Salt of my Bones; poem by Asher Reich, commentary by David C. Jacobson

In 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):

Here I am a firebrand, moving about as a grain of earth.Lot's wife looked back

Behind me I left a city dripping dawn to its fate.
What happened there I could guess

afire 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

with 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

wandering 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

and 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."

In 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.

Their 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."

In 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...


Barnes & Noble linkDavid 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.
Sodom and Gemorrah: Cities of the salt pillars, by Nahum M. Sarna



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