Lot's Wife

My neighbours were caught like kebabs
in the pale yellow blaze:
it's not every day you see brimstone.

I just had time
to witness the gates going up,
and to grab a general sense of the panic,
the figures dodging the debris,
and geysers of fire meeting
the splashes of flame from the sky.

I thought of a shawl
that I'd wrapped the kids in.
I'd forgotten it in the rush;
they don't give you warning really
in stories like this. I'd lent it
to a girl who was due that week.
That was a waste, I thought.

It's a dull affair, on the whole,
being a pillar of salt.
There's nothing to recommend it:
you're geologically odd
in a desert of petrified wives.

I wish that I'd taken some snapshots
of the famous inferno. Quite something.
My glance was the only survivor.

I'm edited out pretty quickly, of course:
only a handful of words. One verse
rehearses my fate. And yet who
remembers much about Lot? Not, I think,
the way that my daughters raped him -
they must have been desperate -
without his batting a braincell.

No, I am memory's culprit,
the nameless bint who couldn't resist
a peek over everyone's shoulder, a sneak
glance at the past. Why this hurry
to sweep away history's clinker,
to feed all our shame into shredders?
We're none of us cleaner for that.

In my view, we should have traipsed
back through the ashes, sifting
the wind for the scent of our skins.
We should have shed tears,
the funeral salt.

And why, if my crime was so heinous,
are they always reciting
Jesus: Remember Lot's wife?
Tomorrow is only a fiction
dreamed up by denying a life.

Besides, how did they know
that I was a pillar of salt, unless
they risked a quick butcher's themselves?
Tell me that, while I wait here, crumbling,
and waiting for something like thunder.

From the book Robinson Crusoe's Bank Holiday Monday