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Pillar of Salt

“By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen
over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning
sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah… Thus he
overthrew those cities and the entire plain,
destroying all those living in the cities… But Lot’s
wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”
—Genesis 19:23-26

Ya’ash! Ya’ash! My wife, what have you done?
You dared look back? Then you are truly dead.
One must not gaze directly at the sun
Lest one grow blind and find all light has fled!

What of your corpse? I’ve searched each hill and cave
Denying truth. At last I’m forced to halt,
Accepting that you’re too far gone to save.
This thing is you, this pillar made of salt.

O, Sodom, Sodom, armpit of the Earth!
Depraved, subhuman, ripe with strange allure!
O, source of titillation, filth-based mirth,
Where even righteous men become impure!

What madness made us stay, poor wife? Perhaps
Our dread of change? Or were we too forgiving?
We started well but let our morals lapse.
Temptation is like poison to the Living.

Had Abraham known Sodom’s meager sum
Of virtue he would not have begged the Lord
To save this hive of villainy and scum.
Destroy it? Yes! I’m now in full accord.

Why did you look, my wife? To fill a void
Of questioning, to feed your fascination?
Or did you yearn for what you saw destroyed?
Was pleasure all you sought for veneration?

So here you stand, transformed to solid stone
Upon a cliff still rocked by Sodom’s quakes,
Above the Sea of Death, henceforth alone
But for the desert scorpions and snakes.

In life you were so proud, unteachable;
Your heart was cold, your temper hot as coals.
In death you shall remain unreachable—
A monument to unbelieving souls.

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Poet’s Note: Ya’ash – יֵאוּש – is Hebrew for despair.

Lot’s wife is mentioned by Jesus at Luke 17:32. As he warns his disciples about difficult times in the future when the Son of Man would return; he tells them to remember Lot’s wife as a warning to not waver at that time. Lot’s wife is also referred to in the apocrypha in Wisdom 10:7 – “a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul.”

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Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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23 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    You vividly slam home looking back and reflecting on those venal sins that might have been titillatingly memorable, that might pose a future stumbling block for us, or may even have made us sympathize with the perpetrators even though we had merely observed and not participated. I remember thinking as a kid being read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, that Lot’s wife was just stupid, but it goes far beyond that to things like disobedience or vicarious observations. All these things now come to mind with your outstanding depictions and probing of Lot’s mind regarding the reasons why he lost his wife in such an unorthodox way. Kudos to you for the descriptive thoughts and ponderings beautifully, though balefully told, though the eyes and perspective of Lot.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you so much, Roy. One of the points you raise is sympathy for the perpetrators. This is something I absolutely had to address because I see it as a common feature in modern life. I don’t just mean the culture of District Attorneys who won’t prosecute crime (though that’s part of it.) I mean the fact that people — often good people — have become absolutely numb to speaking out about things that are absolutely horrible. This is the trap that Lot and Lot’s wife fell into, but it’s an extremely modern problem — especially in the wake of all those “mostly peaceful” protests. They don’t want to rock the boat and they theologically act as if “Judge not lest ye be judged” were the only principle mentioned in the Bible. I think they are simply hiding their spinelessness behind this “moral” justification that they have twisted out of context. The way addicts, prostitutes and vandals are catered to particularly galls me. The fact of the matter is God gave us brains to use. He gave us discernment and He has set before us awareness of what is good and what is evil. People need to stop being so passive and nonjudgmental (undiscerning) and start advocating for what is right. Lot and Lot’s Wife are examples of what happens when people simply “let things slide.”

      Reply
  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    I really love your poem’s premise of telling the story from the point of view of Lot as the bereaved husband — both his emotional reactions, and his introspective probing: why they may have stayed in such a place; what happened to them because they did; and what may have been the reasons why she looked back. Your comparison in the first verse of looking back at the burning city, to looking directly at the sun, is very insightful, as is the poem’s depiction of Lot looking around for the corpse, at first not understanding — or not believing — what had actually happened (since of course that sort of thing doesn’t happen every day!) Some profound phrases are “filth-based mirth”; “this hive of villainy and scum”; “Upon a cliff still rocked by Sodom’s quakes”; and “A monument to unbelieving souls”. Thank you for this amplified perspective on the fate of Sodom and its effects (and, perhaps. a tacit comparison to our present-day world, though unstated….)

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Cynthia. I’m pleased that you singled out the sun-blindness comparison because I considered it an apt metaphor — especially seeing the sun as symbolic of God himself. One dare not look at the face of God. And being admonished not to gaze directly at the sun is probably the quintessential warning against looking where one is not supposed to look!

      I’m very pleased as well that you liked some of the phrasing in the poem. I cannot take credit for the “hive of villainy and scum” because this is a reference to another work — of all things — Star Wars. Obi-wan describes the wretched, Sodom-like town of Mos Eisley saying “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” I pictured Sodom as looking much like that and could not resist the temptation of making that visual connection. And with that connection to ponder the sheer universality of depravity. Along the same lines, that “monument to unbelieving souls” is a reference directly borrowed from the Apocrypha.

      As for the comparison of the modern world to Sodom and Gomorrah — you better believe it! That’s why I have Lot puzzling out where he and his family went wrong. It has strong contemporary application. Why would reasonably un-depraved people stay in a place where depravity is allowed to flourish? Why do people now double-down on living in dystopian places like San Francisco or Portland? Not everyone, of course. I understand that around 350,000 people PER YEAR are exiting California for places like Texas and Florida. I myself lived in Portland for almost seven years but could not take it anymore. I’ve drawn my own conclusions about why so many people I care about stayed behind. But I never looked back.

      Reply
  3. Paul Freeman

    As always, great story-telling.

    How difficult it must be not to look back when told not to, a bit like in all those films where someone’s told not to look down – and always does.

    An interesting tangent from your story, Brian:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KndIBaLxAio

    One of my fave ‘Tales of the Unexpected’.

    Thanks for the read.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Paul, thank you very much for the kind comment! I delayed replying because I wanted to watch the “Tales of the Unexpected” episode “Would You Believe It?” that you linked to. I’ve never seen this show before and really enjoyed it — as a fan of science fiction/fantasy it’s a show that’s right up my alley. Thanks for the introduction! As for the archaeological discovery and plundering of Lot’s wife… All I can say is: salt dissolves.

      Reply
  4. Julian D. Woodruff

    Fine work, Brian. Cynthia must be right, and pointing at the poem’s raison d’etre. Sodom and Gomorrah were places God destroyed, but our fallenness allows us to find or build new ones (or new old ones) all the time, and to excuse and defend ourselves for doing so.
    To too many, in virtue’s dearth, Lot’s wife is the salt of the earth.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Julian. I fully agree — humanity keep building and rebuilding these depraves places, and a whole segment of moral society is willing to look the other way (no pun intended.) Who bears more responsibility? Places like Sodom and Portland wouldn’t exist if good people weren’t derelict in their duty to speak up and stop accepting the unacceptable. You are so right about Lot’s wife potentially being viewed favorably by the unvirtuous.

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    The alphabet mafia known as the LGBT+ crowd is trying to turn the story of Sodom and Gomorrah into one that does not condemn sexual perversion and depravity, but instead into a warning against “failure to be properly hospitable” to visitors and guests. In other words, the gang-rape of two handsome strangers who come to one’s city is not a crime in itself, but merely a social failure to treat sojourners and travelers with due respect.

    They they twist the story to be read as a condemnation of those of us who object to the invasion of our country by illegal aliens.

    Is there anything that liberals can’t twist into something other than what it is?

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you for commenting, Joseph. I believe it’s far more than just the alphabet mafia offering this smiley-face version of Sodom and Gomorrah. I heard this preached from the pulpit in the very straight Lutheran Church I used to attend in Oregon. This is now how left-leaning social justice warriors have reinterpreted the Bible. This is the same church that redacted “He” and “Him” from all references to God and presented a form of the 23rd Psalm in which God was referred to as “she” for Mother’s Day. To answer your question, there is nothing that cannot be twisted into something else by leftists. This is, in part, because they sanctify subjective experience at the expense of objective observation. Thus women may have male genitalia and men may get pregnant. In contrast, conservatives sanctify objective observation at the expense of subjective experience, which is why we cannot accept the validity of a psychiatric definition of gender. Subjective experience versus objective observation. How these two competing paradigms of reality are triaged is, in my humble view, the difference between liberals and conservatives.

      Reply
  6. Joshua C. Frank

    As always, really good dramatic monologue! I agree with Cynthia’s list of favorite lines. Stanza 4 speaks to our times as well…

    I never understood why Lot’s wife even wanted to look back at Sodom. Then Lot and his daughters all fell into sin. That family would have been better off if they had been destroyed with Sodom. Unless they repented before death (the Bible doesn’t say whether they did), they’re all in Hell right by the Sodomites.

    I remember reading that Billy Graham’s wife Ruth once said, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” Peter Kreeft went even further: “If the God of life does not respond to this culture of death with judgment, God is not God. If God does not honor the blood of the hundreds of millions of innocent victims [of abortion] then the God of the Bible, the God of Israel, the God of orphans and widows, the Defender of the defenseless, is a man-made myth, a fairy tale.”

    Perhaps God is allowing Western culture to be destroyed by mass third-world immigration rather than by nukes—at least this option gives saner cultures a chance to expand.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Josh, for this insightful comment. I also never understood Lot’s wife failure to follow simple instructions and this poem, in part, was written to explore why she might have done so. I thin Peter Kreeft goes a bit far — as is beautifully articulated in Job, we have no way to judge God from where we stand. That is where faith comes in. We trust that God is a just God and that all will be set right when the time comes. Your own view of God’s allowance of the destruction of Western culture is compelling. But I think that there’s another equally valid potentiality here — consider the Christian culture that emerged from the ashes of Rome, or the Renaissance that was nourished by the Fall of Constantinople. The seeds are planted for the potential of something new yet wonderful. What if that is equally valid concerning our present-day tribulations? I’m reminded of Tolkien’s refusal to give up. And I’m reminded of the German concept of spannungsbogen — which translates into “the span of the bow.” The farther backwards something is pulled, the further forward it will be propelled. I pray that this is so in the case of Western civilization. And if my refusal to give up all optimism regarding the future turns out to be wrong… well at least I will have had the chance to state my case.

      Reply
  7. Margaret Coats

    Magnificent in theme, emotion, and artistry. The theme is the sin of voyeurism, a failure to exercise guardianship of the eyes even when life depends on it. But as Lot’s monologue makes clear, this didn’t start on the flight away from Sodom. And the subtle part of voyeurism is that guilt for many other sins is involved. I may have quoted Chaucer’s Parson on this topic before, but never with such direct application. The Parson explains that experiencing temptation is no sin, but sin begins when the temptation is enjoyed rather than fought. And when does a sin become mortal or deadly, because the sinner willfully chooses Hell knowing that’s where his choice leads? The Parson says it is when he makes up his mind to commit the sin should any opportunity arise. Deciding in favor of adultery or sodomy or grand theft is a sin of thought rather than a sin of act, and the act adds to the guilt, but a sin of thought can lead to the Hell which is chosen rather than to Heaven. Because of human weakness and ignorance, God gives time to repent and change, but as Brian outlines here, there is a point where weakness and ignorance, by force of the surroundings influencing our minds and senses, become perversion and depravity. Lot doesn’t seem to know or believe that his wife was unfaithful to him and God by sinful acts, but her thoughts are what governed her eyes.

    The emotion here is painfully aching, opening into permanent regret by Lot for failure in his duties as a husband. But as Joshua Frank says above, he went on to worse things. Hard to believe from the presentation Brian makes in this poem! There are the repeated agonizing questions, and stanza 5 on the prayers of Abraham to spare Sodom, where Lot comes to a clear judgment, conformed not to Abraham’s view but to God’s. The discourse is a monument to souls who may say they believe God, but trust in themselves or in other men.

    The artistry dealing with this difficult story (difficult because of the complex psychology and profound theology it involves) is simple. Sentences much shorter than mine, syntax limited by line ends, and clarity as nearly perfect as possible. I can’t say this is a model poem, because it seems inimitable. But this kind of simplicity takes a great deal of time and effort to achieve, and you, Brian, have been a model of diligence in devoting yourself to it.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Margaret, I am so honored to receive this generous comment. Thank you! I’m gratified that you recognize how much work goes into writing a poem that is this simple. The simplicity is deceptive and, as you know from your own magnificent work, the result of exhaustive editing. This poem had to be simple. Lot is no scholar nor a particularly deep thinker like his uncle. But he knows that forces are at work that he cannot begin to understand. If he had truly understood, he would not have searched for his wife’s body. In fact, if he had truly understood, he would never have stayed in Sodom. He’s a man of limited intellectual and spiritual resources and, as you and Josh both observe, he is on the cusp of engaging in great sin.

      One must be careful in interpreting how God may actually use such sin. It should be remembered that although Lot committed incest with his daughters — which is as depraved as it gets — one of the resulting offspring becomes the father of the Moabites and ancestor to Ruth. And, of course, Ruth marries Boaz and their lineage produces King David and — much later — Jesus of Nazareth.

      On the subject of Job’s sin, I did not see a reason to foreshadow it in this poem — I believe it would have detracted from what I was trying to focus on — as you insightfully articulate — the sin of voyeurism. But there’s more to it than the wife looking back against God’s explicit orders. In this particular case she looks. But when it mattered — when it came to the vile depravity that characterized Sodom — she did NOT look. She and Lot looked the other way. So the way I’ve set the poem up, there are times when you must not look, and there are times when you absolutely MUST look. And this sets up the hugely important difference in types of vision: voyeurism versus selective blindness. Lot and his wife did not want to see the horror that was Sodom. Lot does not initially want to recognize what he sees in the pillar. How does one navigate this? With discernment. We are duty-bound to see and recognize truth and we are duty-bound not to blind ourselves to it. And we are duty-bound not to turn a blind eye to depravity and criminality around us. That being said, we need the discernment to know when to turn off Disney and Netflix because we do not need to willingly support the vileness, violence or debauchery du jour. But that is not selective blindness. That is discernment.

      Reply
  8. Yael

    This poem really does the Biblical text justice, as it enhances the scriptural version rather than capitalizing off it. Great job, I love it!

    Reply
  9. Warren Bonham

    The temptation to not look back was too much for Lot’s wife but it’s amazing that Lot did not look back after he realized that his wife was no longer with him. He was a Lot stronger than I would have been

    Another great effort!

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Warren. You’re right — how tempting that must have been for Job to look after his wife! He was a Lot stronger than I would have been also.

      Reply
  10. Adam Wasem

    Brian, you must be psychic. As one of the many hundreds of thousands who have fled the “wretched hives of scum and villainy” our urban centers have become, I was working on a poem on precisely this subject. And you’ve dealt with it so concisely and incisively and covered. so much ground I’m now going to have to work twice as hard at it. But the poem was so good I can’t even be upset. Another terrific history poem, smoothly interpreted and updated for contemporary audiences. And you’re right to mention a religious component to the degeneration of the cities. If you’re mainline Protestant these days pretty much only the Baptists, some Methodists, and the Missouri Synod Lutherans can be counted on to preach Biblically when it comes to morals. If you’re in an ELCA church like the one you mentioned in Portland undoubtedly was, you might as well go Unitarian and dispense with Jesus altogether. As for myself, I went Evangelical non-denominational almost 15 years ago and never looked back.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you, Adam, for this kind and intriguing comment! One of the marvelous things about poetry is that the same subjects can be taken on by a variety of poets with varying points of view. I will very much look forward to reading your own “Lot’s Wife” poem! As for the churches… you nailed it. The church I attended was indeed an ELCA church which was all about making parishioners feel good but which had no adult concern for their souls. Some of these left-leaning churches are more closely akin to social clubs than to serious centers of religious worship and instruction. I am now a member of the Episcopal church. It sometimes flirts perilously with some left thinking, but it is nevertheless serious about the theology, the concepts of sin and salvation, and it is unambiguously Christ-centered without feeling the need to apologize, redact or cherry-pick. As for “never looking back” you did far better than Lot’s wife!

      Reply
  11. David Whippman

    A moving and skilfully written poem. It shows Lot in a very human light – grieving for the loss of his loved one, yet still aware that she was wrong. As to why we don’t get out of bad places: well, I think sheer inertia has a lot to do with it. Plus the fact that one can feel loyalty to a place even as it changes; and it often does so by small degrees, so we tend to accept it. And the fact that friends and relatives may still live there.
    This really resonated with me, as I have just returned from a visit to my hometown. I would find it hard to live back there; bits of it seem so ugly and depressing to me now. I guess Lot’s wife must have found Sodom a lot more alluring!

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, David! Your reading of the poem elicited exactly the reaction I hoped for — that questioning of “why do we stay?” Inertia is certainly part of it. Part of it is also the proverbial frog in the pot of water. As it warms slowly, he doesn’t realize until too late that the water is boiling. As for loyalty… that’s a tough one to untangle. I relate to caring so much about places I’ve called home that that I’m willing to overlook the fact that it’s not the same. But there are real dangers to not recognizing or acting on dangerous changes. The clearest example which I think should resonate with both of us is Germany in the 1930s. Many German Jews did their best to get out of Germany seeing that the writing was on the wall. But many loyal German Jews stayed believing in their country, believing their “Germanness” trumped their Jewishness, and believing that the wickedness of the Third Reich would blow over. At what point does loyalty segue into denial? There’s a real skill in knowing when to leave.

      Reply
      • David Whippman

        You are so right, Brian. Of course, hindsight’s a wonderful thing; but watching those documentaries about the rise of the Nazis, I feel myself inwardly screaming at the Jews to leave. In the 2016 election in Britain, there was in a way a parallel situation: many Jews were preparing to leave Britain if Corbyn won. (Thank G-d, he was totally defeated.) I don’t compare Corbyn to Hitler – that would be absurd – but I believe that life in this country would have got increasingly perilous for Jews had he won.

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