Fashioning Compassion

In my attempt to understand the unrecorded aspects of lives of women in the Bible, the following poem is written in the voice of Sarah. I never liked her much, to be honest, and I like Abraham even less. They are not people I would choose to go back and visit if I were a time traveler. However while working on this poem, I have managed to fashion some compassion and admiration for Sarah.

Sarai

I. Bought

Father is pleased.
My worth in gold and cattle
more than he hoped.
“I once thought your beauty
an excess,” he says. Wipes
frothy beer from his beard.
“But it got us a good match.”
I wonder, What of the man?
The weight of Abram’s
bracelets on my arms,
the gold ring in my nose
tell me nothing.
What shape will I form
when he weaves
my life into his?

II. Sold

Illness and death here
because of my beauty.
I said, I am sister
of my husband.

Abram, I fear they
will kill you.
Dream of your body
dragged behind a chariot.
Clutch a lock of your hair
in the leather pouch
between my breasts.
Pharaoh laughs,
asks, “Is it a token
of your God?”

Sometimes I think
I’ve been here always.
Head weighted with the scent
of cinnamon and myrrh.
Desire stripped, scarred skin
in its place
longing for the lost.
Clothes heavy
with loneliness and gold.
Eyes darkened with coal.

Here I learned to erase
thoughts from my eyes,
usher them into the dark
center of my bones.
But now it does not matter.
No one will touch me.
Is this disease
the answer to my prayer
that no child of mine
be born in this place?
Is this disease a blessing?

III. Returned

Who is this I return to?
Stout man
beside a camel.
Changed as much as I.
We are foreigners
to one another
who know no
common language.
Clutch the pouch of hair
under my tunic,
more familiar than he,
the one who turns his back
without a word—my reward
for obedience. The words
he thrust in my mouth
betrayed him. Cold rope
clenches my limbs
tightens, hardens.

IV. Denied

Once I was soft.
I harden with travel,
angles emerge in my face
and hips, bows and arrows.

When he comes to my tent
there is no cushion, no warmth.
This is no place for comfort.
This is no place for beauty.

I grind the grain.
I carry the water.
“Let me mistress” my servant Hagar says.
I do not answer. I deny
myself the softness
of words. Silence
a newly forged sword.

Abram still believes in home,
God’s promise. Decides to wait
as the incense of Egypt
curls about us.
When will he learn,
what I know?
Home is a broken promise.

V. Engorged

Hagar grows large.
I diminish.
Abram still goes to her,
returns steeped in her stink.
I feign sleep.

Beauty never
gave me a son.
Nor will this
I realize too late.
Hagar’s baby will always
be Hagar’s baby.
Her secret smile
says she knows it.

Built like a camel
she refuses
to carry
water from the well.
She groans
whenever she bends
to grind the grain.
She provokes.
I strike
then crawl inside
the dark cave
Abram’s God carved
with his promises.

My loss mounds
with the baby inside her.
My shame hangs
as her breasts grow heavy.
Engorged with absence
is there no escape
from this place
where I eat bitter herbs?

VI. Circumcised

Now I am Sarah.
He is Abraham.
It feels no different.
I tend the men.
They sealed
God’s covenant
with blood and skin.
They groan.
We laugh secretly
Hagar says,
“You’d think
they brought babies
into this world.”

Alone, we hold our hearts,
tend the places where flaps
of our flesh were sliced.
We make do
with what is left.

VII. Liable

I refuse this time,
will not say I am sister
to my husband again.
I find myself a king’s wife anyway.
This beauty a liability.
I will not speak.
I do not care if they kill me.
Silence cries with the clarity
of blood dripping from a sword

I dream Abraham
suffocates me, wake
to my shrieks.
May he feel agony.
May he never rest peacefully.
May my cries claw at his heart.
I want him to bleed for me
and the barren promise
I will bring his son
into this world.

VIII. Closed

Again my husband
is paid for his lies.
Again, I am returned,
a diseased animal.
I still cannot bring myself to speak.
Silence whispers
such cold promises.

Abraham weeps and prays
for the king and his house,
never for me.

Too proud to beg
he does not need my consent
to visit my tent.
When my groans escape unbidden
he smiles and says “Ah,
you still have a voice.”
Hot anger binds my body.
But Abraham barges
in the space
first shaped for him.

IX. Stretched

My servant first knows
I will have a baby.
Brings me dark tea.
I fear her herbs,
their path to my womb.
Dump her drinks secretly.
Her advantage, to have
the only heir.

I abandon
silence to tell Abraham:
“You will
have another son.”
From what seeds
must I fashion compassion
for this husband?
If I fail, will my womb
still make room
for this child?

X. Opened: To Isaac

You are a laugh
that emerges from absence.

A bud that pushes
though skin.

Everything in me
shapes everything in you.

You are the creek
hidden in the wood.

I follow slow and heavy
along the sinews of my womb,

a foreign land where
once only stones hardened.

Everything in you
reshapes everything in me.

You are so near we breathe
a new rhythm.

XI. Hollowed

I thought there would be peace
with Ishmael cast out.
But fear gnaws
and nests in my empty gut.
Dark winds blow me blind
leave fissures behind.
Fragments of bone cry
Isaac will not survive.

XII. Sacrificed

Dream of my son
bound to stone.
Then ropes tighten
on my wrists and thighs.
Abraham’s knife plunged.

Tangled. Wake. Sweat.

They return. Safe
except for the fear
in Isaac’s eyes at the sound
of his father’s voice.
Is this the bloodless
face of blessing?

XIII. Woven

Everything in me slows.
The monthly blood halted.

I never knew
it kept me young.

Petal thin, my skin.
Isaac kisses me,

a dying lamb.
I meant to last longer.

Too late I realize
my life stretched long

with a supply of wool
for me to weave beauty

and blessing. Instead I waited
for someone else to do it.

Soon I will leave behind
this trampled blanket of a body.

  • cometothewell

    Very cool project. The turning point for me with many of these women was reading “The Book of J” by Harold Bloom. Even though I’m named after Sarah, I also never really connected with her. I hope to see more on your research!

  • Kathryn Nicolai

    Words are so shallow when trying to express how moved I am by your poetry. Your gift to go in, out, beyond, around, above below and then put words to describe real people and real circumstances is heart wrenching. Thank you for sharing your work with me. Kathryn


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