You, my veiled rivals, show up on camel back
just before the time of candle lighting,
before the time of fire.
Your gift of speckled sheep and your flocks of children
straggle behind with their slave maid.
She is not thinking about you.
I offer well water and bread, the scent of leaven rising
from the oven to the sky,
and honey, bury my face in your throats, weep
for blood and for bone,
for flesh I remember, for the mandrake
you carry. Its gaping mouth is my womb’s opening
after too many hollow years, a time deeper than dreaming.
Now I lie down with you – my seconds and thirds, together in sorrow –
break my heart thrice upon the hard edge of love.
He shades his eyes with his prayer shawl,
rocking upon his heels and chanting
to his ruthless god.
They are in this together
Our shared pillow is stone.
I take your babes upon my knee and name them.
Homespun trickster, he came to us hunted, humbled, a robber robbed,
determined, in the beginning, to acquit. He rolled the well-stone
from the water, called me his little ewe, teased me like a brother,
then wept with me when I cried. “A few days,” he said
of seven bilked years – my bride price – then gave me to my sister
to wife in earnest, in bitterness, her mete.
In time, he pocketed the household gods and paired off with the servants,
substitutes, to satisfy me. He knew the dreams of that country.
He knew my worth, I, a callow girl and a dead woman. I bathed
my thighs in water, uncovering with strange exactness
how fertile is betrayal, how lie begets lie, how quickly
he would close my mouth with a pile of rocks.
Miriam C. Jacobs (aka Colleen M. Payton) is a alumnus of the University of Chicago and teaches college writing, literature and humanities. Her poetry has appeared in “The Camel Saloon,” “Bluestem: the Art and Literary Journal of Eastern Illinois University,” “The King’s English,” and “Oklahoma Today,” among other publications. Her chapbook of poetry, “The Naked Prince,” was published by Fort!/Da? Books in September, 2013.
*Previously published in The Camel Saloon, July 2014.