Wife to Wife
My father admonished me
to remember you.
He couldn’t have known
how I would heed
his warning. I don’t
condemn your trespass,
I commend you,
don’t blame you
for wanting to stay
behind in a place
where you had friends,
I imagine your skeptical exit
from the gates of Sodom,
walking toward your life,
the view stinging
your eyes like desert sand.
A clouded image of Lot,
who didn’t fill your needs,
but satisfied his greed
when he pitched his tents.
Looking back was better
than blindly following
a father who offered
your daughters’ virtue,
kept his honor
locked behind doors,
conspired with angels
who lauded his intentions,
grieved his union
with an impure wife.
My father warned me
of the wrath
that changed you
to a pillar, scattered you
throughout that razed city,
but he didn’t know you
were the one
with power to cleanse,
couldn’t fathom teaching me
just how much you are worth.
When I stepped from the scalding water onto my roof,
I knew you would make me queen, would watch the Mikveh
wash me pure, ready for the seed your smile promised.
I didn’t know you would ordain Uriah’s death, that your god
would smite our firstborn son (retribution for the so-called sin
that made me finally your wife, secured my place in the bed
where I conceived a king, watched you die) but not before
I contrived your last wish, removed Adonijah from his throne,
his mother from my palace, secured my place in the legacy,
made Solomon your heir. Our fourth son, not our first
whose birthright was usurped by whom Jeremiah calls
your son, twenty-eight generations removed,
King of the Jews, descendant of my tainted line.
I left my veils in the laps of men for whom I danced,
‘Round their necks, wrists—in this silken costume, I danced.
At the birthday celebration befitting a lascivious king—
Planned by my mother, a gift for her groom, I danced.
Your guests witnessed you pledge your solemn oath
To grant my wish, so in your reception room, I danced.
Terracotta firelight flickered off my jeweled breasts,
Kindling improper desire—perfumed, I danced.
Thinking of John who spurned my incessant advances,
Swaying to the suggestion of his coming doom, I danced.
Gratified by my performance, you promised to make good.
To sate the desire that leaves me consumed, I danced.
Reluctantly you delivered his head on a bloody tray,
Dressed his body, buried him, and at his tomb, I danced
I only wanted Hagar to bear my son.
How could I have known she would love
My husband, that when I asked him
To send her and Ishmael away, his face
Would reveal he loved her too,
That I was right when I guessed
He was in her bed (long after she conceived),
That he was thinking of her
When he hummed in the fields,
When I caught his distracted gaze,
When he kissed me goodnight.
My barren body cannot compete
With the thrill he must feel
When the soft curves of her youth
Respond again and again to his touch,
Cannot elicit his body’s firm response
With only the light pressure of an ankle
Against his calf, the brush of a hand
On his forearm, a probing tongue—
Cannot bear to see his eyes follow her
As she braids her hair, nurses their son,
Cannot watch her become my husband’s wife.
Catherine Pritchard Childress
Catherine Pritchard Childress lives in the shadow of Roan Mountain in East Tennessee. She teaches writing and literature at Lees-McRae College. Her poems have appeared in North American Review, Louisiana Literature, Connecticut Review, The Cape Rock, Still: The Journal, Appalachian Review, Stoneboat, and drafthorse among other journals. Her work has been anthologized in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volumes VI and VII: Tennessee and North Carolina, and in Women Speak, Volumes VII and VIII. She is the author of the poetry collection Other. Her most recent collection is Outside the Frame, published by EastOver Press in 2023.
Still from "Purple Noon" (French: "Plein soleil"; Italian: "Delitto in pieno sole"; also known as "Full Sun," "Blazing Sun," "Lust for Evil," and "Talented Mr. Ripley"), a 1960 crime thriller film directed by René Clément, loosely based on the 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.