Ellen June Wright

Judith Beheading Holofernes
July 22, 2022 Wright Ellen June

Judith Beheading Holofernes
(After Kehinde Wiley)


No one ever read the Book of Judith to a slave—
recounting how she freed Holofernes of his head
as he lay in a stupor. I watch Wiley’s black Judith’s
defiant gaze, holding a sword after beheading a white
woman, and I think of Angela and the head-severing rage she must
have felt, the rage I’m struggling to put in her mouth.
Although she would’ve had every right, I cannot find
the will to put a sword in her hand like Kehinde
and send her into Pierce’s house to destroy the family,
not even the indentured servants, believing what I believe.
I can’t put an ax in her hand to wield for anything but chopping
wood and making fires. Although she would have every right
to free herself, leaving a wake of bloody muck behind her,
I don’t have it in me to make her a murderer.
I don’t have it in me to put poison in her hand either. Maybe,
I have a mind enslaved—trained to wait on my Lord and Master.
Even after watching another officer execute a brother—
bullet to the back of his skull—a routine stop gone wrong
fills me with rage, but I don’t have it in me to put a sword
in Angela’s hand. I haven’t yet a warrior’s heart.

Ellen June Wright’s poetry was most recently published in (or is forthcoming in) South Florida Poetry Journal, Solstice, Tar River Poetry, Burningword Literary Journal, The Coachella Review, The Elevation Review, The Good Life Review, The South Carolina Review, Tulsa Review, and You Might Need To Hear This. Her work was also selected as The Missouri Review’s Poem of the Week for their website and was featured in the article, Exceptional Prose Poetry From Around the Web: June 2021 by Jose Hernandez Diaz and she received five 2021 Pushcart Prize nominations. Ellen can be found on Twitter@EllenJuneWrites.