| In the Land of the Inheritance
- "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what
was right in his own eyes."
- Judges 19-21
A foreigner and his ass and concubine
were huddling in the square as night came on;
around them, veil on veil of dust that hoof
and staff and sandal could only disturb enough
to show how calmly it was sifting down
into a darkening sabbath of its own.
Surely here, he thought, among the Benjamites
someone would ask him in to spend the night,
and he, a holy man, the lord's anointed,
chosen among the chosen. But while he waited,
merchants and tradesmen, young and old alike,
all hurried by without a word or look
to their own dwellings as if he wasn't there,
and only the ache from having come so far,
his sharpening hunger and the night's chill
told him he was not invisible.
His concubine kept silent, her veiled head bowed,
since it was her fault they were stranded now:
Hadn't she tried to run away from him
back to her father's house in Bethlehem,
and when he came to get her, her father said,
My son, my son, and gave him wine and bread,
and blessed him, and then told the girl, Go home.
So now he glowered at her. See what you've done,
impious woman, see what your unclean ways
have brought us to, he was about to say
when an old man who pitied their distress
said, "Peace be to you, friend, come to my house,
I'll give you food for hunger, wine for thirst,
come to my house, I'll care for all your wants."
Now as they ate and drank, as their hearts grew merry,
the townsmen gathered together in a fury
outside the old man's house and beat his door,
and yelled, "Old man, give us the sojourner
that we may know him, give him to us now."
The old man pleaded, "Leave the man alone,
my brethren, he is a holy man, a priest,
all he has asked for is a place to rest.
Here is my virgin daughter, here is his wife,
take them instead and do what to your sight
seems good to you, but do no wickedness
against the Levite whom the Lord has blessed."
But now like locusts ravaging a field
the men surged forward, shouting, and would not yield
until the Levite, knowing what he owed
the hospitality his host bestowed,
pushed out his wife alone and shut the door.
One by one all night they ravished her.
She ate dirt all night, and when they were through
they left her in a befouling solitude
of being known to each and every man,
exposed and filthy, utterly smeared with sin.
And he, whatever struggle he endured,
hearing her call him at the door he barred,
whatever turbulence of rage and shame
swept through his heart as she called out his name
before the other voices carried hers away,
subsided now as he began to pray,
grew faint, and fainter, until he realized
the Lord was with him, and the Lord was wise.
So even when he discovered her at dawn,
and she just lay there, though he told her, Come,
let us be going, he knew it had to be
the Lord who guided this iniquity,
who in His marvelous power understood
everything that had happened (and now would),
who steeled within him such a righteous calm
as he laid her on his ass and brought her home --
the Lord's hand holding his that held the knife
and sharpened it and took it to his wife,
and delicately with a jeweler's care
severed limb from joint, and joint from ligature.
All day he worked, he drew the blade down deeper
into the far recess of every chamber
as if each membrane were another veil
he'd cast aside and find the soul revealed.
The soul, however, above the gaping flesh
was hovering, now free of all distress,
serene because she saw what he was doing,
could see as fact the aim he was pursuing --
how all of her, obedient to his will,
would go throughout the land of Israel,
a piece to every tribe, which they'd receive
and be astonished at what it could mean, --
could see them all from Beersheba to Dan
come to the Lord at Mizpah as one man,
four hundred thousand strong, and all now ask
how this abomination came to pass, --
could see them raise their swords together high,
vowing the men of Gibeah would have to die.
So rapt in the unskeining of her vision
of every consequence of his decision,
she almost didn't hear the Lord call, Come
my Daughter, it's time to come to me, come home.
But she refused, and as his Daughter, Daughter,
closed in now echoing everywhere about her,
she let go and dissolved and all He found
was mute dust sifting to the bloody ground,
back to the flesh her husband would disperse
throughout the land of his inheritance.
-- Alan Shapiro