It’s November, and that means a state of furious doing in Israel, during one of the very few months with no holidays. We have no flaming foliage and no turkey-centric commercials, and we don’t even need a jacket outside yet.
But I know it’s autumn because the yearly Torah reading cycle is back at Genesis, with all of the complex internecine business – Betrayal! Sex! Murder! – that being human, even the kind that talks to God, seems to brings with it. It’s the time of year I like to bring out my biblical poetry (every girl needs some in her repertoire, no?) and post it for the four or six people who appreciate it.
Specifically, I am fascinated by the world’s original love triangle, sparked, I think, by the world’s original overprotective mother…..
I know I promised a post on the roles we each play throughout our lives, how they never and always are changing. On a recent trip to the US without my family, I slept at my grandmother’s house, and so did my adult brother, without his family, and my parents. For a minute it was 1985 again, except that my grandpa wasn’t there. It was crazy how natural it felt, to be in the same setting with the same people and to have everything be so radically different…and yet, organic.
I’m still and always a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, and a friend, even though I’ve added writer, mother and wife to my resume, and spend most of my time in those roles. It got me thinking in a lot of ways that I’m still processing.
But this post is going to go off in another direction, and explore the archetypes of all the roles we play, in that original, penultimate work on relationships — AKA the Bible. Don’t knock it till you’ve read it as high literature, without trying to apologize for anyone’s behavior. Only then does it get real.
Without further ado, my triptych on a love triangle (one in which ‘Team Jacob’ is already a given…Sheesh. Patriarchs!)
Part I: Transaction Formation
I’ve watched the women
bringing up the hard things
with food in their hands;
hungry, tired, lustful men
will go far to quickly satisfy
But I have the patience
of the tents
in my hands.
The women speak with me
of things no man
as I blend and melt into this smooth
and hairless world of soft voices and
And, like me,
no woman I’ve known is famished
the way the men are;
they have each other, at least,
while the men seem
empty of something.
(It is Father always digging,
finding what? beneath the rocks and clay.
Is it his blood there that he sees
in the dry red earth?)
And now I cook a soup
outside while they gossip about him.
(Sometimes I simply cannot stand to listen…)
It strikes me hotly as I view the broth
that no girl has
ever blushed when I walk into the tent;
it is like I am not even a man to them.
(Although some say that I have
Father’s laugh, but I have never heard him…)
Oh, they giggle, it’s just Jacob.
Jacob braids hair, talks of God, tells histories
and stirs porridge. He does not smell, like he does,
of game (or fun);
Jacob is not wild like him (and free) and hungry
- ravenous –
for life. (She might say: For me.)
Jacob’s tongue is satisfied with slow, methodic speech;
he does not try, with wine in his blood,
to convince anyone of greatness,
he does not dance among the cattle,
and he does not sing
when he washes.
Jacob will love like a woman loves,
softly, like worship, in the night.
I look hard into the soup, stirring
and, like him, just for once:
I want to love –
love everything, hugely -
I’ve watched the women
bringing up the hard things
with food in their hands.
I regard his hunger carefully and somewhere, now, I know:
I will drape myself in this man’s shadow
Rachel’s Sister, Leah
Has he no heart,
that passionate man
who sees angels in his dreams
(but can not see people?)
When he sprang up from our
as if burned,
like uncle Ishmael
or brother Esau
- duped! -
did he see only
reflected in my face?
Or was it my own
so suffered to behold?…
An embarrassment, not nearly of my sister’s mold.
If you are there, please hear your daughter Leah:
and help me to resist her benevolent
(She might die, God, and make this nightmare end…)
(Ugly thoughts from an ugly, and now ruined, girl.
God, Forgive me.
And Heaven forefend.)
But if you are there, please give me something
that makes him see
that he is just like me.
Why can’t he just
Leah’s Sister, Rachel
What I would not do
the curse – -
of choosing men’s affections
over women’s love.
(A father like mine is hard to get over,
or out from under.
Could it be
so convinced it must always
- for them –
on the other side?
(And all this time: my sister cried.)
Do I feel loathing for her runny and merciful maternal face?
I rush to make it better…
Better. Always better.
I see already poor Leah’s sons,
how they look at me -
(like their father does);
I am no “mother” to them,
but like a teased and tugged at cousin.
And this: Do I like it?
Are my full, high breasts
-aching and empty-
How two desires compete so fiercely
in the same tiny space!
I am like Jacob
and his hidden brother,
in my own stony womb:
Me, against myself.
Perhaps this is the lust
My husband craves;
My self destruction:
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