flame kindling against a dark background
Photo by Cullen Jones on Unsplash

Arachne’s Mother Admits to Arson at the Temple of Athena by Alison Hurwitz

You ask me why?

Flint. She was spark. I taught her how to weave herself

through every weft of fearless, the warp of her a seabird cry,

her gift a glinted fanfare to a sky that grimaced, sullen at her brilliance.

Strike. I told her don’t you dare apologize, instead said see how far this craft

will sail you. I said, find your lightning out beyond horizon’s edge. Her fingers

flickered fireflies through thread.

Oil. I lit my courage near her bed until it burnt to offering,

until her head gave birth to gods, her hands to fates. I taught her

she could weave the pattern; memory was a palace she could own.

Wick. I led her way from room to loom until she labyrinthed

each warp and weft, could chart it in the night if inspiration struck.

I was the length of thread she held.

Fuel. Another mother might have whispered her invisible. Because I would not

let her darken her own lantern, she was blinding, bright until she hung

on my words, her neck askew, her face erased: blank as winding cloth.

Catch. I, outsider, watched while loss came spidering my throat,

knotted fibers till my lungs filled up with filaments. Resentment

webbed along the lintel of the door.

Pyre. I saw the kind of mind that wrapped her up, remade

to something chitinous. Goddess made her spin in circles, cornered,

craft destroyed each cleaning day. I’ve poured out all the temple oil.

Draft.You can change your fate. My words arrowed back to me.

Better I had warned her: genuflect and daily. Arachne was a taper lit that

consumed her form, converting every wish I blew to char.

Flame. Athena meant to smother her, but I remain, a mother made of smolder,

soaked with shroud. Loss unwove my story, left me stranded, nothing but a mortal

coil. Now, I am the twist that no one told, just a margin left to burn.


Published/upcoming in Tiferet Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Anti-Heroin Chic, Book of Matches, The Shore, Amethyst Review; Rust and Moth, Thimble Magazine, Academy of the Heart & Mind, SWWIM Every Day, River Heron Review, The Jewish Writing Project, and Speckled Trout Review, Alison Hurwitz writes gratefully in North Carolina.

Author's note

The ending of the myth of Arachne and Athena always bothered me. I resented Athena for being such a petty, sore loser. Sure, she was temperamental, but she was also supposed to be the goddess of wisdom. Arachne had clearly out-woven the goddess by creating a Me Too-type tapestry displaying the male gods’ debaucheries and infidelities. Zeus, Athena’s father, was rightly depicted as the worst offender. It was for this truth-telling that Athena hit her in the head with her shuttle. Only after Arachne had despaired and hung herself, did Athena relent and transform her into a spider. What mother wouldn’t want revenge for such a fate?