“So Avraham took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.” (Genesis 22:13)
Rachel Barenblat, Matthew Zapruder,
Kathryn Hellerstein, & Yerra Sugarman
I want to think Avraham had no intention
of sacrificing his son — he dawdled on the hike,
let his knife linger til the angel arrived
my firstborn plays in the corner of the sanctuary
hands smudged sticky from wedges of apple
dipped in wildflower Torah
he doesn’t yet know this story, though
if I had to I’d protect his wriggling body
with my own ribcage, my beating heart.
This morning my heart sounds to me
like the low voices of people
I heard arguing last night in my dream.
I was hovering above, like a cloud
or a being, waiting for something
to be decided. Someone must
be kept alive, or die, I can’t remember,
and I want to sleep again so I can wake
and know what I have to do.
I unbind the boy and hold him, trembling, close.
He blinks in the smoke that brings tears to my eyes.
I cannot see. What have I almost done?
Whatever in the world could bring my God
To ask such a thing of me? The child pulls free
From my arms and wriggles to the ground. He stands
There, facing the flames of sacrifice, then turns
Toward me, the favored father of the son
Who would have burned for my obedience,
Holding in his smudged hand the knife I dropped.
I cross the threshold and enter the house of Isaac’s mind.
But tell me, God, how does father know the ache of another?
And my lariat had already burned rope-marks there; my altar’s cypress
spears had pricked the soft tissue of his brain with their splinters and etched themselves
on the walls of his skull. Seal me with how he knows, God.
Hear the ram’s wavering bleat and something else trapped in the bushes ⎯
blue as the veins curling underneath the skin of a girl’s chin ⎯
something rainless closing in on itself like a long, brittle date palm’s leaf
that scars its own tree trunk. His wizened palm leaf grazes me now. This is how I know.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat was ordained by ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January 2011, on the same day when her first book-length poetry collection, 70 faces: Torah Poems, was released by Phoenicia Publishing. She is author of four poetry chapbooks and since 2003 has blogged as The Velveteen Rabbi. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son.
Matthew Zapruder is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Come on All You Ghosts. The recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship, he lives in San Francisco where he is an editor at Wave Books. Zapruder is a member of the permanent faculty at the UCR Palm Desert Low Residency MFA program in creative writing in Riverside, Calif..
Kathryn Hellerstein is an associate professor of Yiddish at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include a translation of Moyshe-Leyb Halpern’s poems, In New York: A Selection and Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky. Hellerstein also co-edited Jewish American Literature:
A Norton Anthology. She has published many poems, translations, and articles, in Bridges, Kerem, Nashim, and Prairie Schooner. Her new book and anthology are forthcoming from the Stanford University Press.email print