Friday, March 2, 2012

At the Harvest: A Queer Midrash

You’re bone tired but can’t sleep. Still caked in sweat and dust, you fell onto your bedroll as soon as you’d eaten what the servants had prepared, without even rinsing off. Just as well: by dusk tomorrow, thirst will claim every ounce of the water the women carried to the field. The sound of exhausted men sighing around you in their sleep merges into the breathing of a single spent beast; the women lie farther off, beyond the baskets of already-threshed barley.

Out of the darkness rise images of the wiry young Moabite woman, lean but tireless, and strong as an ox, to see her load a basket onto her shoulder that half your men would strain to lift. Her hair cut short, just growing in after she’d shaved it in mourning, she must have looked more like your kinswoman’s son than her daughter-in-law as they made their way back here from far beyond the Jordan. It would have served them well as protection on the road.

You see her gathering leftovers at the edge of the field, moving twice as fast as most of your own people, and carrying bound sheaves to the threshing floor once she’d filled her own basket to the brim. You picture her the morning of the day before, standing before you asking for charity in her thickly accented Hebrew, then retreating to the far side of the field to embrace with relieved laughter the older woman you still didn’t recognize as your emigrant cousin’s widow. You begin to doze off imagining her.

And wake to realize she’s there in the flesh, leaning above you in the light of the setting moon, putting a finger to the half-smile on her lips, then pulling down the loincloth that’s all you could bear to leave on in the strangely humid heat. Exhausted as your are, your erection’s been tenting it all the time you’ve thought of her.

It’s no sooner sprung free of the linen than she’s straddling you, slipping herself around you, gripping you as she sets up her own rhythm. She’s in charge of what’s happening between you and riding you for her own purposes, not yours; and yet, in the gleam of her eye in the dim light, you see her seeing you, see her taking satisfaction that you’re losing all control and turning into a bucking animal whose only reason for being is this. It goes on like this for what seems like the whole night. You‘re vaguely aware that you could wake those around you, but there’s nothing you can do to stop yourself. Nor would you if you could.

Purple light explodes behind your eyes. As your seed courses into her, your soul is somewhere outside your body altogether, and you see the future in a flash: the child she’s conceiving at this moment and will bear in nine months; the life you and she and her mother-in-law will lead together; the children of your son playing at the edge of the field as your people bring in the harvest some year long hence. You’re seized by an intuition that what’s just happened will change not only your life and the lives of your household, but somehow, countless years from now, the whole world. And you’re weeping as you see it all.

Your heart still racing as she rhythmically strokes your hair, she presses her forehead to yours and comforts you like a child. You whisper her name. She is Ruth.


  1. beautifully written! thanks, David! And, thank you so much for the new addition to my altar!

  2. Barry, thank you for the kind appreciation. And I'm so glad to hear the new object for your altar speaks to you. Blessed be the ties that bind...