He was one of those who pushes on
at any cost, his eyes ever on the future.
Thinking of the next coin and bed,
a place to stow us for the night.
Not one to look back, that man.
Ready to offer his daughters
as a bribe for peace. His own little girls.
Still, a good husband. Stayed out
of the way at home, mostly.
Helped fetch water from the well
when she was with child. Even wove her
baskets once, lopsided, childish efforts -
you'd expect that from a man - which she kept
on the shelf by the altar. And once or twice
in his passion he'd call out her name, her name.
He was a lover of the old stories,
how they urge us to succour all who come
under our roofs. The night it happened
he was telling us about his childhood,
how he would catch locusts from the fields,
trap their wings? seething in clay pots,
his small hands containing whirlwinds.
I've watched him teach his young son
the same trick, the desert sun touching
his white hair with passing gold. His
fissured skin, its smell of wet rushes.
More and more I think she figured even then.
That she did it on purpose, we have no doubt.
Said nothing when he gave us to the mob.
Made ready in silence, that small mouth we share
a tight, thin line aimed nightward.
It would have been her breed of love:
to be the one left behind, clearing space
for nations to come. Or at least an ending
she could choose, a sudden white escape.
That night my father called for wine
within sight of our city's cinders, face to
the wind's raw sting, his cheeks salting over.
The rest you know. I visit her sometimes
although the years have worn her, unkindly.
I do not bring my son. I do not touch her.
I can see what she means
by that blank stare, the slump of her neck,
the frozen curse she has become. None of us
will ever be clean again, she knew, that night
her back turned towards us as we climbed.