Today's finalist is "Still Clean" by Sherry Work. Here's our Q&A with the author:
The characters and setting of this poem feel believably ancient at the same time the themes feel very timely. When and how did you decide you wanted to write this poem?
I wrote this poem after preparing to teach an Old Testament class about David and Bathsheba, and wanting to research to see what might really have happened. Multiple depictions in art show Bathsheba as somewhat wantonly bathing on the roof of her house which exposed her naked body to David, leading to adultery (perhaps we would now call it rape) and murder. Centuries of patriarchy in the Christian church have shifted the blame at least partly to Bathsheba for her supposed immodest actions in tempting David. As I read the chapters following this initial incident I saw no blame attached to Bathsheba for her part in the story. Just has Eve has been exonerated from committing sin, I felt that Bathsheba should also be seen as a righteous daughter of God.
We loved your presentation of the bath as a mikveh. What's the value for you of imagining scriptural events from a perspective or voice we don't usually spend as much time with?
Here are the verses from 2 Samuel 11 depicted at the beginning of the poem. Bathsheba is not bathing on her rooftop as she is usually painted. It is important to note that verse 4 indicates that she may have been performing a mikveh, a cleansing ritual or washing required by the Mosaic Law after the end of menstruation. The water had to be "living water" from a natural spring which would flow over the body. It was very important to me to read more about Jewish ritual in order to be accurate about this story, and that in turn helped me to see much symbolism and types of Christ within it. The compelling part of the poem for me is to give Bathsheba her voice, as she is silent in the entire story, except to tell David that she is with child. She loved her husband, she was a righteous woman, but she was powerless to refuse David. My heart ached for her from the beginning of her story to the death of her child.
2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.
What would you like to see more of in Mormon Literature?
I would love to read novels where the protagonist has to make hard choices, or where making the "correct" choice does not necessarily lead to what we might hope for. I think that it is important to read less simplistic works which better reflect the decisions that we have to make on a regular basis. It would be wonderful if Mormons everywhere could find a book where they see themselves represented.
Where can we read more of your work?
This question made me smile because the short answer is that you can't. My most prolific work is my 40 years of journals which would be a little tedious even for my own children, except for the very few pages where I remember that my opinions and experiences are far more important than what I did that day. I much prefer to read than write.