THE ANCIENT WORLD – a poem by Anne Whitehouse


“To imagine the sounds and smells of the ancient world
is to bring that world to life.”
-Robert Koehl

The ancients believed that demons
haunted thresholds.
The bells sewed to the hem
of the High Priest’s knee-length ephod
announced his entrances and exits
into the Tabernacle.
He made his presence known
so he might not die.
Alternating with the bells
were pomegranate-shaped tassels
of blue, purple, and crimson yarn.

Outside the Tabernacle
was the altar anointed with the blood
of animals offered in sacrifice.
The fires, the meat smoke rising
from the altar pleased the Lord,
fat and flesh consumed in smoke.

Over his fine garments
of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet yarns
held by a woven waistband,
the High Priest wore the breastplate
of Urim and Thummin,
used to obtain God’s decision
on important questions
where human judgment
was found inadequate.

As the High Priest moved,
the bells tinkled softly,
and the smell of the meat smoke
and wheat cakes
mixed with frankincense
rose in the air.


Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections Meteor Shower (2016) is her second collection from Dos Madres Press, following The Refrain in 2012. She is the author of a novel, Fall Love, as well as short stories, essays, features, and reviews. She was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and lives in New York City. You can listen to her lecture, “Longfellow, Poe, and the Little Longfellow War” here.

1 Comment

  1. Absolutely love this smoky poem Anne


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