We five came apart slowly,
like a child plucks petals from a flower.
First Elimelech, the father
whose name and protection showed me that
My God could be kind;
he left us not yet old. And we wept,
and tore our garments, wore
ashes like a waxen crown.
Yet we had each other,
Chilion and Orpah, Mahlon and Ruth—
and we girls embraced you, dear Naomi,
whose loving heart was a foreign land
that made us forget the cruelties of our youth.
I remember well
the day I entered your house;
the swallow had woven her nest on your lintel
and sang honeyed notes.
To be greeted with a kiss and a sweet
word from you, Naomi,
of pleasant face and lovely gaze, remains a balm
to one who had been declared
a burden by the one who bore me into this world—
I drew the first free breath of my life.
Your son beautiful and strong
as my bridegroom, my young stag
brought down by Death
the remorseless hunter.
The last, sputtering pillar of our lives
crumbled to earth that last day,
the day that Mahlon’s breath left him.
Chilion, too, sleeping in the dust
went down before his brother,
our wails keening like a skylark in flight.
“Turn back to your mother’s house,”
you told me, with tears
as bitter as the name you now claim.
My sister Orpah kissed you, her face lined with
tears tracing watercourses of the Negev, weeping
from the well of grief
you would think had run dry by now.
She turned her nape to us reluctantly, persuaded
by your pleas.
But not I.
The nightingale’s song lays a path
straight to my heart’s core;
I would rather
stand in tears in an alien field,
homeless as a nightjar, gleaning
for the reluctant scraps left behind
under your Law’s commanded compassion
than return to the cold dwelling of my birth.
Your heart is my mother’s house and hearth:
I who first knew kindness with you
will trace the arc of my life within your embrace
even unto Death’s final stitch in my winding-sheet. To you
will I cling beyond my last breath.
In the midst of your people
will I pitch my tent;
your God will I worship,
whose lovingkindness I know in your eyes.
I would rather shelter with you, rootless
under the cold light of foreign stars,
wandering without a doorway of our own
than be parted from you, ever. Your tenderness
the only inheritance I claim, your embrace
I will never surrender. With you
I will lodge in Bethlehem,
lay my life upon altars
to a God known only through your friendship,
and give you descendants dancing like constellations
to banish your bitterness,
to secure you a home redolent of bread,
abundant with the attar
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.