Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Athena's Curse"

This poem came out of the May 2019 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] librarygeek. It also fills the "Eight of Arrows - Struggle" square in my 4-30-19 card for the Tarot Bingo fest. This poem is posted as protest against recent attacks on women's health and freedom by Alabama and Georgia. (This also impact everyone else with a working uterus, followed by collateral damage to their friends and family.) You can help by joining the boycott.

Warning: This poem features intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers and possibly also triggers. It includes misogyny, politics, Pagan spirituality, feminism, anti-South sentiments, anti-Christian sentiments, a 13-year-old girl pregnant by incest and forced to carry the baby, medical references, apparent miscarriage, forced affect, theft, punitive pregnancy in men who raped people, lack of sex education, and other challenges. Please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding if you want to read onward.

"Athena's Curse"

It started with a field trip.

A junior high class went
to the Parthenon in Nashville.

They looked at the tall pillars
and listened to the teacher
drone on about architecture.

After the class moved along,
one of the girls lingered behind.

Tina looked up at the massive statue
of Athena Parthenos rearing 42 feet
above the sleek, gleaming floor.

"I tried praying to God, but he doesn't
give a fuck," Tina said. "So now I'm
praying to you, Athena Parthenos. They
say you're a warrior goddess and you care
about girls. I'm only 13 and my daddy
knocked me up. The doctors could
take out the baby but they won't.
You're my last hope. Help me."

She knelt to leave the only offering
that she had, a dollar coin gilded
with a woman's face, at the feet
of the towering golden goddess.

There was no thunder, no lightning,
no sign of any divine attention.

Tina caught up with her class
and rode the bus home.

But the next day, when
she went to the appointment,
there was unexpected news.

"I'm so sorry, sweetie, you've
lost your baby," the doctor said.
"There will have to be an investigation,
but you probably won't go to jail -- girls
your age have a high risk of miscarriage."

Tina didn't cheer. She put on a sad face
and pretended to cry over a dead baby
that she never wanted in the first place.

When she went home, she stole
a chocolate bar from her mother
and a pocket knife from her father.

She tore out an army ad with a picture
of a woman soldier to make a shrine
in honor of Athena Parthenos.

Then Tina set up her things
in a pile of rocks in the woods
where nobody would ever find them,
and there she worshipped the Goddess.

Every day, Tina snuck out to the shrine
and brought offerings to Athena. Mostly
they were for herself, for gratitude, but
sometimes she brought things for
other girls who'd gotten in trouble.

Then her daddy got sick.

He went to see a doctor,
but came home screaming
in rage instead of feeling better.

Tina was shocked to hear that
her daddy was knocked up.

There wasn't a dirty class on sex
in her school, because she lived in
a decent town, but she was pretty sure
that wasn't supposed to happen to men.

But it was. It was happening all over.

Tina's parents didn't turn off the news
quick enough and she overheard
how there was a pregnancy plague
ripping through the south and
heading north at a rapid rate.

The doctors thought it had
started in Tennessee but they
couldn't be sure. It might have
been Georgia or Alabama, since
there were cases raging in
Atlanta and Birmingham
as well as Nashville.

Tina had a pretty good idea
where it had started, though.

Smiling, she stole a jar of olives
and headed into the woods.

The struggle wasn't over, but
at least now women had an ally.

People tried to hush it up,
of course, but eventually
it came out that all of
the pregnant men
had raped someone.

They were actually
knocked up with
their own babies --
the flesh was the same
as theirs. Parthenogenesis,
that was the fancy word for it.

The whole legal system was
in an uproar, because rape
was supposed to be against
the law even though men
did it all the time.

Health care was
a mess because it
wasn't set up to care
for pregnant men.

All Tina cared about was
that she wasn't pregnant.

Those men could all
go fuck themselves.

Then Tina heard about
the meeting in the park --
apparently she wasn't
the only girl who prayed
to Athena Parthenos.

The people on the news
were starting to call it
"Athena's Curse."

Tina knew better:
it wasn't a curse at all,
it was a blessing.

Isn't that what people
kept saying of pregnancy?

So Tina used a bedsheet
to make herself a Greek robe,
filled a clay bowl with olive oil,
and walked to the park.

It was dusk, and there
were already dozens
of women and girls
gathering in the grass.

Someone passed Tina
a match and she lit the wick
floating in her bowl.

Flames leaped
all around her like
so many fireflies.

An old woman stood
to recite a prayer, first
in Greek, then in English.

It was old, old, that prayer
the woman said, but to Tina
it was new and fierce as the Moon
rising like a sickle sword over the trees.

She lifted her olive oil lamp over her head
and danced her gratitude to the Goddess
with her white-clad sisters all around her.

* * *


See a map of the southern United States.

The golden dollar coin features a portrait of Sacagawea (and her son Pompey).

Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, women (especially virgins), and war. She gave her name to the concept of parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction. Suitable offerings include olives and ceramics.

The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee is a full-scale replica of the original in Greece, complete with a massive gilded statue of Athena Parthenos.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, paganism, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, writing
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