Mother Of Millions - Poem by Linda Hepner
A sweet coming we made of it,
in the springtime of the year
for my journey, and such a long journey,
the wadis wet and the wind warm,
the very birth of marriage.
And the camels ran and snorted
crouching to graze the gladegrass
while I never once regretted
the wells I had left behind me,
the home where I played and prayed
and my brother led flocks out to pasture,
white sheep, black sheep,
watching them grow
watching me wait
my childhood away enslaved to his commands, until
one day I knew the clay gods
lining our shelves would never bring me freedom
and when the emissary from my cousin courted me
I took his rings and left Haran
weighted with powerful predictions.
Lo, my beloved was walking in a field, flushed,
holding a spade, elated,
and when I saw him I slid
from the crouching camel
to the ground… he took me tenderly
into his mother’s tent, still warm and
smelling of goat’s milk.
There he wept and there he loved me, while I learned from her,
the ghostly mother, that
her role and mine were designated
bearers of sons, but Isaac
wounded, blinded by the revelation
that even fathers could betray their sons
and to achieve their ends
betray their spouse,
beloved flesh and bone,
then swore to me he’d never let me die
from horror of abandonment, excision from my tent
of our beloved son when he’d arrive.
He struggled with me in our bed,
just he and I, no sultry substitute,
and never did his love for me subside
even in face of danger when the king
believed I was his sister and
desired to lie with me; even when
louts at the wells leered as I bent provocatively
even when his wealth grew and his fame,
even when his eyes grew blind and his desire dwindled,
confined to my voice.
Be wary what you wish for. Sons are not
the answer to our prayers.
I’d dreamed of freedom, power,
equality with men to steer, command
and teach the ways
to guard our gates and God, achieve
the incoherent promise made in Haran
only to be fulfilled by following
the stars ahead and striking south
digging new wells and naming, claiming, land.
A son: de rigueur.
When he and streams of blood were born
his name was called out loud
by the country midwife, glad for the newborn
red as a wild goat
ruling the ruddy sunset rocks.
Bawling and punching, out he came
and grasping his heel,
the smaller, chestnut head
of little Jacob,
he who nursed upon my breast and slept
while lusty Esau sucked and beat
my other breast with senseless fury.
Like uncle, son! He had no time for tents,
for wells, for family lore.
Jacob stayed home, ambition lacking. In my tent
tense with my old repressed restlessness
the luftmensch learned to read
and cook. Blind, dutiful by default, his father
taught him ethics, how the future must fulfill
the law of God, and Jacob listened
once, reciting back
word perfect, even adding
subtle ideas to slip round laws, but not rebuked
he once more in his life transformed,
bored with the sweet voice of his son,
with my instructions, sounds of bleating goats
and chanted prayers,
longing for Esau’s rush into the tent, the skin walls rippling,
the air charged,
bearing the blood of venison or bear;
flaring his nostrils at the savory scents of roasted flesh,
he lapped up tales of hunted hind, of dangers in the hills,
of wild rams fleeing the fields,
of angels shouting, “Kill! ”
Feeling himself the prey, my husband bared
his throbbing breast and I
knew that my hour must come before God’s blessing fell
upon my lustful, pagan son.
And so it was deception that I taught
the tender twin, excuses
ready at hand: I would not let the promise
of my brother go to waste
into the womb of wild Ishmaelic whores
invading my gates, laughing and leaning on the muscled arm
of Esau, worshipping their red clay figurines, and I would not
allow the fury of revengeful threats
to slay his sly, manipulative twin
who knows the rules so well, whose quiet loins
had not yet been aroused: I would direct
his steps away from present danger - just a few
days at my brother Laban’s house,
where girls sit by the wells and wait
for strangers bearing gifts.
I sent him secretly, in haste,
only my earring to identify
him as my son, and kissing me
he fled, breathless and soundlessly,
his father sleeping and my pounding heart
sure of the dangers on the way, until
he should come home with one like me so long ago,
a bride, supple, compliant…. But what if
like Sarah I should die before I see
my grandson, never sure
if our great destiny
will be fulfilled!
With gold he might have been
attacked by highwaymen; without
he might have been enslaved by Midianites,
in either case, to certain death, slain by my hand!
Ah God, what have I done, one son is dead,
cut off, the final sacrifice,
the other wandering in the hilly wilderness -
twin kids who did not ask to be conceived!
In widowhood I wait in vain for news, the bleakness of
tomorrow painted out, my tent
empty and blind, my journey long
and full of bitter myrrh, childless, alone,
the births my death.
I shall never return to the empire of my youth,
uneasy here amongst dried wells;
I should be glad
of a return
to my beginning.
With thanks to TSE, The Journey of the Magi
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