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October 29, 1938 - Image 4

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1938-10-29

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Poze Four

PERSPECTIVES

'DUST AND IVORY. by Martia Wolff

TDDENLY she could not hear the
cool and scent there in that per-
fect ivory room that Ahab had
built for her so long ago. She rose
up from her couch, and her white robe
brushed against the slavegirls, squatted
there upon the white floor, moving the
great fan.
She went to the window and stood
with her hands upon the ledge; with
her back straight and her head lifted,
and looked out beyond the city to the
plain that shimmered in the sun. It
was a year of drought, and the vast
heat had dried up the water and killed
the trees and grasses there. Sometimes
when she looked out like this, it startled
her, as if this was no longer the old
familiar land, but some strange alien
desert place, and this city not Jezreel
at all, and this still ivory room un-
known. And with that strange fancy
holding her she would ask herself, what
woman are you? what woman are you,
standing there amid the sterile empty
heat and sand?
Hot deflected rays of sunlight from
the courtyard and the palace walls,
came up agianst her face; but she did
not notice these, nor the chattering
voices down below. What was this feel-
ing that she was no longer her nor any-
place. It was with her, this curious un-
reality, as if nothing was real or ever
had been. It was a thing she could not
fight, it had laid waste beneath the
soots of her volition. In other days when
she felt strange disquieting moods up-
on her, she used to lay a sacrifice to
Baal upon the altar in the temple, and
it was dispelled. But not today.
She turned her face to the temple
roof rising up out of the tops of the
grove. One corner, where she looked
was crumbling off, and the trees were
tangled now in vegetation. The temple,
there, was empty, and the fires burned
out and dust upon the figures of the
gods. Let it be so. She went there no
more, it was of no use to her to go
there; and besides herself, there was
no one else to go. No one to go - odd
that she could think of this, her failure,
quietly now without emotion, with this
detachment. For it was her failure, and
that temple there: sinking into dust
beneath a clog of vegetation was a
symbol of it. It must have been an age
ago, or else it happened to another
woman, she thought. That long journey,
from her father's land of Zidonia,
when she was no more than like a
child, to a husband. Ahab, and to a
strange new land and a strange new
people. A troubled unhappy land, she
found it soon enough, like that strange
unhappy man, her husband; and over
all a vengeful unforgiving god, that
harassed them and sent upon them con-
tinual sorrows. No wonder that to both
she sought to bring the old familiar
peaceful gods of her far homeland. And
she had thought she won, on those
first days of marriage. Ahab had spoken
of hisbelief, and built the temple to
her gods, within the the grove; but now
she knew that he never, half-believed,
and only built the temple as he built
these ivory rooms, togive her pleasure.
And his people would have none .ofher
gods that gave only peace and happi-
ness. It was the gift that she had hoped
to bring to these fierce and restless
people, that they might learn to love
her for it, that they might remember
her in legend as the alien queen who
brought to them a gift of peace and
happiness. For what else were gods for,
if they did not give the people peace.
and happiness? That was a question
that her mind used to lay hold of till
her thoughts ran like a rat trapped in a
catacomb.
But now she eared no longer, let them
live unhappy and in fear if they so

pleased. They need no longer hate her
so, for she cared not how they wor-
shipped, and the years when she had
fought them desperately to keep alive
her old familiar gods were done. She
had grown weary of it. She fought no
more. Let the temple fall to the ground
and the wild green growing things crawl
over it. Let the dogs gather there by
night and howl into the darkness. It
was fitting. For the gods were no longer
there. They were gone. With the shim-
mer of the sun in her eyes, she wonder-
ed if there were any gods at all, or, if
there were, if they were not unknown
gods that no peoples yet had ever

faces well, and she looked only at the
bandage there upon Yoram's shoulder
where the arrow had pierced him in
battle several days past.
Yoram raised his cup again, and she
watched while the slaves lifted the jug
and filled it once more. When Yoram
touched it to his lips, he flung it away,
into the faces of the slaves. She heard
the sound of his angry voice, and saw
the slaves scurry back through the
courtyard to haul a fresh cool jug of
wine from deep within the well. Wait-
ing, under the tireless swaying fans,
Yoram and Ahaziah made a sport of
flinging pebbles out into the garden

She waited for an emotion to well up
through her, at these thoughts, but
there was none. Perhaps then, she was
done with all emotion, she, who had
always felt so much and freely.
She turned her eyes away from
Yoram, back out of the arid plain be-
neath the taut hot sky. Yoram was not
like her, but like his father. Ahab had
been neither a warrior nor an ambitious
man. Once she had thought that she
could make him both, by playing care-
fully on the string of his love for her.
but all he hopes here, too, had come to
nothing. In the end, it was that angry
god of his that spoke out of the mouths
of those solemn whitebeards of pro-
phets, that ruled Ahab, not her ever.
Four years it must be, since Ahab had
been struck through by the arrow in
the battle there at Ramothgiled. It was
not strange that she should think of
it now dispassionately, she had not
mourned him then. She had no love for
Ahab in her, nor ever had. She had felt
love many times, and fully - but
never for Ahab, and never had there
been happiness in it, or had it lasted
out the year. She wondered if she would
feel love again, or if she had outlived
all of the hours of her loving. Or else,
perhaps, it might be coming soon, to
melt away this hard still figure of her-
self and nake of her again a living
woman.
Between the plain and the sky, the
little spot of dust billowed and shim-
mered. She wondered how long she had
been watching it without seeing it, and
as she thought, she heard the watch-
man crying from the tower. She kept
her eyes on the growing spot of dust;
not one horse, but many horses coming
fast over the hot arid dirt of the plain,
to raise a cloud like that. Men and
horses, trhveling fast, a part of their
army could it be? then, retreat? or
victory? or was it defeat that they had
heard no word of, and the enemy al-
ready upon them?
Yoram and Ahaziah came up through
the gardens, she could hear the excited
jangle of their voices. A slim boy with-
out armor ran to Yoram from the
courtyard and Yoram spoke to him
quickly, while the boy listened, and then
dismissed him with a sharp gesture.
The boy turned and ran back to the
horse they held for him in the court-
yard. He sprang up lightly and was off
with the hooves striking alarms on the
stone. Then Yofam ran, with Ahaziah
at his heels, and they passed beyond her
vision. They were going to the stairs
that mounted to the section of the
palace roof beneath the tower.
She saw the flying figure of the horse
and rider out on the plain already,
speeding away, with Jezreel at his back,
to meet the unknown billow of brown
dust. The horse ran well, shining black
in the sun, and the rider was well-
seated, hunched behind the horses neck,
moving with the motion of the horse.
She watched with her hands cienched
tighter on the window ledge, and with
the murmur of low tense voices from
all of the city in her ears. An then the
messenger was'lost in dust too, and in
the space out there, somewhere between
the city and the great spreading dust
cloud.
She waited and it was as if the flow
of time had come slower and at *last
congealed and stopped in the heat. The
messenger must have met with them by
now, she thought, he rode so swiftly.
Had that great cloud stopped, or only
seemed to stop?
She closed her-eyes against the sun
to rest them,. and waited for the watch-
man's cry out of the tower. But no
sound came, only that growing buzzing
sound of fearful puzzled voices in the
courtyard and ins the streets beyond,

- Linolein Block by Christine Nagel

reached, in any temple, or by any
priests.
It was a dull thotight that left her
mind quiet, on the brink of some great
dark space, so thati the rush of feet be-
low in the courtyard caught at her ears.
She looked down. and the figures
blurred, because she had looked out into
the sun too long. Slaves were clustering
about the well, hauling out by long
knotted ropes a big earthen jug: wine.
dowered into.the well to cool, for Yoram
and his guest. Two slaves lifted it, and
carried it between them, hurrying to
the garden house before the wine
warmed in the sun. Over 'the trees and
flowers, from the window, she-could
look down into the garden house, where
Yoram sprawled upon a couch, with
his guest, Ahaziah, beside him. Their
arms, they had flung off onto the
ground, and now they lounged upon the
couches at their ease in the heat, drink-
ing cool wine in the shade in the sum-
mer house, under the big fans that the
slaves moved back and forth, to stir
the quiet air. It was too far to see their

pool, and laying wagers on the pebbles'
flight.
With their laughter in her ears, she
raised her hand to rest upon her fore-
head and then shoved back her hair
and let her hand fall down again.
Yoram sitsin the garden under the fans,
she thoughtand drinks cool wine and
plays at wagers,: while his army fights
without:him, in 'the sun and dust, and
dies. That arrow,-in his shoulger;-a clean
wound, no more than a:pin stab, but for.
five days now he had not rejoined his
army. Strange, she thought, that she
should have a son like that, she who
had always fought fiercely without any
rules or mercies, in all the ways a'
woman may -fight. She had often
wished to be a man. Then she would
have fought furiously and recklessly
with no quarter ever give p, nor ever
asked. She would have been a con-
queror, and ruled many lands and
peoples well. But no, - she had been
a, woman, and all her battles she had
had to fight frorn a suite of ivoryrooms
beneath the palace roof top.

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