Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The woman with the alabaster jar

There's a striking poem in a recent issue of Eureka Street, by Brisbane writer Davina Allison. It's a gorgeous, erotic, rather heterodox reflection on the Gospel story of the woman with the jar of expensive ointment. I liked it very much – and its heterodoxy made me wonder whether there could ever really be an orthodox interpretation of this extravagantly sensuous story. I mean, any reading that overlooks the eroticism of the story is kind of missing the point, right?

Then again, as Kim said, maybe you need a bit of eroticism as a prophylactic against the docetic heresy...

The woman with the alabaster jar

She knew the lines of a man's back
as well as she knew the taste
of decanted fig-wine, or the way the spine
girdered the back under her hand;
an uneven scaffolding of flesh under fingers.
It was a gentle gift, this. Acquired slowly
in the stones arranged on her mother's grave,
in the deep vault of her hip against his.
Dipping like water, she learnt to press libations
into her hair — lavender, dill, coriander;
to twist strands against the frame.
There was salvation in this. And Art too;
that fingers still wet from mulberry
could etch a form of truth on the skin,
like the rim of flung-coin, or the
consolation of Spring oranges and their spurting.

But the truth of them has been forgotten.
His dirty feet and tired eyes, her hennaed-thighs
in sandalwood and linen, how she swung her hips,
how his loneliness was an atrium arching from his chest
to the lip of the buttress; aching for her to unfurl her hair.

—Davina Allison


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