“Who can find a virtuous wife?” is the opening line of Proverbs 31:10 and begins an acrostic poem—each line starting with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, undoubtedly creating an easy way for the virtuous wife to recall that she must consider a field and buy it and plant a vineyard and strengthen her arms and clothe her household with scarlet. As for this poem, I wanted it to wonder about virtue, to occupy two minds, to scratch what itched, to listen for the birdcalls, inside and out. A virtuous wife does not eat the bread of idleness. (Wendy Willis)
A Virtuous Wife
There was no overture for her
short walk. A cloud of crows cried:
come, come, dropping the ai in maiden
and announcing the sky, frail
as a robin’s shell, cracking its late blue
promise of glittering yolk. Dusk
came brown as a bruise, and the silence,
wide and black, laughed its secret laugh.
Summer’s flames burned early, out of season.
With devotion and hands on the loom,
she dropped her shawl and stirred
the sleeping God with a glint
of tobacco-freckled clavicle.
Even the daughters with their honed
sweetness asked: how did you?,
birdlike and green as the bottom
of the river, and the old dog—
disguised as a sheep—fooled
he west wind with his rusty smell
and devotion to the one long-needled pine.
The smallest, with her spine
fanned like a hidden fern
leaned into winter and said I can smell
you here like apples, like sugared
apples and nighthawks whistled
their one thought: now.
Wendy Willis lives in Portland, Oregon.