The Arrows are Beyond You

Regarding Jonathan, my brother,

I’m fed up, being asked if he was gay;

‘He was married and he had a son,’

Is what I always used to say.

Then they say ‘So was Oscar Wilde,

So did Alexander the Great,’

Anything anachronistic like that,

Because, in Torah, there’s no early or late.

As I was married to King David

They think I know all the ins and outs.

They say, ‘What with their souls being knit,

You must have entertained a few doubts?’

David’s glamour was indescribable

After he slew the Philistine giant;

He could have anything or anyone.

My whole family became compliant.

My father Saul offered me in marriage.

You know your bible. It’s all been written,

How, regrettably, I adored David,

And yes, Jonathan was also smitten.

Even Saul was ambivalent back then,

Sometimes doting on the son of Jesse,

At other times, waxing homicidal,

Which may be why my marriage got so messy.

Jonathan gave David his cloak, his princely cloak,

As if relinquishing the succession;

He gave David his bow and his iron sword,

Back then, a rare and valuable possession.

What is it with my family and clothes?

Saul wanted to give him a suit of armour,

Would have done, only it was extra large,

And swamped the little Bethlehem farmer.

Before long, Saul saw him as a rival;

Let him marry me, to contain the threat,

Then sent his Givati spooks to kill David

Whose escape I was happy to abet.

That’s enough about me. You know my story.

But what of Jonathan’s self-abnegation?

It was as if he cared nothing for kingship,

Like Edward VIII, putting love before nation.

David clocked that Saul intended murder

He sought out Jonathan and started to whine,

‘It’s so unfair, blah blah.’ My brother swore

To protect my husband and arranged a sign:

In three days time, David should be at a place

Called Ezel, a standing stone, but stay concealed,

Meanwhile Jonathan would speak to our father

Then meet David at Ezel in the field.

Somehow he had knowledge of spies’ tradecraft

And arranged to communicate in code

During a routine archery practice.

He would shoot the arrows, his quiver’s payload;

A servant would be with him, a sort of caddy,

To retrieve the arrows from where they fell.

David would hide among the bushes

Until the moment when Jonathan would yell

To his servant, ‘The arrows are behind you!’

These words were to give David the all clear,

Whereas the words ‘The arrows are beyond you’

Meant, ‘Stay hidden, you have everything to fear.’

It was like a novel by Le Carré –

Not something either of them would have known –

These men of action are seldom great readers,

Least of all when they occupy a throne.

You never saw a monarch wearing glasses.

The only king who liked to read was Josiah.

Rehoboam said he’d read Moby Dick,

But we knew he was a bit of a liar.

Next day was the festival of the new moon,

Saul sat down to eat with members of his court,

Commenting in due course on David’s absence.

Jonathan thought it judicious to report

Some issue had come up in Bethlehem

And family business claimed David’s time.

A snub always made Saul incandescent

And, from David, it was a major crime.

In his rage, he shouted at Jonathan,

Calling him son of a bitch and traitor,

Even aiming a spear at his own son,

An act certain to annoy the Creator.

In our family, it wasn’t only Saul

Who suffered the melancholic condition.

Personally, I’m depressed in the mornings.

My brother also had that disposition.

Next day, he had the face of a mourner,

No doubt he hadn’t slept and wouldn’t eat

Although it was still the feast of the new moon,

But he bathed because he had someone to meet.

He took the caddy and went out to the field,

Telling him, ‘Find the arrows that I shoot.

The arrows are beyond you,’ he then called,

‘Now fetch them,’ and the lad ran in pursuit,

Gathered up the arrows and brought them back.

Jonathan said, ‘Quickly, take them to the town,’

And watched him go. David emerged from hiding.

Three times, before Jonathan, he bowed down.

Then they kissed. Jonathan told me that they kissed;

Tears stood in his eyes but David wept aloud.

I bet. He was an effortless cryer,

With sensitivities of which he was proud.

I can see it. My manly, stalwart brother,

Erect in posture, striving to be brave,

And my husband, bowing, clinging, sobbing.

Give me that man that is not passion’s slave.

Those words are Hamlet’s, not mine, but I concur,

I’ve seen the damage caused by the zealous,

The ardent, avid and  fanatical,

Obsessive, fervent, passionate and jealous.

David then fled to the priestly city, Nob,

Which was, as it turned out, unfortunate.

Meanwhile, the priests gave him consecrated bread,

Because hunger made him importunate.

When the priests were killed for harbouring David,

Jonathan said he should have brought provisions

For David, who might then have bypassed Nob,

But who knew? We’re not blessed with psychic visions.

David and Jonathan met one more time.

David and his men were living in Ziph,

A wilderness, to escape Saul’s attentions,

In a stronghold built on a limestone cliff.

Jonathan went unescorted, to see him

And there, spoke fateful words of abdication:

David would be king over all Israel;

It was a strangely selfless declaration.

For about three years, I was a grass widow,

Although, in point of fact, I got married again

As David was missing, presumed insurgent,

In the wilderness, with his merry men.

Then he worked for a Philistine prince in Gath.

Was in some skirmish when Jonathan was killed:

An archer got him, on Mount Gilboa.

They say Philistine archers are highly skilled.

Two more brothers of mine died in that battle.

It’s believed that my father fell on his sword,

Taking his own life to avoid capture;

Something the biblical authors record.

I’m not saying that David didn’t mourn.

He wrote a very beautiful lament

And set it to music, as with his Psalms,

The later ones they call Songs of Ascent.

He was even nice about my father –

The eulogy I wanted, he provided:

‘They were lovely and pleasant in their lives,

And in their death, they were not divided.’

He then began to reign, at first  from Hebron,

Well equipped with wives, militia and fame,

I don’t want talk about my nephew,

Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth by name –

Nobody comes well out of that story.

Any hint of homoeroticism

With Jonathan was played down by David,

Troubled enough by family schism.

When he said ‘Passing the love of women,’

He was speaking of Jonathan’s love for him,

Not the reverse. Poetic but weasely.

He wasn’t prepared to go out on a limb.

Jonathan was probably well out of it

Likewise Saul, my dad, if you take the long view.

Most of those kings were like The Sopranos:

‘Blood will have blood.’ So whaddya gonna do?

June 2017