The Dead Sea

A weekly poem, read by the author.
March 6 1997 3:30 AM

The Dead Sea

To hear the poet read "The Dead Sea," click here.


Inventing a holy land,
who would have settled for these
neutral hills bare except for scrub and sage,
a sky unclouded as impenetrable,
now and then the timeless Bedouin tent--
which would explain, along that ridge,
a straggling flock of goats
with stretched-out, walking shadows?

And now the eastern approaches. Yet nothing
about the frontier's fenced compounds
suggests the traveller en route elsewhere
should stop--even if stepping on the gas
can't do much toward cancelling those pictures,
the color of pain, a visual undersong ...
Once coppergreen expanses of water
slide into view, though, no one could fail
to sense the difference in being
below sea level--air heavy
in the ear, oxygen-rich, cool, dry,
scented with desert, and holy enough.
A hand dipped in water ponders
the viscous feel of minerals in solution,
and little tumuli of salts and carbonates
build a submarine city sprawling
for miles under the hammered-metal surface.
On a shore hazed with distance, neat rows
of date palms identify themselves
with a green herringbone frond and ripen
foodstuffs for, say, the heavenly banquet.
Ritual ablution even so has coated
your skin with a pale silt glove;
and sea and desert are one.

Remember the hands, calloused and sunburned,
of the Quumran scribes, seated at a cave's mouth,
negotiating light that dawn brought back
with the promise of deliverance.
Shadow and light, black fire
on white fire, the unswerving word,
conferring a sacred indifference
to an urban, merely visual appeal.
The caves, dark sockets in a cliff wall,
return no one's gaze today,
even if they once did see
a mountain range of crumpled felt,
castiron eagles fixed on approaching spears,
and a southbound Jordan feeding the same
fluid body, ever more
mineral, ever heavier with salt.

Alfred Corn's seventh book of poems, titled Present, will be published in April. He also has a novel, titled Part of His Story, scheduled for publication this month.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.