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from ‘The Runiad’ book 9

< from Book 8

A Fortnightly Serial.


ANTHONY HOWELL writes: My own romantic notion of myself has encouraged me to attempt an epic. It will have 24 books and be the same length as the Odyssey. Each book will be approximately 24 pages long, with three seven-line verses per page. I have completed a clean draft of books 1 to 9, which I publish with Heyzine here, and to this file I will add each new book as it is completed.

from Book 9


“In gorgeous garments furthermore he did her also decke,
And on her fingers put he rings, and cheynes about her necke,”
A locket set off her cleavage. In each delicate ear was a pearl.
All most becoming, however, compared to the original girl
Naked as sculpture intended, all these accoutrements mattered
Not at all. Purple covered the couch he chose to lay her down on.
Pillows supported her head, and he was glad to share that bed.

There he would kiss her again, touch her in intimate places,
Then feel hotly ashamed, doubting whether a decent girl
Would ever allow such liberties, and vowing to himself
That he would never take advantage of so pure a thing
As his creation, until night came round once more, and as before
He’d allow his hands to wander — letting his imagination
Bring about a union of her contours and his inclination.

Then came the Festival of Love, which Cyprus honoured annually.
Bullocks white as ivory were sacrificed to Aphrodite.
Smoke infused with frankincense swirled around the altar
Where the sculptor offered lilies carved from alabaster.
Then he fell onto his knees and pleaded with the Goddess:
Mighty Queen, capable of anything, I pray thee make my wife
As like my statue as can be (he didn’t dare say, make it

Come alive). But, unknown to him, the Queen of Love
Had paid a visit to his shop, seen the wench stark naked,
Watched him as he went about adoring every inch of her,
And thought him a disciple worthy of some nice surprise,
So now three times the altar flame leapt up before his eyes.
Deeming this an omen, the love-sick sculptor hurried home
To where she still lay horizontal, inelastic and inert,

As if asleep; as if she were his Sleeping Beauty waiting
For her prince, or Surya Bai before the Rajah pulled the Raksha’s
Claw out of her palm, or King Rama’s daughter in
Bangkok, trapped so deeply in that coma. He leant over her
And kissed her lips. They softened and a warmth began to spread
From there throughout the whole of her. He stroked her breast
And felt it swell beneath his palm. The ivory became like wax

Wherever he touched. As if from the warmth of the sun,
She seemed to melt; her rigid figure softened as would wax
Made pliant by his kneading. It was as if he were shaping her
Afresh, but this time in material that was malleable.
Now, with conscience clear, he touched her body everywhere,
Amazed to feel her pulse beneath his thumb. In delight,
And praising Aphrodite, he addressed her lips once more,

And she awoke. Awoke in the midst of a kiss, and blushed at this.
Opening her eyelids, for the first time ever, she beheld a lover
And the light of day. And of course you could end it here and say
That they lived happily ever after. However, I’m inclined
To ask some awkward questions about the state of her mind.
Did she have memories? Language? Could she even stand
On her own two feet, let alone walk? He gave her a name — Galatea.

But who was her mother? The sculptor? Hadn’t he given birth to her?
And must there not have been a lengthy spell of remedial integration,
Toilet training, therapy, deportment guidance, education?
Who was her father? The tusk, I believe. I’ll suggest it belonged
To Ganesha. How Ganesha broke his tusk is told in several ways.
In the Upodghata Pada of the Brahmanda Purana, Bhagwan
Parshuram, an avatar of Vishnu, had wreaked defeat on his foe

Kartavirya Arjuna and the kings allied with him, and so
He wanted to thank Shiva for giving him an axe to use
Against his enemies. Parshuram made pilgrimage to Mount Kailash
To offer thanks to Shiva, but was halted by Ganesh,
Who advised him that his father and his mother lay asleep.
He didn’t think that Parshuram should venture to intrude on them.
Parshuram was furious this elephant thing obstructed him

And launched a punch Ganesha casually deflected
With his trunk. But then this cowboy threw his axe at him.
The axe, Ganesha knew, had been a gift from Shiva, so
Ganesha didn’t shield himself — never should this axe be used
In vain or fail in aim intended. Out of filial respect,
Ganesha took the missile and received it on his tusk.
The severed tusk fell bloodied and yet remained intact.

Since it was affection for his father that prevented
Shiva’s son from warding off this attack, it fell to the ground
On Cyprus, home of the Queen Of Love — from where it was obtained
By the “mother” of Galatea; the sculptor who had created her.
Therefore the genes of the elephant deity coursed through her
And influenced her character. Other stories of the tusk
Throw some light on her father, from which we may extrapolate

More about her nature. That these stories may conflict
Isn’t an issue here, since we deal in myth not fact,
And myth is not so much some strict account of cause and effect,
More of a quantum ramification, as indeed is this Runiad.
And so we’ll turn now to the writing of the Mahabharata.
One Maharshi Ved Vyasa got instructed to relate this epic
By the Gods. He argued that the most learned spirit in the cosmos

Should write it down concisely while he was reciting it.
Brahma thought about this, and then suggested Ved Vyas
Visit Shiva and request his son Ganesha be the one
Allocated to the task. Knowing well how poets
Are prone to writer’s block, and not wanting to waste his own
Time, Ganesha, when approached, came up with a clause
Which decreed, if ever Ved Vyas should pause, while reciting,

Therefore obliging his scribe to pause for a while as well,
He, Ganesha, wouldn’t wait for him to start again and would terminate
His writing of the epic, in which case, Maharshi Ved Vyas
Would have to search for another scribe. That is, Ved Vyas
Would have to spout the epic out at one go, without pausing at all.
Ved Vyas agreed to this but he himself put in another clause.
He told the one with the trunk that he would have to understand

Every hymn, and every verse before penning any of them down.
He put in this condition knowing he’d be reciting something tough;
And, while Ganesha pondered, he could pause to catch his breath.
However, understanding was no setback for Ganesha, more
A challenge, and he finished penning down each hymn before
Ved Vyas had even thought of the next. But as they went about
Jotting down the epic, the quill being scribbled with started to wear out —

Too brittle for its task. Aware the writing couldn’t be allowed
Ever to fall still, Ganesha deliberately pulled out his tusk,
Dipped it in ink and used it to continue. Thus was the mighty tome
Completed in record time. And Ganesha then went on
To write a description of immobility in a traffic jam
That would have delighted Raymond Roussel, but what
Do these stories tell us about Galatea? Well, her character

Was fashioned by her father who was after all a God
And not a mere sculptor. Nine months after becoming alive,
She was delivered of a son, and never properly regained
Her figure after giving birth, much to her husband’s chagrin.
Perfect beauty, after all, has to stay perfectly still.
The living and breathing Galatea rather took after her father,
Developed a comfortable belly and literary skill.

Although no longer his ideal, Galatea knew how to retain
The love of a husband, knew that the way to his heart
Is largely through his stomach, learnt to cook, and served him up
Many a delicious meal. She also brought him luck.
His fame had spread since she had been transformed from statue
Into girl, so commissions flooded in, and she became his manager
And always saw a way to deal with obstacles that blocked his path

Or to arrest his falling into the traps set by unscrupulous dealers.
He could talk to her about his art. She understood,
But never offered him advice unless of course it was called for.
He discovered that this empathy of hers mattered more
Than a merely empty-headed beauty might have meant.
Sexual desire is a currency all too easily spent.
But the wisdom of his woman seemed a present from Athena.

Thus he felt doubly blessed, and lived to a ripe old age,
An artist fulfilled by his companion. As for Galatea herself,
She became a formidable philosopher. Wondering about her wondrous
Start, she had an inkling there was more to the tusk than had ever
Been cognized. What meaning was there to its singularity?
She made a study of elephants, and realised at once that there were
Commonly two tusks. Did wisdom need to go beyond duality?

NOTE. In Ovid’s account of Pygmalion and Galatea, the sculptor carves her out of ivory. If she were life-sized, that’s a lot of ivory! Earlier in the poem, it is explained that a huge tusk has been discovered on Cyprus.

—This is the sixth installment of The Runiad.
See previously
Extracts from Books 1 & 2
Extracts from Books 3 & 4
Extracts from Book 5 & 6
Extract from Book 7
Extract from Book 8

Anthony HowellANTHONY HOWELL, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, was founder of The Theatre of Mistakes and performed solo at the Hayward Gallery and at the Sydney Biennale. His articles on visual art, dance, performance, and poetry have appeared in many publications including Art Monthly, The London Magazine, Harpers & Queen, The Times Literary Supplement. He is a contributing editor of  The Fortnightly Review. In 2001 he received a LADA bursary to study the tango in Buenos Aires and now teaches the dance at his studio/gallery The Room in Tottenham Hale. He is the author of a seminal textbookThe Analysis of Performance Art: A Guide to Its Theory and PracticeDetails about his collaborative project, Grey Suit Editions, are here. In 2019, his exploration of psychic chaos, Consciousness (with Multilation)was published by the Fortnightly’s imprint, Odd Volumes. His latest collection is From Inside (The High Window).

Image credits: Drawings by Anthony Howell. Top image from Burak Basturk.

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