My Poetry Corner March 2021 features the poem “The woman without a name” (A mulher sem nome) from the poetry collection Lot’s Wife (A mulher de Ló) by Carlos Machado, a Brazilian poet and journalist. Born in 1951 in Muritiba, Bahia, Northeast Brazil, Machado earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Federal University of Bahia. He studied journalism at the Faculty of Cásper Libero in São Paulo, where he lived for forty years before returning to his home state of Bahia in 2020. He is the creator and editor of the fortnightly bulletin, poesia.net, in which he promotes contemporary Brazilian poets.
Machado’s poetry collection Lot’s Wife, published in 2018, reflects his deep concern for the condition of women. In support of the feminist movement, he is involved in studying the causes and means of combating the increasing incidents of violence against women in Brazil. The biblical story of Lot’s wife is a story of violence against a woman whose only crime was that of looking back.
For readers unfamiliar with the biblical story told in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, chapter 19, the God of Abraham destroys the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sinful ways. Two angels warn Abraham’s nephew Lot, living in Sodom, of the coming cataclysm. They instruct him to flee with his family and not to look back until they had reached the next town. Only Lot’s wife and two daughters heed the warning. Other members of Lot’s extended family refuse to join them, declaring it fake news. We don’t know why Lot’s wife looks back as they leave Sodom. We know only that her punishment is immediate and severe: She is transformed into a pillar of salt. Silenced.
Machado’s collection of 52 poems focuses on the dilemma of Lot’s wife and the aftermath on her surviving husband and daughters, forcing us to examine anew the plight of the woman who failed to follow a simple directive. The featured poem, “The woman without a name,” is the third poem in the collection. In the opening stanza of the four-stanza poem, the poet asks Lot’s wife: What did you desire / on looking back? Since she was unable to speak in her own defense, we are left with more questions, expressed in the second stanza:
Did you miss your house, nostalgia of the flowers of your orchard or, curious, just wanted to know?
In the poem “The time of the look,” Machado explores other possible reasons for her action: the sound of flames crackling, people screaming, horses neighing, and cocks crowing. But one sound pulls at her heart. [She] thought she heard in the distance, / in one of the last houses of / Sodom, a child’s cry. / At that moment she looked back.
This raises more unanswered questions addressed in the poem “Babies.” Were the babies of Sodom all debauched? // Did they carry evil genes, impure blood? // Did they deserve the sulfurous sentence of the gods? The fate of babies and young children when war and devastation strike plagues us to this day.
Defying the instructions of God’s messengers had dire consequences for Lot’s wife. The poet sums up her condemnation in the third stanza:
Just a gesture – and the merciless curse of the centuries.
The poem “Voice” dares to ask more disquieting questions: Why didn’t they give voice / to Lot’s wife? // Why the summary rite, / without defense? Declares the poet in “Without voice”: Woman without voice / is river without mouth.
In the fourth and final stanza of the featured poem “The woman without a name,” the poet observes:
Neither the scribes of the book nor the doctors of the law – all male and fearful – dared to say your name.
The poet persists in seeking answers in the poem “Hammer”: Only the indictment? / Just the libel? // And the defense? And the hammer / of the inquiry? But, as the poet concludes in “Sodium,” history is not written by the underdog or with their perspective. Woe to you, woman without name, he laments. Woe to the underdog.
In the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife—a woman who has no identity save that of her relationship to her husband—lives on down through the ages. As Machado concludes in “Sign,” the forty-fifth poem of the collection, she is the salt of the earth; the cry no in the courts of silence; the first female insurgent; and the first syllable of every word of liberation.
On Tuesday, March 16th, in the American State of Georgia, a twenty-one-year-old man fatally shot eight people and injured another at three massage spas. Among the dead were seven women—their lives snatched from them in an instant. What crime had they committed to deserve such summary punishment? On his arrest, unharmed, the killer claimed that he was eliminating the temptation of his sex addiction. The killer was “having a really bad day,” the male police captain announced to the media.
Woe to the women struck dead by a sex addict’s bullet. Woe to the underdog.
Blessed be the men who stand beside women in their struggle to be heard, to be believed.
To read the complete featured poem, “The woman without a name,” in English and its original Portuguese, and to learn more about the work of Carlos Machado, go to my Poetry Corner March 2021.
NOTE: All excerpts of poems are from the collection A mulher do Ló (Lot’s wife) by Carlos Machado, Editora Patuá, São Paulo, Brazil, 2018.
Translations from Portuguese to English by Rosaliene Bacchus.