Asher Reich's poem Lot's Wife: The Look Backward, Lot's wife
describes for her apparently absent husband the experience of fleeing
the destruction of Sodom, presumably just before she is turned into
a pillar of salt (Genesis 19):
I am a firebrand, moving about as a grain of earth.
me I left a city dripping dawn to its fate.
What happened there I could guess
as I stepped I heard the roaring of the sun
the smoke of the land I felt my neck
it was not longing to turn my eyes seized me
a curiosity that always overcomes fear
was born in me the look backward
when looking backward one doesn't see a thing.
And now I see you, Lot
like a wine skin in all that's overturned
in the valley of lime that blossomed in your drunk head
the salt of my bones making you thirsty forever,
Forever you'll remember the dead past
among barbarians we built out house
fates in pairs: you and I
our two daughters and the two angels
forsaken so foreign even to myself
my belly swelled twice from your seed
afterward I swelled from the salt of the earth
and then I knew: my life became an ephemeral flame.
Most readers of the original biblical story have the impression that
when Lot's wife turns back to look at the destruction of the corrupt
city of Sodom she is acting inappropriately and consequently receives
the divine punishment for being transformed into a pillar of salt. In
Reich's poem, however, Lot's wife portrays herself as morally superior
to Lot. It was not, she declares, because she longed to return there
that she looked back at Sodom, but simply because she was curious to
see the destruction. She continues to feel connected to Sodom, not because
she approves of its ways but because she feels a large degree of empathy
for the doomed Sodomites. Throughout her flight she experiences a measure
of the Sodomites' suffering feeling the
heat of the fire at her feet, hearing the roaring of the sun, and feeling
the smoke of the land at her neck. There appears to be in her a degree
of survivor's guilt as she reflects on leaving Sodom "to its fate."
the second half of the poem she contrasts her own relationship to Sodom
and that of her husband's. As she looks back, she realizes that in fact
her husband, Lot, not she, had always been too closely tied to Sodom.
Drawing on the later image of Lot's daughters getting him drunk after
the flight from Sodom (Genesis 19), the poet has Lot's wife describe
her vision of him as a drunkard who foolishly saw the barren valley
as a place that can blossom. Lot, who according to the Bible chose to
live in the region of Sodom because it was "well watered"
(Gen, 13:10), did not understand what his wife understood, that they
had settled among barbarians in a land ultimately doomed to destruction.
life, she tells the absent Lot, was burdened by the limitations of fate
represented by the constant repetition of pairs of characters during
their sojourn in Sodom: she and Lot, their twin daughters and the angels
who came to rescue them. She was so alienated from their life that she
felt "foreign even to [her]self." She uses the image of salt,
the substance into which she is about to be transformed to represent
the dissatisfying frustration that lay at the heart of their relationship.
The salt of her bones made him "thirsty forever," and when
she was pregnant, she felt as if she were swelling "from [his]
seed," an experience she associates with the later feeling that
she was swelling from the destructive "salt of the earth."
a sense, Lot's wife suggests, the process of her being transformed into
a pillar of salt began already in the desolate life that they experienced
in Sodom. Now that she is about to die by being fully transformed into
salt, she regrets how short her life has been with so few memories of
fulfillment. In contrast she declares, because Lot never understood
what was wrong with their settling in Sodom, he will always be foolishly
tied tot he "dead past" of their life in Sodom that was so
lacking in vitality.
More poems about Lot's wife...
C. Jacobson, Does
David Still Play Before You?
Israeli Poetry and the Bible (Detroit: Wayne State University Press,
1977), pp. 183-186. Original publication of the Hebrew poem: Sifriat
Poalim 1986. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
and Gemorrah: Cities of the salt pillars,
by Nahum M. Sarna