by Mary A. Turzillo

In his mind, the artist sees the perfect woman,
more beautiful than any mortal eyes can compass,
a woman of the soul, daughter of dragons,
sister to the sea-nymphs, marble made flesh.
He would have no mortal bride.
He finds a likely lump of clay, a mud clod,
lying in his path, somehow seducing.
And in his mind begins creating.
His hands knead and shape, mind awakens mud.
He makes a woman. She is half alive.
An awkward thing, lisping and gawking,
clay feet and drooling mouth.
He can fix that. He is an artist.
He shapes her face, molds her breasts,
making out of dirt his perfect mistress.
He looks around at mortal women,
idealizes flesh he sees and gives it to his creature.
Now it is time to name this thing.
Shall she be Eliza? Shall he call her Dulcinea?
She can hardly speak, for he has not yet given her a soul.
But he calls her Galatea. Teaches her to speak her name.
She is formed of loveliness: he is a master sculptor
But it needs more. She needs the poet’s touch.
He teaches her to talk, teaches her the words
the daughter of dragons, mistress of the night sky would speak.
He schools her, takes her to other artists,
makes her a lady. More than a lady,
a princess, a queen of the darkness inside clay,
an empress. A goddess. Galatea.
He teaches her to love, for mud does not know love.
He lights a brand from his own dragon soul
and gives that flame to her. She begins to glow.
Galatea, Galatea. And he falls in love,
because that was his point, to make a woman
resplendent, divine enough, to earn his love.
He takes her on his arm, his consort.
Others of his tribe behold and fall in love,
for she is all the splendor that the artist has within.
They look at her and see the artist’s dragon soul.
Men fall in love with her because of what he made of her.
And she is vain. For he forgot to give her modesty.
Modesty seemed unneeded among virtues
for this perfect queen, this goddess.
She bestows her light on this and that one,
for she is capable of ardor, full of lust.
The perfect woman, naturally, is full of passion,
and the artist neglected fidelity among his gifts.
She scrutinizes him. He is imperfect. Human.
Why should she not have many worshipers?
Men fall at her feet, lick her hands, sport as if in rut,
and she entertains the ones who most flatter her.
Her fickleness hurts the artist. Why must she seek others?
Why does her eye wander? This man and that
catches her fancy; she disappears long months
with whatever dandy gives her gifts or flattery.
Then she returns. But the artist is broken.
She is his love. Her flame is his dragon flame.
How can she flit like a tawdry moth here and there?
And finally, because he didn’t give her perfect vision,
she favors a toad-like man pushed at her by sycophants.
She sends the artist taunting letters.
She mocks his love, his art, his dragon soul.
And the artist falters. He stumbles and descends
into the pit his own art creates for him,
a hell made of his own imaginings.
It is the end. He dies a hero’s death
battling imaginary trolls, phantasmal gryphons,
things of the same stuff of which he made Galatea,
monsters of his own creation.
Galatea, far and farther from her maker’s flame,
loses the framework of her beauty.
Her features melt and drag; it is not so much age
as dissolution which deforms her beauty.
She hulks; she laughs ugly hawking gasps.
Her words fail her.
Soon she can no longer speak.
And then her eyes go muddy
and her profile blunts.
Her perfect figure slumps to bags of mud.
She dines on worms and toads,
and sometimes plays the whore with them.
And finally becomes the mud of which the artist made her.
As to him, the artist burns his dragon flame,
his eyes close, his lips are dumb,
he turns to charred oak, splintered marble, tempered steel.
Only his poetry and art speak for him,
speeches from beyond his grave.
His comrades sing his fate with bitter love.
Mortal woman grieve at his monument,
seeking the fire his dragon heart once held.
But he is cold,
and he will have no mortal bride.
Mary A. Turzillo is a 1999 Nebula winner (novelette) with work coming out in Analog, Mythic Delirium, The Fifth Di . . . , Bull Spec, and Analog.
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