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New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

4 poems by Kenneth Robbins

k robbins

Kenneth Robbins is the author of  five published novels, 29 published plays, and numerous stories,
essays, and memoirs. He is a past recipient of the Associated Writing Programs Novel Award and the Toni Morrison Prize for Fiction.

The four poems featured are from Kenneth Robbins’ hitherto  unpublished collection, THE
BOOK OF SLAUGHTER.  Each poem is drawn from a specific chapter found within the Old Testament.

 

Joshua 2

A Scarlet Cord

I am Rahab.
I am me.
I am no man’s wife.
I am no man’s daughter.
I live in my skin.
My skin lives in my house.
I rent both
to anyone who pays.
I am Rahab.
I am me.
I am the harlot of Jericho.
I am no king’s whore.
I am me.

Israelites, two of them,
come from Shittim.
Two spies.
They tap on my door.
They clamber through my window.
I give them shelter.
I give them food.
I give them me.
They pay with shekels
both silver and gold.
They hide quiet on my roof
which rests within the city wall.
I keep them there.
We in Jericho melt with fear.
We know of their Lord.
He parsed the sea
as they fled from Egypt.
He dumped food from the sky
and gave them laws unlike ours.
He gave them this land.
Our land.
They will have none other.
They will have me.

My king knows they are here.
He commands me, “Bring them out.”
I do not like my king.
I do not serve my king.
I do not bend to my king.
He does not pay.
He ravages me.
For nothing.
These spies are gentle.
They are kind.
They enjoy my gifts.
They honor my skin.
They praise my house.
They pay without pause.
Save us, they say,
and we will save you.
They slip through my window.
Thank you, they say.
May we find others like you, they say.
I release them through my window.
Here, they say.
A scarlet cord is their gift.
Here, they say.
Tie this in your window
and no harm will come to you.
This you swear? I say.
This we swear, they say.
Blood be on our hands, they say,
if harm comes to your house,
if harm comes to your skin.
But if I am untrue
and tell of them,
their oath will be reversed.
This they know.
This I know.
Then be it so.
And they are gone into the hills.
They know who I am.
They will remember who I am.

I am Rahab.
I am me.
I am no king’s whore.
I am me.
I do not melt in fear.
I am me.

 

1 Kings 17

The Miracle of Five Loaves

Elijah wasn’t much of a man.
A twig with ten toes, two thumbs, and a nose.
The God of Israel lives!” he told anybody who’d listen.
“And he tells me they’s a drought acoming.”
Nobody paid him any attention.
“You ain’t no man of God,” they said to him.
“Get away from us, you Satan,” they said.
They would of thrown stones at his head.
But he skedaddled best he could.

He left and on the Lord’s word crept to Kerith Ravine.
He was sent there by the Lord in a dream.
Or a vision.
He didn’t know the difference.
There he drunk from the brook till it went dry.
There he ate what the crows brought him till they got wise and ate it all themselves.

Bout to starve to death and dying of thirst,
he heard the Lord tell him “Get you to Zarephath where a widder woman will give you food.
“A widder woman will give you drink.”
“Zarephath? Where the hell’s that?”
………Exactly.
He was a man of God.
Men of God do what God commands.
Even dumb commands like going to some place that ain’t on no map.

So, he wandered till he found a widder woman agathering sticks at a city gate.
“Get me something to eat,” he said. “I’m starving.
“Get me something to drink,” he said. “I’m adying of thirst.”
“I ain’t got no bread,” she told him.
“Just a handful of flour in a jar and a little jug of olive oil.
“Just enough to feed me and my boy till we die.”
Bout out of his mind and not knowing what to do, Elijah shrieked—
“The Lord ain’t gonna let your jar get empty.
“The Lord ain’t gonna let your jug run dry.
“Go, fetch me home with you and we’ll fix us up something good to eat.
“I’m a man of God. You can trust me.”

His thumbs made a fist.

She trusted him to hit her and hit her hard if she didn’t do as he bid.
Her house was a shipping crate.
Her bed was a blanket on the ground.
Her jar was broken and her jug was a thimble.
It would take a miracle to fix even one loaf of bread from so little.
But fix it she did.
Even as her son moaned from the blanket that he called a bed.
The son was sick.
……….. Real sick.
Sicker than sick is supposed to get.
“You and your Lord out to mess with me,” she said.
“I sin, sure, and this is my penance.
“My boy dying and my perishing from hunger and thirst.”
The boy, no more than a stick with ten toes, two thumbs, and a nose, stopped his moans.
,,,,,,,,,…He lay still.
………… He lay cold.
………….He lay dead.

Elijah blamed the Lord.
“You done this cause of me,” he flummoxed.
“You done this cause I ain’t good enough.
“Cause you done decided I ain’t worthy.”
He, same as the boy, was done in.
Finished with starving, he’d had his fill of hurt.

Even as the widder made five crust loaves from her broken jar of flour.
Even as she drew them from the stove letting loose an aroma from on high.
Elijah dumped his bony carcass on top of the boy.
He cried to the Lord, “You take him you take me, you take him you take me!”
Till he was hoarse.

He tossed on top of the boy’s dead body cause it was cold.
He tossed again on the boy’s still body cause it was getting colder.
He tossed every which a way cause the body was still cold and getting colder still.
………..Three times he tossed.
………..The fourth time the boy tossed Elijah to the floor.

Elijah shrieked. “Look, your son’s alive!
“It’s a miracle.
“The Lord done wrought a miracle here in this trash heap.
“Can I have his bread?
“Can I have his wine?
The widder stood amazed.
Her boy had surely been dead.
Dead and cold and deader still.

She flung herself on Elijah as he ate.
“You a man of God,” she proclaimed.
“From your mouth comes the truth.”
“You got that right,” he said.
“You sure as hell got that right,” he said.
And he ate till there was a bulge in his belly and bread crumbs in his hair.

…………Nobody noticed the miracle of the loaves.
…………They were too hungry to notice little things like that.
………….Besides, five loaves made from next to nothing
………….ain’t that big a deal no matter which way you look at it.

 

1 Kings 1

Abishag

The King is cold.
No amount of covering
renders him warm.
Thus, I am summoned to his bed.
I am Abishag of Shunem.
Mine is an empty village far removed
from kings and kingly things.
They say I am beautiful.
I do not know what beauty is.

I lie beside him, his kingship in my hand.
I caress as my mother described.
He, the King, remains cold.
I suckle him as my mother taught.
He suckles me as she said he might.
But he remains fallow, unresponsive.
Cold.

I know this meaning.
My mother taught me.
If a seed does not germinate,
it is cast aside
and new seeds are found and sown.
If a King cannot propagate
and rip through the virgin maidenhead,
then, you know and I know
what remains to be done.
With me by his side,
as alluring as I am said to be,
and he does not respond,
they say he is no longer King.
He, the King, in name only,
cannot perform.
I am insufficient, inadequate, a failure.
Since I remain intact,
am I still his and his son’s to claim?

I am Abishag of Shunem.
A virgin’s allure is all I might claim.
Even as that, as that, I am flawed.
Oh, shame on me for failing the king
Who now is king no more.

 

Jeremiah 1

Child’s Play

I am just a kid.
Oh, heavens, I am only a kid.
I hear a voice
that I don’t understand.
I complain
but no one attends.

I am just a kid.
What am I supposed to do?
The voice commands me to
share its words.
I can’t, I don’t know how.
I am just a kid.

Just do it, the voice cajoles.
How can I when I cannot speak?
“I knew you in the womb,” it says.
Then, in spite of what I am,
the voice enters my mouth.
And I speak with thunder,
turn back the tides,
and start fires with my breath.
I call lions from their dens.
I calm torrents with whispers.
I gather throngs with my words.

The Lord of Hosts has entered my mouth.
I am armed with power.
And I abhor it.

Don’t you understand?
I am still just a kid.

 

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