“where are the angels?”

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For the woman gangraped by the tribe of Benjamin. 

Silent you were. You were
silenced. Not a word given you
in the whole merciless narrative.
Not a movement credited you
except one: prelude to the tale,
you returned to your father’s house
for four months. And one more
movement: footnote at the end,
you reach forward a hand.
Between that you are moved
as a pawn by primary players.

Nameless you are. You were
unnamed, called “concubine” and
“slave-woman” . Your “master”
was honoured as a “son-in-law”
yet you were no wife.

The whole story you travel between and with
the men meant to protect you. Father. Master (husband). Host.
They brutally betray you.

Father and son-in-law dine nightly
feast again and again, the two of them
then he takes you and “his other servant”

departs. Arrive in Gibeah.
Dialogue between master and servant.
Dialogue between master and old-man-now-host.
You speak not a word.

Taken into a home for the night
where the two men feast. A gang of Gibeah
bangs at the door, demanding the traveling man

without skipping a beat, the old man offers
his own virgin daughter and his guest’s “concubine”
“to abuse and rape” – oh, he knows full well —

after all, your “master” introduced you
to this old man as “your slavegirl”
so should we be surprised when your “master” himself
takes you by the arm
bodily pushes you out the door?

Oh my dear, it is Sodom and Gomorrah
but this time, there are no divine angels
to strike the groping rapists blind.
This time, there is only the old man (your host)
and the Levite (your lover).
They are on one side of the door
and you are on the other.

Mercifully called “the woman” at the end
you are thrown a crumb of identity
“the woman came to the door”
at the very end you are a person of your own
and you move of your own accord, stumbling back
from that one eternal night.

At least you are allowed to stretch
your arm, to fall forward on the steps. Your hands
on the threshold of a home, reaching away
from your violated body
which lies on the dusty streets.

Then – “her master opened the door
and saw the woman – his concubine – “
Could he even recognize you? Dare I ask?

The Levite, “her master” took a cleaver
to her abused body
chopped her into twelve bloody chunks.

Oh my dear, you had no home
with your father
no home
with your master
no home
for one night of hospitality
no home
when you died, reaching
no home
for your body, no grave

no honour, no respect given your body
in life or in death
no voice, no name, no desires granted
in your story

the only words spoken straight to you,
“get up, let’s go.” That is all your master (husband?) said
to you as you lay, mangled, already dead, at his
feet.

Oh my dear, what could possibly justify your life,
your death? What sin could ever allow for such
disrespect? My sister. You and all the others,
unnamed, silenced, violated,
then told to get up and keep going –
even when they are dead –
oh my sisters, my dear sisters. In all the wretched nights where

are the angels?

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I know. It’s not easy to read. It’s not easy to write, either. This poem comes from an account in the book of Judges, read in Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew. The concubine and slave-girl is finally revealed by the text as “woman”, right in the midst of the absolute violation of her body and self. To me, the “woman” might take us back to the Garden, might show the “anti-Garden” we live in now. Because this isn’t just a piece of a chapter in a book written millennia ago–we know (though we’d often rather forget) that this is an ongoing reality for too many women. 

And where is God? This is a question we all must ask, coming to the stories He chooses to include in His word. What will you do with this account? Will you witness this grief and pain until your bowels are emptied out in pain, like the narrator of Lamentations

Where is God? We cannot know, He does not say. We cannot move on from this story easily. Perhaps that is our clue that He does not move away, either. 

(Featured Image from Unsplash)

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