[A poem, Jezebel: Prologue, might serve the reader as an introduction to this one]
You know when we met
I was a girl who loved
Baal for his rain and sweet water
and might love you for your youth and sweet breath.
I was the lure brought you unknowing
to Siddon where the sun skied mornings
above cedar hills, making jewels
on the crest of harbor swells.
Jezebel, chief’s daughter,
dreaming of many things,
but most often of the boy
to make my thighs quiver,
and none of the queen who later
would make my eyes run wet and salty.
You, pale desert boy, came,
hooked by my dreams,
with hair like raven’s wings
and prophet’s dreams of glory
and torturer’s dreams of pain
and a core of discontent
that you were born a shepherd.
I would have left my father’s hearth
to be your shepherdess, but for
your claim to something greater.
Our joyful dance pleased Baal, I know,
while you pretended grim shame before your god
who punished you like an angry father,
whom you yet embraced.
Were we to approach the other now,
would you wet your lips for this sweet Phoenician,
or would I be target for your rage
and angry accusations?
Do your loins remember
my dewy hills at dawn,
the little rivers of our wet fertility
dampening chest and thigh and mysteries?
Or would you pretend to a purity
that never pricked a gentile?
I am reconciled that I did not defy my father,
fight Ethbaal to love my Israelite shepherd boy.
But I tried and tried
to come to you and cried,
Eli, your Jessie has come,
when I arrived, but there was no answer.
Had you waited for me? And misunderstood
my absence? Cursed me for rejecting you,
as you curse me now for turning
from the worship of your god
who demands more than other gods?
Now, Ethbaal is king in Tyre
and I am queen in Samaria
and spread my legs for Ahab,
the Israelite king, whom you daily damn.
I am thus, Queen Jezebel,
the living bond between Israel and Phoenicia,
which you condemn,
somehow forgetting the beauty
of Eli and Jessie,
as your one god does dismiss
the beauties of the many.
Your own voice,
which once whispered
sweetness in the courtyard
of the temple of Baal and laughed
in the sight of the sky goddess, Lady Nut,
your voice thunders and threatens,
slanders innocence, proclaims
dominion for one god above all gods,
dismissing dancing and worship before many.
My Eli, sweet tormented shepherd,
it is not our gods who invent unkindness,
but ourselves. This your lord god must know,
though you shrill otherwise,
and speak of a god blind to
the pools of kindness and courage
in foreign worshippers. How like the way
you deny knowing the pool of love in which
we bathed and sung praise.
Do you remember the hart at sunrise
leaping our prostrate bodies?
I crept the shadows before that dawn
and startled when you arrived beside me.
And when you opened your robe,
I stepped inside your arms and
warm wrap of cotton while we sank
to earth, your lips sweet on mine,
your tongue a spring of wild water
plunging to my thirsty roots. We moved
slowly to the late calls of night birds,
quickening even as the owls hooted
slow caution, finishing to the sound
of hooves pounding, the hart
robust and wild above us and gone.
In the peace we found, I swear I heard
the great heart beating and felt the
throbbing pulse below,
just as it might have been
on the glorious first day.
I said the gods are smiling and you looked
at me and I said you are
smiling, too, and you said, this time, yes.
Do you remember this just as your god
of many promises remembers only
those he wishes to keep?
Do you remember only that
which serves you now, a perfect
acolyte of your god?
In your zeal you are become
a destroyer, first of earthly desire,
your youthful wish to sip the wines
of a hundred kingdoms forgotten,
your wish to sample the women
of every prince of every port
of the wide Phoenician sea, lost,
perhaps gone as though never dreamed.
These are shriven within your heart,
consumed in the desert heat
of a different passion, your
service to your one god, who
requires devotion not in me to give.
You denounce Ahab, whom you call
the willing tool
of the prostitute of Tyre.
But Ahab leads as leaders do,
has kingly duties I do not hinder,
ministers to the myriads,
who worship whomever they will,
ministers to the myriads
who toil each day and wear down
like rocks in the stream,
who suffer hardship of drought,
and locust plagues, and children born still
and children died young
and lovers claimed too soon. It is Ahab
who must guarantee them fed and succored, Ahab
who cares for the widow and
soothes the orphan, Ahab
who keeps the granaries full against famine
and decrees no favorite among the gods
of the people of Israel, among the gods
of Israelites, Ammonites, Edomites and
Moabites. And his people praise Ahab’s
forbearance, thank Ahab for kindness,
while you call Ahab sinner.
In the King’s court, I have stood for
sandalmakers from Ammom, stood for potters
from Moab, saying to the King that these, also,
are his people, saying that there should be
no special privilege for the Jews
and the King has ruled as he would
after careful listening. Ahab is no tool of
But Elijah Hanavi tells the story,
Jezebel the prostitute from Phoenicia
twists Ahab’s judgment and sins against
the one god.
And who listens?
The Hebrew zealots listen, and
the hopeless, aching for legends of more and
better, listen, and those who already bear hatred,
they listen. These have never seen the sea,
or the natural beauty of Phoenicia’s hills
or the works of other men in Tyre. You
have made allies of these men whose
hard lives will change as Ahab succeeds,
but the gifts of milk and honey they are
to inherit are merely empty promises
from an intolerant god. Who will protect Israel
from Assyria? This lord, your god, has no chariots.
Ahab’s soldiers, Ammomites, Edomites,
Israelites, Moabites, these are Israel’s shield.
The soldiers of a kingdom of many customs
and many faiths, these will protect Israel,
as will Ahab, the King, whom you damn.
You have raised the Hebrews, enough
riot through Samaria and all of Israel, to kill
450 priests of Baal. And now you flee to the hills,
claiming that Jezebel sends vengeance racing after.
But it is I who remain behind.
I who calm Ahab, who
wishes to decree your death.
Seek no vengeance, Ahab, I say.
Only bring Elijah to explain this deed
in your court. But, yes, Eli, I also urged
Ahab on, saying hunt Elijah,
he must answer to the families
of the lovers of other gods.
And as I speak
I am split in pieces
I am Ahab’s queen
I am the princess who was
Eli’s love and the tears
that Jessie cried
to the sun that rose in Eli’s
face as he wandered east
spring fresh from Jezebel’s eyes.
Does Elijah triumph here?
Will the story of Jezebel and Ahab be told
according to Elijah? And what in turn
will be the fruit that grows from such stories?
But Shepherd boy, know this,
Jessie will not flee the lies and sordid tales.
I am a chief’s daughter, Queen of Israel.
What you have sown,
I will be here to reap. What you decree,
May come, but Jezebel does not flee.
I remember you once had such a will
when we loved a lifetime ago.
If you're interested in some of the thinking behind this poem, and haven't already read it, I've posted a commentary on In & Out with Jeff.