by Sara Kass Eifler
The Queen of Sheba brings flowers to Jerusalem. A train of them, flowing behind her like a veil, like a wedding dress. The Queen of Sheba is a flower in Jerusalem, a lily-of-the-valley, a blooming night lotus. She is a simulacrum made of petals and perfume, a tongue of nectar, eyes like buried seeds. There is something moving in them, deep and dark.
Flowers bloom where the Queen of Sheba steps. The amber alleys riot into color. In the streets the people throng, enclosed in fragrant air. They watch the queen pass, their eyes unfolding.
In the walls of the temple forgotten roots stir. Henbane and snapdragon, ephedra, thorny caper. Leaves scuff against brick, against stone. The walls of the temple stutter and swell, crack open, crumble.
The honey bees come. One by one they come, in clogging swarms they come, in finely tuned arrays of queens and drones they come. Jerusalem buzzes as the bees descend. The Queen of Sheba lifts her arms and the bees flock to her, the bees coat her like a wriggling, stinging cloak. And all the time she walks, the flowers bloom.
The people of Jerusalem are stuck fast in the streets. The fragrant air turns wild. Roots clamber up their calves; vines drape themselves across their shoulders. Around their necks their tallitot furl like the tenderest silken buds. Their veins are fragile roots. Their skin unbroken soil.
In a crown of venom and of gold the Queen of Sheba presses onward. Behind her, before her, the people are bursting into flower. Bloody blossoms strew themselves in her path, spines leaking toward the sun. The whole city is awash in the golden, humming coils of the Queen of Sheba’s wisdom.
And in the throne room, in the temple, King Solomon awaits. In his hands a blind earthworm tunnels through itself. The broken walls cascade down around him.
King Solomon awaits, and in his solitude he ponders, as the Queen of Sheba’s riddle surges towards him through the streets. As all his people, all Jerusalem, twist into tighter and tighter brambles. As his feet sprout shoots, as his throne quakes, as in his beard a small white lily shudders, King Solomon watches the Queen approach, in her whirring, fizzing cloud. Her snapping eyes abjure him as her petalled kneecaps bend.
She asks of him: Which of the flowers is real?
Sara Kass Eifler is a queer vegan Jewish woman with an abiding interest in poetry, folklore, and sacred story. She works at a Jewish vegan nonprofit and is studying for rabbinic ordination. Sara lives on the traditional territory of the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) and Nauset nations on Cape Cod with her partner.