such,
they took a little bite …
At first, it did not taste like much,
so they nibbled again. Then, quite …
Suddenly their lips became
attracted to each other’s.
And before they knew just what to do
and catch their balance or recover,
They were leaning lips together,
fast bound by the invisible
Distance-hating Kiss tether.
For a moment, they stood there surprised
one cake could send their balance missing,
For another, realizing happily
this was what they’d been wishing,
Then, in the next, much as when Winter
first is touched by Spring,
Entranced, began in wondering
how anyone could be so wonderful
as the One they now were kissing.
After that moment finished and
the First Kiss did not end,
Their arms, impatient at being left out,
agitated to be let in.
Then just by Chance, Tender Embrace
arrived and showed those limbs
How to let their feelings guide … and
they were content again.
Several moments later, The Kiss
relaxed its hold on them.
They opened their eyes
bashfully turned aside,
glancing back now and then.
They did not quite know what to say
so nibbled a little more …
And you perhaps can guess the rest
since you’ve been there before.
By Roy Hildestad
©Copyright 2018, Roy Hildestad, Santa Barbara, CA. All rights reserved.
This version: March 26, 2018.