They asked for my daughters.
They smilingly offered cracked pomegranates
when the market was done, asked for the sweet release
only they could give. My girls grew quiet, scarlet-cheeked,
tossed the insult back at them, ran alone through whipped streets, dust in the wind, home.
They were no rotten jewels ill-formed, but permissions, whole and utterly surprising—
water splashed from the well, hooting laughter,
bold glare, lusty song on rooftop, thrum of feet in the house,
spilled salt rubbed into drab dirt, whipping the carpets too harshly in the wind.
Perhaps only a mother’s love says this is so,
that they were lights in the dark.
I learned to make room for them, their foolish talk
and the way their hands wrapped around mortar and pestle, but did not move.
I braided their rough long hair, told them they were beautiful
because I knew they were, to me.
Copper bowls and cracked hands,
salt in a bowl on the shelf,
bitter herbs and meat too old—
Lord, I tried to love what I knew.
I stooped to pick up shards in the alleyway,
returned every piece to my neighbor.
They could have been a blessing,
and were when they folded linen softly,
gave me baskets of lemons, wept on my breast
and stole from my fig tree in the blessed night.
Bound together, silt and water, earth and rain,
as necessary as salt they were to me.
The mob asked for my daughters, and I knew them well.
Sodom is a small city, after all.
My foolish husband offered them the permissions I had grown and gathered.
I could not speak and hid them in the cupboard.
Garbled words, sharp elbows and the press of bodies needing rest;
it is dangerous when tired men yearn
for something that cannot be given so easily.
The angels in their fury bade us leave
before they struck the men who sold me salt
blind, to save my permissions, my fig tree—
O, those I share thick blood with, curse this day!
when all we knew went far astray.
Aye, the city will burn.
Be glad and quiet, that your neighbors are now no longer at a loss for good pottery.
Their clay will be fired by the Lord, who cannot love the wicked as they are.
You are a chosen wife of a chosen man.
Do not mourn lemons. Mourn your fig tree.
Do not return to watch the men tease your daughters with rotten fruit.
Do not think your daughters can make you smile like lemons do.
Do not look for your husband among the learned men.
Do not look for learned men, nor women neither.
Do not turn.
When we fled the city I tried not to remember
the basket of lemons they left on my doorstep
before the mob demanded my daughters for recompense,
recompense for the one small kindness that we did for strangers.
We were never good, but we were decent,
filled our bowls with olives and offered them
when it seemed like we would be thanked for it.
Sin is a thing that trickles steady,
fills like dark wine the scoured space inside a jar.
Eyes raised, Lord, tell me what I am, do not spare me.
Too long living in silence has made my heart quiet,
the prairie hawk that sometimes roosts
in the burgeoning light
in my tree of stolen figs.
I must mourn the necessary;
lemons, clay, salt.
I know the Lord will thunder
that I love what should not be,
but I will eternal stand defiant.
I am a woman of love,
small though it may seem.
© 2015 Anna-Christina Betekhtin, All Rights Reserved.