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Published: Sat Jul 1 2006
Art: Paul TheriaultEver New (detail), 2022, acrylic and found paper on scavenged wood
The Failure of Sodom

Their sin was not sin.
There was nothing in it about sex
or too many sausages

at breakfast, or too little
time scrubbing floors
before bed.

An elderly woman in
a newly stained dress
was caught leaning

over a churn,
a dog snored,
the blacksmith’s youngest son

was opening the shutters
to let free a moth.
Neither was it about locked doors

or plates not set at the table.
Though careless, in the end
the people were kind.

Their downfall lay in the lesser
transgressions of dotage
and daydream, the tender

glamour of slow dust sifting
through door light, of light
sifting a pail,

so that when the stranger came
to her gate, the elderly woman
was lost in the study of a precise, jewel-

green lizard scuttling the wall,
the dog smelling a shoe,
the boy in his bed listening to rain,

not hearing it stop.

Hailey Leithauser is the author of two poetry collections: Saint Worm (Able Muse Press, 2019) and Swoop (Graywolf Press, 2013), which won the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson First Book Award and the Towson Prize for Literature. She has recent or forthcoming work in The Birmingham Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Cincinnati Review, The Hopkins Review, Plume, Poet Lore, AGNI, Alaska Quarterly Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, and The Yale Review. She lives outside of Washington, DC, and teaches occasionally at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and the West Chester Poetry Conference. (updated 4/2022)

Leithauser’s AGNI poem “The Moon Speaks of Polar Bears” was chosen for The Best New Poets 2010.

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