David to Abishag

devil's bindweed

I was David, slayer of tens of thousands,
dancing half-naked before the Ark.
Power flowed through me: everyone saw
how the Lord gloried in his tool.

      Abigail, Michal, Ahinoam — where were they?
      Forgotten on their pillows of goats’ hair,
      like the graven image that slept in my bed
      on the night I staged my first
      tactical retreat.

Don’t look at me like that! Remember,
Jonathon was dead, whose love had been
more wonderful than the love of any woman.
The Lord had taken my seed
for his own: my sons would be his sons.

      But what does a virgin know about love?
      I danced, I circled back on myself
      like a serpent, honey-tongued.
      I fucked Bathsheba & had her husband killed.

A flash of anger in your eyes — good.
I hold nothing back; neither should you.
More than anything else,
El Shaddai loves openness.

      Ah, but Absalom, beautiful in outrage,
      broken at the bottom of a pit!
      What kind of arch is supported
      by a single pillar?

You have heard these stories a hundred times,
I know. They are all I have left.
I keep hoping somehow to set you aflame, poor girl,
forced to cuddle with this soft cold worm
your King.

Abishag – see I Kings 1:1-4
dancing before the arkII Samuel 6:12-16
the graven image that slept in my bedI Samuel 19:11-17
more wonderful than the love of any womanII Samuel 1:25-26
the Lord had taken my seedII Samuel 7:12-16
BathshebaII Samuel 11
a single pillarII Samuel 18:17-18
For another take on the real David behind the layers of tradition, see Baruch Halpern, David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King (Eerdmans, 2001)

4 Replies to “David to Abishag”

  1. Thanks, Dick. I feel like a real oddball sometimes, engaging with these scandalous old stories that most secular literati have long since forgotten and most religious folks would sooner ignore.

  2. I love how you save the setting until the last. It’s like paint that spills upwards and recolors the entire poem. (I would never have remembered that her name was Abishag.)

    (I’m an oddball, too, though I consider you more well-rounded.)

  3. Peter – One reason I remember her name is because Rilke wrote a poem about her and David that I’ve always liked. Part of the challenge of writing this piece, then, was to completely reimagine their non-coupling. Thus, for example, while Rilke’s image of her tied to and arching over him (like the female sky of Egyptian mythology) was very attractive, I pictured them, if anything, more as virgin mother and elderly child – though that language didn’t make it into the final draft, because we only see things from David’s phallocentric perspective.

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