A field of purple crocus,
each with three saffron threads at their hearts,
ripples in the breeze below the cave mouth;
from inside, terrible moans,
as if the winds have been locked under the earth,
and struggle to escape.
She lies within, her arms over her head,
her naked body stained with clay;
a woman above; below, a serpent fathoms long.
She slides her hands over her mouth again
to muffle another scream
as her body’s remorseless machinery
pushes out another egg.
She bites down on her own flesh,
tears her own skin bloody, and ignores the burn
as her venom seeps into her body
from her lethal fangs.
Travail past, but still panting, she regards
her clutch of sticky, gleaming ovoids with bitterness,
remembering with the terrible clarity of perfect memory,
how her brother Typhon’s hundred serpentine heads
had twined around her, had whispered promises of love,
of vengeance, of an eternity spent together,
once everyone who had wronged them had paid.
Ah, brother, born with me in the same instant,
distilled from Shadow itself, tucked deep into
the bowels of Earth, I remember our first moments,
you gnawing at the very rock to release us
from our womb-prison. I slithered after you,
and then we both cried out with horror and pain
as the blinding, searing light struck our eyes for the first time.
Together, we recoiled, turned back into
the soft embrace of darkness, twined around each other,
and there we would have stayed,
but for our Mother’s voice, commanding us
to do the tasks for which she had brought us into being.
She bares her teeth, hissing between them,
and wraps herself around her eggs. Sings to them,
her voice harsh and discordant, echoing back from the walls,
tells them tales of their father, hoping that the children within
will hear her words, and remember them.
“We were born to destroy the gods,” she whispers.
“Never forget that. The gods have killed
too many of their younger siblings, Mother Earth’s children,
so she created your father and I to murder gods.
Your father fought Zeus as an equal.
They threw mountains at one another, and Zeus
only defeated my beloved brother by trickery.
Remember that, my sweetlings — you are equal to the gods.”
And as each egg cracked, she suckled her monsters,
holding them to her breasts, which held more venom than milk.
She wept blood and stroked each of her children,
Cerberus’ three heads, the sleek coils of the Hydra,
her twin dragons, the Nemean Lion and his near-twin,
But her last-born pair, the runts,
hatched together from the smallest egg, occupied most
of her time. Curious creatures, with but one head,
and not enough scales, fur, talons, or teeth,
to stand up to their larger, more ferocious kin.
She kept the elder cubs from bullying the weakest,
and made them her darlings, her pets.
And when the time had come, and they all were grown,
she reminded them all once more, “Remember,
you are equal to the gods. You must honor your father,
and complete his task. That is the reason for which
you were born, as was I.”
Her bestial children roared and left, hardly looking back;
but the youngest two, lifting the wooden spears,
stone-tipped, which they’d made to replace
their insubstantial claws, smiled, and replied,
“We’ll make you proud, Mother.”
And Echidna lay her head down on the ground,
heart-sick and aching, for she understood now,
what her last-born darlings were capable of,
how they’d destroy the gods, indeed,
and probably her, as well.
Typhon, brother, what have we loosed
upon this world? Though, perhaps,
if Fate is kind, when they murder me,
I’ll find myself with you. And perhaps in time,
I’ll have a final revenge through them, as well;
Perhaps they’ll murder, too, the mother,
who brought you and I to life,
only as weapons for her hand.
Perhaps our last-born
will give us this last justice, too.
[Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling and Pushcart nominations and appeared in over twenty journals; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, and The Fantasist. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com.]