This is the story of a beautiful woman who struggled with depression. In this poem, I allude to Lot’s wife from the Old Testament. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at evil (probably with longing) as she was being rescued by God’s angels from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
However, the woman in this poem longed to look back at something she never had. She felt immobilized by her own mind, her circumstances, and her relationships. Her love had become the pillar of salt from which she needed to escape.
The real life setting for the poem was during a Southern summer drought, one of the worst ones I can ever remember. The heat was oppressive and felt like a living entity. The only things moving at high noon were the shimmers of heat coming up from the ground and thousands of locusts all over the yard, the trees, the porch, even inside the house. The constant sound of them pinging against the window screens was surreal. I have never experienced a “plague” like that again.
Thanks once more to Robert Edwards of Pemmican for publishing this one in the early 90’s.
By Julie Buffaloe-Yoder
Summer hanging between her fingers,
she lays heavy in an unmade bed
listening to the locusts
throw themselves against the house outside.
Friction might make them spark--
winged flames in the bright gloom of noon.
Everywhere they move brown blades of grass
She must get up, sweep them across wooden floors
into a moving pile, wait for a husband
to come home from the fields
tobacco eyed and stained with the sin of locusts.
Summer creaking in her cupboards
and she can feel hot drops of breath
he harvests for her to put in jars.
She must wipe the counters, free
the struggle of a locust in a honey puddle.
Outside, they breathe and breed
under feet, under tires,
fed by sweat and the pulse
of spinning engines
in the living dust.
She must get up and wash away locusts,
hang them with rows of stiff, wet clothes.
She must watch them fall
from the dryness of pines
like dying stars.
Summer clenched between her teeth
and she can taste the rusty nail.
The slaughtered lamb of generations,
she will glaze her sweet, thick skin
and lay across the supper table.
She must get up and open the door.
Not eaten alive, she will fill her mouth
with locusts, give them birth,
walk across the wave of wings
growing in the sandy rows,
hanging in her unveiled hair.
She must look back
once more to see him
in the tractored dirt.
She must look back
for just a glance
to see him
turning to sweat.