Pallas Athena remembers being born.
Not only that, she remembers before she was born: the inside of Zeus’s egghead with its squishy, pinky grey matter, slimy darkness, trying to keep upright as her feet settle into sulci, the electricity of synapses firing all around like lightning
bugs, pulling her cloak tight around her to keep its edges from dipping into the corpus callosum, and a general stench of man, sort of sweaty
in an unpleasant way, which she eventually grows used to.
Pallas Athena remembers her headbirth in detail:
Just above her: a wall of bone: Zeus’s os frontale.
She feels with her hands in the darkness in front of her; feels the squishy brain womb compress under her palm like mud; feels it squish between her fingers; feels the bone beneath, rough and hard, then—suddenly—penetrable and disintegrating into granules, the wall of bone water-falling to her feet in a pile of sand; feels the hilt of her sword held tight in her hand, her cloak, soaked in brain-snot, weighing down her first steps; feels the bone-sand shower her shoulder, her head, her back, as she pushes her way out of Zeus’s brain. And walks into immortality.
Perhaps, because she is a goddess and her reality and her subjective experience of the world cannot possibly be rationally conceived by us, we just have to accept that she has another memory of being born and the moments leading up to it, this whole scenario just as vivid:
The inside of Zeus’s egghead with its squishy, pinky grey matter, slimy darkness, trying to keep upright as her talons settle into sulci, the electricity of synapses firing all around like lightning bugs, pulling her wings in close around her and tucking her tail feathers so they don’t drag in the sticky lake of the corpus callosum, and a general stench of man:
the sweat of an enemy,
the pheromones of competition,
a smell so acrid and salty she never grows used to it,
her nictitating membranes windshield-wiping her cornea to keep the stench from sticking to her bird eyeballs, the sclera growing red, ciliary muscles spasming to adjust to the darkness.
Pressed against her beak: a wall of bone: Zeus’s os frontale. She taps with her egg-tooth, feels the brain womb slice open in front of her like a soft mango, feels the pit of the mango beneath—the wall of bone—then—suddenly—like a machete through grass, her egg-tooth slashes through Zeus’s skull, she feels her egg shudder and crack, hears a whining screech that she recognizes as the sound of Zeus, and she rams through, out into the air, the jagged edge of the broken skull catching at her pinfeathers as she soars forth, extending herself to her full seven-foot wingspan, shaking out her tail so the thick, white stripe across its base can be seen by the fishers on the coast below, dropping loosened feathers and omens as steadily as Zeus’s tears fall from his eyes and sweat from his brow and moans of agony from his lips at the sight of a creature destined to outdo him gracefully swooping between the storm cells, as they gather along the horizon and express his anger.
Immortals cannot emote with their bodies; it’s the godly size of the emotions. Too intense to be contained, they play out in the air around them.
The memories begin before that.
The memories begin inside her mother.
The memories begin inside her mother inside her father.
Inside her mother:
Down, like baby hairs, frame her face, fall in front of her eyes.
The walls of her mother’s womb wrap her in rotting flesh that smells sweet at first, then too sweet, then sickeningly sweet, then a sweetness interrupted by bitter stomach acid like a walnut hull dropped in honey, Zeus’s stomach squeezing and churning and chemically weakening her mother’s protective pouch. Zeus digests her mother. Leaves no womb, no woman, no feminine anything behind, except for the bird-child within him.
She remembers wrapping herself in her cape just as the womb burst and a flood of ambrosial gastric juices washed over her, eating at the tail feathers jutting out from under the cloak.
She remembers how his ribs bowed under her weight as she climbed toward the light shining in through his eyes.
There is a Pallas Athena that hates women as much as Zeus does. This version saunters the streets dressed as Telemachus, calling out to other men, pausing beside each likely crewman, giving orders: “Gather beside our ship at nightfall—be there,” her voice escaping from the lips of the man-shell she wears, the shell that fits over her like a second skin, that compliments her natural gait, the command in her voice, the love of war that courses through her daddy’s-girl veins. She’s one of those women men excuse, then accept, those women who might be described as androgynous when really everyone means masculine, yet pretty.
There is another Pallas Athena that has starved herself of ambrosia for centuries, hoping the ichor in her pinfeathers turns to blood, hoping the immortality wears off.
And another that has gorged herself on ambrosia for centuries, hoping the ichor so saturates her pinfeathers it seeps out into the air around her, hoping her immortality is catching.
There is a version of Pallas Athena that circles the British Museum, drawn to this spot by sacrifice residue still clinging to the Elgin Marbles. She cannot ignore the call to be here, in this spot, to do something. But what? She pecks through waste bins outside the stately building in search of a Nando’s carcass. (No version of Pallas Athena doesn’t instinctively want to devour their own kind.)
She circles and she kah-kah-kah-kahs. It’s been ages since anyone mistook her for an augury; she’s lucky if anyone remarks on the fish eagle nesting atop the museum at all, as she tucks pages from a stolen sidewalk-sale book between clods of hair and twigs. Beneath her, through the layers of brick and insulation and roofing tiles, the fight of the Lapiths and Centaurs plays on loop. She’s drawn here to her own temple, to the dismembered, reconstructed, and drained-of-color frieze. Headless women draped in marble, far from home, reside over a procession of tourists.
It rains on the museum often.
There is a Pallas Athena that doesn’t like to put away her dolls, but feels remorse when stepping on them. This same Athena is the only one that remembers Odysseus, while the others retain memories of the view through Mentor’s eyes: the canthi itching and swollen in response to seasonal allergies, the row of lashes thicker than her own, the way his manly feet appear so far away while the top shelf at the apothecary is surprisingly accessible. She plays solitary games inside him: rolls his eyes back in his head to try to glimpse his brain, but also to feel the muscles wrapped around his eyeballs stretch farther than they should in order to experience mortal pain. She locks herself inside of him, inside a closet, and masturbates until she comes nothing but an ache. She extracts herself from Mentor’s being at awkward times, hovers overhead scraping human goo off her arms with her fingernails, and watches Mentor flounder, piecing together his reality as he comes to, face to face with a charging bull or someone else’s angry son or a smooth-talking sailor in the middle of some story.
No Athena ever experiences discontinuity.
No Athena has yet to explore the inside of her own body. They are all, for the most part, consumed by their curiosity of the male form, of returning to the brain-womb from whence they came.
There is a Pallas Athena who inhabits the body of a snake and steals eggs while another protects nests from attack.
There is a Pallas Athena who tends a bookstore in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
One version spends centuries developing a photographic memory; eventually she remembers every detail of every moment. In one such instant: she clasps a field mouse in her talons and sees how the light hits it, hits everything, the world a woozy impressionistic painting; she feels the field mouse’s exact wiggle as she pierces its soft belly, the pulse of its intestines against the sharp edge of her investigating nail, the way its body is framed in her narrow predator’s view by the tilt of her head. She drops it back down in the tall grass shimmering with dew, lets it scuttle a moment, then plucks it up again from among the glitter, and it appears to be an entirely new field mouse! The combination of circumstances constituting its visible existence can never exactly be the same as she remembers it! This Pallas Athena is bombarded by so much information—each nugget of new data weighted the same in her mind—that she can’t discern patterns. She is truly the most immortal of the Athenas. For her, every single thing is
always new. Her discoveries are followed by tornados and her world is both desolate and constantly
There is an Athena, a feathered version, who spends her time in front of a mirror assuming various positions and marveling at her plumage.
There is a myopic Pallas Athena held hostage by nostalgia.
There is a Pallas Athena that steals,
one that seeks lovers,
one that beats its wings to keep lovers away,
one that fights gusts of wind rolling in off the ocean to keep them near.
There is a Pallas Athena that cherishes Zeus’s lightning-strikes and stands in empty fields to draw his attention.
There is another that hides during storms.
SELMS is a writer, artist, book-maker, and translator based in Alabama. She was the 2016 Dasha Epstein Playwriting Fellow. Her translation of Karolina Bång and Karin Casimir-Lindholm’s graphic exhibition 51% Swedish appeared at The Swedish American Museum in Chicago in 2017. Her sound collages have been included in the NYC chapter of the Kinokophone Collective’s exhibitions at the New York Public Library. She is currently co-top plot-crone at Plot 8, a paper-making garden in Tuscaloosa, AL and design editor for Black Warrior Review. She produces artists books as Two Trick Pony Press (including Immortal Switch (2018) and the forthcoming collaborations There Are No Happy Loves with Sophie Gertrude [Stein] Strohmeier and Like: Intimacy in Late-Stage Capitalism with Sarah Panlibuton Barnes). She co-wrote the script for The Pottero (forthcoming in 2019) directed by Lindsey Martin. She has published stories under various names in various publications on the internet. She can be found @sodaminnie.