In first person, forty-three Old and New Testament women re-tell Biblical stories from their unique perspectives. In the pivotal poem of the collection, the Samarian woman recalls her meeting with Jesus at the well years later as an old woman. Like her, all the women in these dramatic monologues yearn for that water which will become a wellspring from which eternal life will flow. Water, a typically feminine symbol, binds all these disparate voices, some strident and defiant, others humorous. The poems are arranged chronologically from Eve to Damaris. Crying defiance against the priesthood, Jezebel proudly defends her name, "Always a curse lisped between lips\I swear, of
  women-hating priests\who strive to suppress the feminine\No shame it is to be named Jezebel." In a lighter vein, Mary of Bethany declares herself "the housewife's patron saint\not my sister Martha dusting and polishing.\All you everyday housewives who would be holy\throw away your brooms, brushes and rag mops.\What profit a clean house when you lose your soul?" This collection of persona poems provides a refreshing, and sometimes shocking, counterpoint to the mostly male point-of-view the Bible affords. In Women at the Well, readers will hear Biblical women speak tougher and wittier words than Scripture allows.
 

 

  PREVIEW
 

EVE

      I was created to amuse him
with little regard whether I was amused.
      I was created out of his side
presumably to complete his Paradise.
      But he wallows by the lily pond,
flexing his pectorals into knotty cords.
      He talks to his navel and not to me;
Yahweh should have known what a bore he'd be!
      Is it my blame to like the serpent?
His body winding limbs does more than Adam
      to make intellect grow a keen edge.
A hiss names this The Tree of good and Knowledge.
      "Give Adam this apple than again
he'll caress your skin and stroke your golden hair,"
      the serpent's tongue flickered as he spoke;
my need to know each undulation awoke.
      I admit the lithe snake fascinates
and around my mind I think it copulates.
      Why, I've forgotten what it was like,
so long has it been that Adam has uprisen
      to chase me through leafy canopies.
When caught we sprawl giggling in anemones
      Maybe with the apple he'll recall
the games we played up hill and down hill all day
      for all our work was to play back then.
He eats, enjoys the juice and sucks down Eden.
     The serpent seemed so soft yet supple
When I wanted knowledge arousing muscle.
      The body Adam babied he clothes
and times now we taste of Eden a ragged joy.

   
 

DELILA

Samson's weakness was not his hair.
A woman could have shorn it before
and his strength would have held.
His weakness was he was easily nagged.
It takes a special woman to nag a man
just right where it gets him good.
I wasn't the first to nag Samson
until he relented after the third time.
Don't listen to those who say: Try
and after three attempts stop short.
Real nags know it takes one more push
to send him handily over the edge.

Don't laugh at me either-this talent
is the secret of my survival in Israel.
I chose to be a magic carpet, not a door mat
to this bearded race of taciturn herders.
I knew what pleasures to offer or withhold.
If they wanted my bounties they'd relent,
give in to my fancies, persuasions, my whims
which you call disdainfully, my naggings.
Poor Samson, he forgot I was first Philistine,
a woman second, his bauble the very last.
Samson was such a womanizer he didn't care
what race his women were, only that they be
beautiful, aromatic, learned in erotic arts.

That I was, Samson! I hated to see you die,
your muscles bulging in exquisite straining.
I was the first to see those knees bend,
left my wine and lover's arms, scurried
out the noisy banquet hall before the fall.

   
 

MARY OF BETHANY

In the hagiographies I am not listed.
I tell you I am the housewife's patron saint,
not my sister Martha dusting and polishing.
All you everyday housewives who would be holy
throw away your brooms, brushes and rag mops.
What profit a clean house when you lose your soul?

Because I let supper burn to listen to Jesus
Martha complains to him she's stuck with the work.
Jesus tells her I've chosen the right way.
When you hear your child cry or your friend call
leave the dishes in the sink and hear their story.
They've only now; tomorrow you have the house.

When Lazarus died I stayed in the house crying
until Martha came and told me Jesus had arrived.
I looked up at Him and said if He'd been in Bethany
four days ago Lazarus would still be alive.
He pulled me to my feet, wiped my tears away
and said: "Take me to where Lazarus lies sleeping."

Martha stopped Jesus at the entrance to the cave.
"Don't go in-four days-the smell will be bad," she said.
There is nothing neat or clean about the house of the dead
but Martha would be always sweeping at death's door.
I kissed Lazarus as his winding sheet unrolled
and Martha picked it up, folding it so neatly.

Jesus loved me because I acted on impulse
and cleaned what counted with aromatic nard,
his precious feet, for which even his apostles
scolded me, and dried them with my amber hair.
The men believed I should sell the nard, use the money
for the poor, whom Jesus knew we would always have.

He loved me for what I was, not for what I wasn't,
just as he loved you, Martha, for your neatness,
a neatness that counts for little if you lose
the spontaneity of a heart ever loving and flowing.
He loved us both in our fashion, eating your dinners
in a well-kept house he loved to visit in Bethany.

Martha, you are no longer cross with me I see.
You are old, sick and I clean house for you.
I bring you in bed warm broth and fresh-baked bread.
You nibble it. I prop your gray head up.
I hold your hand and sometimes we talk awhile
of Jesus on the cross and the stone rolled away.