red sunset seen through grass
Photo by Delia Ra on Unsplash

Judith and Holofernes by Julia Park Tracey

When he came to Bethulia, the General

lit fires, hurled stones as large as cows,

shot arrows into our flesh. Our city buckled, and

we went to our knees.

My husband already dead, I had

nothing to lose. I dressed my hair

in rosewater, oiled my body,

myrrh between my breasts, kohled my eyes, draped

a veil across my face.

My knife hid in a fold of cloth.

I walked into his camp without a

sideways look at his rough and stinking soldiers.

I strode with lust in my eyes, my heart.

As the sun was sinking red, I stopped

before his tent and gazed boldly.

When the tent flaps parted, I licked

my lips, a wanton.

May I lie with you, Warrior?

So far I had not sinned. But my worth

was little. What mattered a widow’s soul?

I ventured within and gave him the caresses

I had used upon my husband—

spent my virtue in service of something

greater: death, if they caught me.

Victory, if I’d succeed.

Sated, the General slept like a tired dog,

his face damp with sweat. I had carved many

beasts in my kitchen, and

my knife was sharp.

A long slice, with a bit of tough sinew

at his spine, and there was no

cry for mercy.

He had given none.

I carried this prize back to Bethulia

by its hair before the sun rose,

his seed still seeping down my leg.


Julia Park Tracey (she/her) is a poet, author and journalist. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Soul-Lit, Not Very Quiet, Autumn House Review, Coffee People, and Daphne. Honors include Poet Laureate of Alameda, Calif., California, Frederick C. Fallon Award for poetry, and a San Francisco Foundation Award grant. She lives in the low Sierras, California. F/IG/T @juliaparktracey

Author's note

I am an adult convert to Catholicism and have read a lot of theology. I am currently an atheist-feminist-ecosexual. I am particularly interested in the way women interact with religion: Can they be spiritual without being overwhelmed by patriarchal practices—whether within a pagan system or an Abrahamic system, can women be allowed to experience their spiritual growth in their own way? In "Judith and Holofernes," I play with heroism and the double standard of sexuality for women, and for "Martha" I play the practical against the ethereal. Oppression by any name or tradition is still oppression. I wrote these as part of a collection of 40 poems about women "saints," and call it, "All You Holy Virgins and Martyrs," meant both sincerely and cynically. I also wrote this collection during April's National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge.