“We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord…” –Ezra 10, vs. 2, 3
It was the twelfth day of the ninth month,
A day of rain upon rain,
When we gathered to hear Ezra
Talk about foreign wives as if we were not there.
Then the sons of priests made confessions
Of what had been our vows,
And planned to send us away.
Now, a month later,
After their small offered mercy
Of waiting until the rains stopped,
It has taken two days’ travel
To lose sight of Jerusalem.
Adara, seven months heavy, claims
To smell their incense fires still,
To taste the rank smoke of burnt ram.
Hana spits so often at the mention of Ezra
That she squats panting in the dust
Like a heat-struck ewe, her eyes
Locked on a face no one can see.
That first night some of us
Buried our idols in fear in shame.
Others pillaged the camp,
Seeking out Astarte dolls
And fertility stones, late
To please the Nameless One.
“Fools,” Hana said,
“As if that will bring him back.”
No one is certain if she meant
A husband or a god.
I sit with the old ones,
With jaws like potshards,
Set against some loss too bitter to speak.
One remembers her young bride-self
Shaking ankle chains at her Levite and
How his eyes glowed at the dances
She learned for the goddess.
At nightfall it is my turn for watch,
And I settle near the edge of camp and listen.
On one side the penitent ones
Have gathered for worship, keening
And clumsy at their sacrifices, having
Never been taught by their priest-husbands
What happens behind the temple curtains.
On the other side, some women have started
To dance and chant, and make cakes for
The Queen of Heaven.
On both sides, the crying of children.
As for me, I will hide here on this rise,
Wrap myself against the night air,
With my back to Jerusalem,
Watching the women’s camp for
Any movement, any sign of
A god that sees.