This book






By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,

Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.


Murdered. Her hair was black and so were her eyes.

It happened on Fifth Avenue, the murder, inside a fine clothing store, amid hustle and bustle. Hysteria as she fell…perhaps.

Soundlessly I saw it on the television screen. Esther. I knew her. Yes, Esther Belkin. She’d been a student once in my class. Esther. Rich and lovely to behold.

Her father. He was the head of that worldwide temple. New Age platitudes and T-shirts. And the Belkins had all the money human beings could ever want or dream of, and now Esther, sweet Esther, that flower of a girl who had always asked her questions so timidly—was dead.

On the news, “live,” I think I saw her die. I was reading a book, not paying much attention. The news went on in silence, mingling movie stars and war. It made slow garish flickers on the walls of the room. The silent leap and flare of a television watched by no one. I read on after she died “live.”

Now and then in the days that followed I thought about her. Some horrors followed her death, having to do with her father and his electronic church. More blood shed.

I never knew her father. His followers had been detritus on street corners.

But I remembered Esther pretty well. She wanted to know everything, one of those kind, humble, ever listening, and sweet, yes, very sweet. I remembered her. Sure. Ironic, that doe of a girl slain and then the tragedy of her father’s delusions.

I never tried to understand the whole story.

I forgot about her. I forgot that she’d been murdered. I forgot about her father. I guess I forgot that she’d ever been alive.

There was news and news and news.

It was time to stop teaching for a while.

I went away to write my book. I went up into the mountains. I went to the snow. I hadn’t so much as offered a prayer in Esther Belkin’s memory, but I am a historian and not a praying man.

In the mountains, I learnt everything. Her death came after me, vivid and lush with meaning, through the words of another.

    Part I    


Golden are the bones of woe.

Their brilliance has no place to go.

It plunges inward,

Spikes through snow.

Of weeping fathers whom we drink

And mother’s milk and final stink

We can dream but cannot think.

Golden bones encrust the brink.

Golden silver copper silk.

Woe is water shocked by milk.

Heart attack, assassin, cancer.

Who would think these bones such dancers.

Golden are the bones of woe.

Skeleton holds skeleton.

Words of ghosts are not to know.

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