Athena in Nashville

We had been good kids, but we got to this age
when singing in choirs and making A’s felt
smalltown, so one Sunday Jay and I
drove up to Nashville to see if maybe we wanted
to be Quakers. We sat for an hour in a wooden
room with a couple dozen former hippies
turned Vanderbilt professors, and I was hoping
to get some message from somewhere, saying, hey girl,
this is how to live your life, but I heard nothing
but sacred silence, and I felt
like a Methodist all over again.

So we didn’t become Quakers, but we walked down West End
to the Parthenon, the world’s only full-sized replica,
almost as famous as Graceland but not quite,
and I squinted up at that big statue of Athena.
Jay said she was probably wondering why,
when here was this nice fancy temple,
all the Nashvillians were still doing the Puritan thing
lashed to dark sweaty benches somewhere else,
worshipping some other god who didn’t even have a statue.
And I asked her, does she wonder why no one comes
to beg for wisdom, here, in the Athens of the South,
save a couple of worn-out middle class college kids
working to piss off their parents by going pagan?
Did she find it strange that after all her battles, this gorgon
of a city had finally won, casting her goddessness into stone
and putting her on display like one of those high school
football trophies no one stops to stare at anymore?

We left Athena standing there, frozen
and unable to get away. I felt sorry for her, but
back on the street I still had blood running
through my veins. Later I moved
away and told all my friends I was agnostic,
and Jay called me every week to say come back
home, because he didn’t like to be in the South
all by himself. And sometimes I would think of asking him
to go back to the white columns for me and to look
Athena in her solid eyes and tell her that, personally,
I didn’t think she belonged there either.