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Better Gods by Jared Povanda

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

The Classics professor dreams of eating hummingbirds at the bottom of a well, everything feathers and bone, mash and entrails—awful oracle, feral augury—attempting to see the future past the coins for Charon over his eyes. How many exhausted academics study the river Styx? Is ancient Greece a cliché or is calling a cliché a cliché a cliché?

Regardless, he’s a failure’s failure, always surprising himself with new and original embarrassments. He is Hephaestus with a net, or maybe the net itself, or maybe he is Ares and Aphrodite thrashing beneath it, their affair exposed to the rest of the pantheon. An embodiment of triangular anxiety, sharp enough to cut at every point. He remembers the annual faculty meeting when he spilled hot chamomile tea over his sweater, or the time he tried to flirt with the new dean whose name was also Dean: Dean Dean, huh? That’s cute in a repetitive way.

He’s developed an agoraphobia that perfectly suits this new world of Zoom. He doesn’t drive. All he knows is fear: Thanatos in a palace of obsidian, ozone-scented Zeus riding lightning, his every nightmare as palpable as ripened clementines, metallic rain, purple pollen an inch deep. A likeness of his mother dives off a sandstone cliff whenever he closes his eyes. Drunk on watermelon sangria, he imagines he’s Athena born from a headache or Dionysus from a wound, fated for centuries of scrutiny.

The Classics professor asks his students (their darkened webcams allowing him to believe he’s addressing the cool comfort of a primordial void) if they too have dreamt of the dark well. He bites his lip. Leans forward into the static loneliness, aching and beseeching: When lifting your hands to the wheeling stars, do you also close your eyes and pray for better gods?


Jared Povanda is an internationally published writer and freelance editor from upstate New York. His story, "We Wanted to Sing it From the Light'' recently placed first in Versification's Fierce Flash contest. Other work of his can be found in Pidgeonholes, CHEAP POP, and Hobart, among others. Find him @JaredPovanda and

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