They need gods
and gods don't last forever.
Thus every so often
at a most celebrated temple or palace
the people hold a pageant. Any child who wants to
—or whose mother wants her to—
competes to prove she can contain it all.
What a wonder to be chosen! Or at least,
what a wonder to have your child chosen,
to be the one
who birthed and raised a god!

As vessels, gods contain and clarify
the values of the people.
They absorb the ambient hopes and dreams
and aspirations of the day
to shine as beacons, paragons.
One might be the god of Strength and Masculinity,
another of Desirability,
another of Purity,
another of Scholarship and Athleticism,
still another of Good Old-Fashioned Elbow Grease
and Entrepreneurial Ingenuity
and the American Dream.
Over time, old ideals fade and new ideals emerge
craving deific embodiment.

Some sages say children fit
to become gods have especially bowl-shaped souls.
(Are their souls sculpted that way
from the eternal moment just before conception
or pounded into that shape
in the earliest years of life?)
Others say their souls are mirrors.
Everywhere these children go
the aspirations of the community flow
into their hearts, filling them up, and soon
they begin to reflect what they have absorbed.
Not all become gods—
some do fail,
in spectacular displays of tragedy—
but their souls never stop drinking.
Sometimes failed gods become the mothers of gods.

Crowds gather to watch each child,
one by one, emerge on a balcony
and present herself—
her best clothes, her best posture,
her most appropriate words,
her most suitable mask.
When all candidates have presented
they come down into the crowd.
The crowd circles around and waits.
Then maybe seconds later, maybe several minutes,
it happens. First, just one—
a hummingbird-sized orb of light
flutters out of the heart
of some well-regarded member of the crowd
to hover over a certain child.
The candidate expertly retains her composure
as the orb dives into her,
splashing its light over her skin.
Then another.
And like a flock of birds,
the ideals of the people rise into the air
and alight on their new receptacle.

The chosen one shines bright white.
The people squint into the light
and gasp in awe. Before their eyes
the child grows—not merely into an adult
but into a titan, towering in beauty
and poise and incorruptibility.
The people bow in worship.
The new goddess smiles upon them.

Some gods last generations.
Some only a few moons. When a god falls
—whether by deicide
or a shift in fashion
or the fracturing
that often finally comes of a long-hidden flaw—
some folk weep and others say good riddance.
Few ever notice
a sickly creature
emerging from the ashes