— after Judy Chicago’s Judith setting at “The Dinner Party”
BY: ELIZABETH A.I. POWELL
What exhilaration to tell a God approved lie,
Judith thought, bejeweled and holy scented,
as she beheaded Holofernes and saved her people.
An honored place at “The Dinner Party” has been set
for her now in the 20th century, a Last Supper
for the foremothers, a hand-painted porcelain
plate, a blooming floral vulva, layers of shadow
and light, her goblet full of the blood of Holofernes.
The elegance of ritual. In another room, her maid
from the 1610 Artemesia Gentileschi painting
waits to come to the dinner party carrying
a bowling ball bag with Holofernes head in it,
expression still and looking like it had been
mansplaining the desires war makes on men,
and on Judith who had come bearing
her fragrant skin, newly perfumed, like a soul.
Her country besieged by the Assyrian army.
Judith’s prayer was adequate to the day:
Please Lord make my lies believable.
You only get so many windows.
Sometimes truth is a parable embroidered
with the finest stitches of Bethulia
on a table runner saving your place in the story.
Sometimes the truth is a triangle,
a symbol of strength sewn into our fabric
with the gold thread of the dowry maker.
Judith said: This, this is my body
and this, this is your blood, as she raised
a goblet to Holofernes. To defeat
the enemy we must entertain
our wild archetypal essence. But what is it
exactly? Judith’s fancy dress and gargush?
The way coins are sewn into the table runner?
The mystery scent of royal ferns? The altars
prepared with frankincense to appease the God
we want to make us good liars? To be a wealthy
widow means you can save your people. Judith
raised the mighty sword, thrust through his neck,
her maid straddling him like a bull in a rodeo fight.
Elizabeth A.I. Powell is the author of three books of poems, including the forthcoming, ATOMIZER (LSU Press, 2020). Her second book of poems, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances was named a “Books We Love 2016” by The New Yorker.
Her novel, Concerning the Holy Ghost’s Interpretation of JCrew Catalogues was published in 2018 in the U.K. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Pushcart Prize Anthology, Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Ecotone, Forklift, Ohio, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Seneca Review, Ploughshares, Plume, West Branch, and elsewhere.
She is Editor of Green Mountains Review, and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Johnson State College. She also serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.