The Phoenician Woman

(Taken from The Witnesses written by Clive Sansom)

She has followed us all day, master, hook-nosed, insistent

Yapping at our heels in commercial Greek:

Her husband a boat-builder – those boats of gopher-wood,

Her daughter, it seems, possessed of a devil

Which you, master, a Jew, are supposed to exorcise.

Talk to her master, send her away.

Tell her you came to the children of Israel,

Not to Phoenician dogs.’

He turned on me sternly. But his voice smiled,

You hear what they say?’ he demanded.

Is it right, do you think, taking the children’s food

And tossing it to the dogs?’

Master,’ I replied, feeling the bond between us,

A humour we shared alone,

Even dogs are allowed scraps from the table

When the children reject them.’

His face smiled too.

You have understanding and faith, mother:

it will happen as you desire.’

It was true. Coming to the hill above Tyre,

Weary beyond all weariness, I fell on my knees.

Letting my eyes search where feet could not follow.

Looking down on the cluster of evening ships.

The causeway with its moving chain of carriers

And the heap of murex-shells outside the dye-works,

I saw her coming from the bazaars to meet me,

Her white conspicuous among blues and purples.

She did not need to speak.

She walked up the hill as a girl walks

Whose arms are her own.

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