She had been warned.
She knew what would happen
If she turned–
even if she just stole a glance
or took just one last look.
Yet turn she did–
even if it meant she would perish
and dissolve into a pillar of salt.
The poem hints at a possible reason
for this defiance,
as suggested by the unforgettable last lines–
and it is a reason we very well understand:
…She meant to look
away, but the sting in her eyes,
the taste devouring her tongue,
and the neighbors begging her name.
At first reading, we naturally infer that the “sting in her eyes”
and the “taste devouring her tongue”
must be from the fallout of sulphur
as fire and brimstone from the sky consumed the city.
But the very last line of the poem
invites an alternative interpretation:
“the neighbors begging her name…”
Could the “sting in her eyes” also be from her tears?
After all, those perishing must include neighbors and friends.
These were people she knew
and some of them she must have actually loved.
Could the “taste devouring her tongue” refer to
the bitterness she felt–
mingled with her bewilderment–
about what must have certainly felt like
an overreaction from God?
I mean, why destroy an entire city–
including all the women and children and animals–
over the crime of a group of men?
And it is the last line
that gives away the reason
for her very last act,
too often portrayed as mere disobedience
or an attachment to an evil lifestyle:
“the neighbors begging her name.”
It might have been compassion.
Her defiance might have been
the defiance of compassion.
For those of us who’ve experienced
a similar surge of compassion
for those who are in pain–
that surprising and powerful rush
that seems to come from somewhere else–
we get it.
Of course she looked back.
We would too.
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