Lot's wife looked back
Two contemporary poems

As the sun rose upon the earth and Lot entered Zoar, the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from the Lord out of heaven. He annihilated those cities and the entire Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation of the ground. Lot's wife looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt. Genesis 19:23-26

Anna Akhmatova
Lot's Wife *

And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where you once sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty window set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound….
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.

[1922-24 — Translated from the Russian by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward.]


James Simmons
Lot's Wife **

Uneasiness confirmed his words were right:
There was rottenness in all she knew.
She could not see where she was going to
but love for him felt stronger than her fright.

Yet as she traveled on she was bereft
of every landmark but her husbands eyes:
her whole life echoed in her friends' goodbyes.
How could he take the place of all she left?

For him or them, but not for heaven's sake,
she made decisions: these two were opposed.
He led her on his way, her eyes were closed.
At every step she felt her heart would break.

At last Lot drew his wagon to a halt;
dog tired but glad, he groped his way inside,
looking for pleasure in his sleeping bride,
kissed her, and on her cold cheek tasted salt.


* Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward. Poems of Akhmatova. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997

**James Simmons. Poems 1956-1986. Gallery Press; distributed in the United States by Dufour Editions, Incorporated, 1986. Used by permission of Gallery Press.