"But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." - Genesis 19:26

    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.

15 October 2001   23:57 hours
candle { } allegory