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I used to listen to him while he prayed,

Wrapped in his father's mantle, for a son,

That God would grant me mercy.  There was none.

How bitterly he must have felt betrayed


When ten years passed.  Fifteen.  Yet never cursed,

Though almost worse than anger was his look

Of baffled sorrow, as the bride he took

From God grew old.  Meanwhile I burned with thirst


For him—the sweetness of his sweaty head,

His neck tasting of salt, our secret words,

His sturdy legs, his heartbeat like a bird's.

One night I woke and saw him by my bed—


He'd had a nightmare, and was crying.  There,

I said, and reached for him.  But he was made

Of shadows, and at once began to fade,

And at my touch he turned again to air.


But most nights, now, I lie awake and think,

Twisting the golden bracelet like a charm,

How I let down the pitcher on my arm

And spilled it in the stranger’s hands to drink;


And when he'd had his fill, to his surprise

I ran back to the well.  There was enough

For all ten camels, kneeling at the trough

With dusty necks, flicking away the flies.


I watch him sleep:  no more a wife, a daughter,

Nothing but this one wish between the dry

Immensities of sand and empty sky,

My life contracted to a cry for water.


Catherine Tufariello



From Annunciations, Aralia Press, © 2001.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

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