A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
(in which Moses orders the rape
of 32,000 Midianite virgins)
Reading the Bible in the sun of her patio
I burn a little, covet such growing:
Gingerroot climbing out of the soil,
Along a brick wall white-whiskered with old fire.
My eye’s at the mercy of stemmings
Old but exotic, revolutionary red
And samurai gray, never a sense that the war
Is over, the sky mooring offshore, blue
As the Navy of blossoms on her clematis vine.
I run hot fingers over the news.
God, who is love, gave these flowergirls to the men.
But how could the soldiers accept?
How go about slaying their mothers,
As the Moses we disgust had asked them to?
And what of Israel’s mothers; did they beg
Daughters to raise? Did they rescue? —
These wives scuffing through manna,
Captured in kitchens of coriander seed,
Their hands worked bdellium-gold.
Cozbi, the reason, carved lust in a captain.
They two died joined on one priest’s javelin.
Other women followed strung there.
Did they fight back? Did they bite, did they kick?
For even the unwily ones like ourselves
Those war heroes snuffed there.
People are presents, yes, she’ll say,
But those boys should have answered, “No thank you.”
The leaves around her brew fresh air.
The Midianites scratch,
Claw their manicures into the soldiers’ arms.
The rulers de-sin-themselves after each kill,
Their unstretched stomachs blameless and tan,
No evidence kicking them under the skin.
We are wanton when we vex our clergy.
Mother, how devoted must we be to this?
This version, published in Certain Uncollected Poems, Ostrakon Press, 2012, is revised from an earlier version published in American Poetry Review, Vol. 12, No. 4, July/August, 1983.