Samson and the Woman of Timnah

“And behold a young lion roared against Samson and he tore it asunder as one tears a kid. Later he returned and found a swarm of bees in the body. He scraped out the honey and went on, eating as he went . . . . He put a riddle to the Philistines: ‘Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong, something sweet.’ And they could not in three days tell what it was” (Judges 14: 5-14).

Samson man of God,
Black curls like ram’s wool
Tumbling down your shoulders,
Folktale hero, riddling muscle man,
You headed for Philistine Gath,
Mind filled with the pull of your new bride’s chamber.
You took a lion’s path,
And when he roared you crushed him,
Leaving the carcass open.
A buzzing swarm in the belly
Made honey.
You’d killed him with bare hands–
An anti-Cupid, no arrows for you–
Used no weapons but your limbs.
You squeezed the Philistines too,
Loved them to death,
Tugging down the keystone post
Of their arena.
God willed it so, the story says.

They’d robbed you of your wife
For making wild and woolly bets and riddles
Too hard for human thought.
You paid off the bet her treachery had lost you
By killing thirty men for their clothes–
Then you turned to fire,
Torches on a brace of foxes
Chased through the grainfields of Philistia.
You crushed their warrior caste,
Freed the hill country of their rule–
For life and bounty,
For song and glory–
But it was all for love.
Out of the eater came something to eat,
Out of the strong, something sweet.

“Love is a flame of Yahweh”
But the Philistines were trying to outlive
Its wild abandon,
Its too great sweetness bred in the guts of hungry death.
What but bloody sacred tales and rites
Can match it?–
And teach us
To know the honey and its price.

The fire arrows of divine love will fly
Come what may,
And shower cascading sparks
Across the sky toward each beloved.
They may burn crops but are
The seeds of life,
Sprouting new selves, fecund with spirit,
Rooted deeper in dying flesh than the gold of buried honey,
Pushing human treasures up to light.

Love and Country

One evening our friend Hussan came over. He had finished his doctorate in chemical engineering, and was packing to go home to Tunisia. He’d been offered a post-doctoral fellowship at Cal. Tech–a plum of an award. Why was he turning that down to go home? Did he have some great job offer, too good to let go?

Hussan had always been a pleasure to visit with–easy going, a warm encouraging listener as well as good teller of anecdotes himself, entirely fluent in French as well as English, besides his native Berber. Shapely from his regular workouts, handsome with his bent north African nose, he had an aura of cheerful confidence. He read American novels, also Moroccan ones in French, that we enjoyed hearing about. We roasted a leg of lamb, and expected an amiable farewell evening.

But Hussan was in a strange mood. No, he had no job at home. How would he live? With his mother, he said, even though she had never taken much interest in him. But at least she had an apartment, and an editing job with a company. That’s how most middle-class people live, he said. Probably one person in a family will have work. Maybe it’s a sister. She puts on her skirt and high heels every day, and takes the bus to work. Her brothers and maybe a parent sit around the apartment, and now and then try for a job.

Why was he going back? To find a wife, he said. He was tired of being alone.

Could he not imagine an American wife? No he couldn’t. The women here were just not right for him. He knew he was on tricky ground, not wanting to insult present company, but something was eating him, and he wanted to explain himself. Well, he liked a woman to have her own ideas and opinions, but not to assert them all the time. Besides, an American wife would always be wanting to fly back to the States to visit, and he’d have no money for that.

How do these things work in Tunisia, we asked, how do people go about it? Do parents arrange the marriages? No, he said, and his mother would never help him anyway. Well, someone joked, I guess you won’t find any prospects at Friday prayers at the mosque.

Actually, he said, women do attend the services in Tunisia, they just sit in a separate place. But a man would never hang around and try to talk to women at the mosque. That would just not be done at all. No, the way people meet is that aunts and uncles, or whoever is able, give parties. And the unmarried people walk around and visit. Or one can go to the beach and hope to meet a woman whose mother or aunt has left her alone a few minutes, so she can visit.
But, he added heatedly, I don’t want any woman who’s out searching for a husband! What? someone said, but you’re looking for a wife!

That doesn’t matter, it’s not the same. I want her to be composed, her own person. And easygoing, so we can agree on how we spend our time.

By now it was clear that something had happened to Hussan. He was in a mood we’d never seen. Someone must have hurt him. As the song has it, “I’ve got arson on my mind.” He was telling America where to get off, post-doc at Cal. Tech. and all. It was time to change the subject.

What were some of the specialty foods at home. Was he looking forward to any? Yes, he said, there was a special soup people always ate in the winter, served in the tea houses where the men sit and visit. Garbanzo beans with a lot of garlic and other spices. Really delicious. He could taste it already.