Gary J. Whitehead

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Photo by Sarah Ratner

 

 

Lot’s Wife

Sometime soon after the embers cooled,

after dust clouds settled, after the last strings

of smoke, hoisted by desert breezes, cleared the air,

 

they must have come, people of those three cities

remaining, to pick among the charred bones,

the rubble of what was once temple and house,

 

stable and brothel; to kick at stones; to tug

at handles of buckets, blades of shovels and spades.

Later, raising ash plumes in the scorched plain,

 

cloths at their mouths and noses, eyes burning,

neither fearful nor repentant but full of wonder,

full of the scavenger’s overabundant hope,

 

they would have found her—even as now

some men encounter the woman of their dreams

(beauty of the movie screen, princess they capture

 

with a camera’s flash, girl whose finger brushes theirs

when she takes their card at the market register)—

found her, that is, not as the person she was

 

but as whom they needed her to be, and, man or woman,

each of them would have wanted a piece of her.

Standing in that wasted landscape,

 

she must have seemed a statue erected there

as a tribute to human frailty, white, crystallized,

her head turned back as if in longing to be the girl

 

she had been in the city she had known.

And they must have stood there, as we do,

a bit awestruck, taking her in for a time,

 

and then, with chisel and knife, spike and buckle,

chipped at her violently and stuffed their leathern

pouches full of her common salt, salt with which

 

to season for a while their meat, their daily bread.

 

 

Published in The New Yorker, Jan. 2, 2012

 

Gary J. Whitehead

 

Last updated 25 August, 2014