Lot’s Wife

by Anne Simpson

copyright ©2003 Anne Simpson

This is the woman you don’t know,
— unnamed, undone —
though you’ve heard how she turned
for a last look and that
was that. No time
for those twelve chapters
to creative awakening, with accompanying
exercises. Lot kept his head
down. Why is it that a woman can’t
give up what’s already gone? We all know
what curiosity plus cat equals. This time

God snapped his fingers,
reduced the city to ash,
along with two of Lot’s daughters, sons-in-law,
twins in the polks-dot stroller,
rattles on the rug,
a whatnot full of souvenirs:
the straw donkey from Spain, clay vase
from Mexico with the crack in it. Dishes
still in the sink, phone off the hook
and the voice of the angel
echoing loud in everyone’s ear.
Told you so.

                                                                      After that
who was left
to pick up the pieces? Soon Lot was sleeping
with his younger daughters,
but it was all so dreamlike. Across the plain,
the city kept burning. People made little cries
of distress, flames leapt
from one building
to another. Smoke filled the air.

Notes on the Poem

In "Lot's Wife", Anne Simpson adds contemporary details and voice to the story and fate of the eponymous biblical character and her family. To what end? Is the poem's potential thematic potency affected if the reader is not familiar with the underlying story to which it refers?

We asked a similar question with a previous Poem of the Week, "Ark" by John Glenday. In that poem, Glenday upends the story of Noah's ark to apply it to an entirely different story, that of a foundering relationship. That poem is constructed in such a way that the imagery could be construed as any ill-fated or ill-equipped voyage, not specifically the one on which Noah embarked. Certainly, that poem gains profundity with the specific association, but can stand on its own without it.

Does that also work with "Lot's Wife", or is the poem's power diminished or are certain references lost outright without knowledge of the original story? Minus the story, it seems that Lot's wife, some other family members and in fact much of an entire city have been visited with sudden and extreme devastation. The suggestion that Lot's wife's nosiness or slovenly housekeeping has brought down this level of punishment from on high seems excessive.

Lot himself does not impress. Just because he kept his head down, it seems he somehow survives the onslaught and goes on to abuse surviving members of his family. Even with the biblical context, the story and its outcomes are harsh and unrelenting, but without, this poem is additionally troubling and bewildering.

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