“Give me a lever and a place to stand,”
Archimedes once said, “and I will move the Earth.”
But where do you stand to move the Earth?
And where do you stand to hold the sky?
Atlas tricked me, just for a moment;
not easy to do, as I am not the brainless
basket of muscles that too many take me for.
I had been sent to bring back
the apples of the Hesperides, his daughters–
an impossible task, given the dragon
that guarded both apples and nymphs;
and since he was their father,
he offered to go and obtain the apples for me.
I shouldered his burden,
lifting the weight of the All upon my shoulders,
never thinking he would not honor his word
and immediately take it back when
he returned, as he’d said he would.
I never gave a thought to where I stood;
perhaps it isn’t the fact that I carried the sky
that was so important;
perhaps it was that I carried all that the sky contained,
all it represented,
and all it meant to all those who looked upon it.
The moon with its dreams and fancies,
the sun that lit our every day,
the stars that led us in our ways both day and night,
by land and by sea.
Every bird that soars overhead to become an augury,
every insect, every torn leaf on the wind–
these things weigh so much more than you might ever dream–
certainly more than I did.
I don’t know how he managed,
bearing that burden day after day,
but for even a few hours,
I held it up, and it tested my strength
as it had never been tested before.
Does that make him the stronger than me?
I took it on voluntarily,
whereas he was forced to shoulder that weight
in penitence for his crimes,
and bear it forever.
Which of us, then, is the strongest?