What you need to know about me: I was introduced to e.e.cummings in high school, and thought the lack of upper case was a capital idea. I’ve never outgrown that. As a Nurse Practitioner in a county jail, it’s rare that I don’t have stories to tell, but can’t share with anyone except my wife. Three things usually spark my writing. Interesting phrases, personal experiences, and my favorite: poems that provoke a response. http://www.jlewisweb.com
Author's Note: History is written by winners. For every story you read, there is another version of the same event, held in contempt, or simply ignored. One of the things that I can do as a poet is to tell that untold, unwritten story. Something of a bard for losers. Those who read and remember June's poems will recognize that this is a sequitur to “Twins” by Laura Kaminski.
esau tells his story
within the confines of rebekah's womb
budding life struggles beyond expectation.
unsuspecting and seeking explanations,
she asks God why? why the commotion?
learns to her amazement that her barren past
will be erased by heads of two nations
already at war within her. hears the
contrary prophecy that the elder
will serve the younger, unwillingly
she holds this vision close, tells no one
not even isaac. keeps her silence even
as esau opens her womb, arrives hairy and red
followed quickly by jacob whose smooth-skinned hand
takes esau's heel in an iron grasp. portent
of future friction
in the race of life, any advantage
can be key to staying ahead of the pack
even if the pack is only you
and a devious brother
in this sibling rivalry, being firstborn
was the only thing that kept me
one step ahead of a barely younger brother
grabbing at my heels since birth
always seeking ways to trip me up
jacob was mother's favorite, wouldn't you know
but i pleased father more. he loved the venison
i cooked for him, fresh and savory after every happy hunt
it was natural that father looked to me for heartier fare
while jacob planted beans and dwelled in tents
everyone must eat, and when the hunt goes badly
the bread in my pouch goes early. across the fields
a simmering pot of red lentils calls to me.
i forget that little brother has thoughts
of moving up the inheritance ladder
yes, i admit it was rash,
trading my most precious privilege
for a bowl of soup. but really,
the lad knows how to cook what he grows
and hunger messes with the brain.
it left me weak minded, thinking
i was going to die if i didn't get food
so i said yes to the mess of pottage
no to the birthright blessings
little schemer even threw in fresh bread
to make me think i'd bargained well
i licked the bowl clean. twice.
we grew to men, and to tell the truth,
i am earthly, easily taken by forbidden things
so i married not one, but two local beauties.
you must not condemn me for this. it's not like
there were women of promise waiting eagerly
to be swept away, and once you've seen
those hittite breasts, well...
i was content, and even though i knew
it grieved both parents, done was done,
and there was no going back
but going back to the birthright arrangement--
father aged as all men do, eyesight failed him
death hovered ever more near. i know he felt it coming
knew it was time to give his choicest
blessing to his firstborn son, to me
i crave a dish of your best meat, esau, to get me
in the mood to bless, and it will be a blessing
such as has not been. now hurry,
i am so hungry and so near death
he uses the same words i uttered to jacob
as long as he is ignorant of the oath
sworn over a bowl of beans, the blessing,
the right to the fatness of the earth,
rains from heaven, posterity, everything
is going to be mine. got you, little brother.
i should have known better. heel grabber
was a blabber, had told mother the details
of our arrangement, and she was determined
to see the terms fully met. she urged the little sneak
to kill a goat, make a stew with all the right herbs
and spices, using my best recipe against me
to imitate father’s favorite food
went so far as to cover his hairless arms
with goat skins, so sightless father's still keen
fingers wouldn't sort out the deception
until too late. goat soup gone, glorious benediction
bestowed, and the supplanter slipped away.
could not have been gone more than a minute
when i carried in my seasoned steak, sat it before
the now confused old man, who asks what the devil
is going on, says the blessing has been given
cannot be breathed back in, undone, unspoken
and all my pleas, tears, threats, and rage
are wasted in the evening air
father, in his love for me, still had somewhat to give
and though it seemed but crumbs, a pittance at the time
he blessed me with earth's fatness, dew from heaven,
and a life lived by the sword, then ruined it by saying
i would serve my brother. a bitter blessing.
death is stalking father, and when it comes, i will wait
the measured days of mourning. mother and jacob will discover
that i can also play the deceiver. to any watching eyes,
for now, i am a pillar, undaunted by our loss, family anchor.
privately, i seethe, counting the days until
little brother understands how i plan to live by the sword
as it slides across his throat, bleeds my blessing
back where it rightly belongs.
never mind the oath made in weakness, this is inheritance
this is power, and it will be mine. i am the older twin.
i am destined to win.
like son, like mother. it lately dawns on me where he gets
his innate trickery, his smiling sly affinity for mischief
mother has been whispering to isaac again, reminding him
how easily the daughters of heth lured me in, begging him
to spare her the pain of seeing jacob also fall to their spells
they agree to send him away. i think she sees through
my forced humility, senses the undercurrent of hate
that will make me what i always should have been--
an only son. this morning when i woke, he was gone.
my family falling apart, i try to pull things together
by finding a wife among the daughters of abraham
someone father could approve, an attempt to please
where else could i turn but to uncle ishmael, like me
an outcast, dispossessed. surely he would understand
give me the hand of his daughter. i marry mahalath,
for now, an olive branch. in time, i learn to love her
three wives, children, cattle, and the land is just too narrow
but seir has room, and there i settle, mingle, prosper
though as one year slips into ten, then twenty, i admit
the nagging sense of being incomplete grows until
feelings of anger, resentment, revenge dissolve. i constantly
picture my twin. he must be married now, laughing children around him
i begin to dream reunions, father - still not dead - presiding,
calling the grandchildren around for stories, for teaching,
and yes, for blessings from the patriarch. bitterness is gone
i have all i need of riches, love, and family. except my brother
sun has set on this day of celebration, of return, of reuniting
this morning's early rays gave me no hint of the events
that would unfold. as i went out to hunt, messengers met me
sent from jacob to say he was coming home, coming home!
my sons and servants answered my joyous shout, ran to me.
who would have thought four hundred men could gather so quickly,
catch and mount their horses and camels. contagious excitement
ran through our band, and we were soon away to welcome
family too long gone and deeply missed
it pained me to meet the first peace-offering, a present sent
to appease. twenty years and jacob still feared me,
carried the memory of my deadly intentions against him.
and then the droves of gifts, one after another, each with a message
that jacob followed behind. was he trying to give me all he owned
handing me the fruits of father's blessing just to calm my anger?
did he fear that i had not changed, that my wrath had not waned?
tears formed, and i brushed them aside, hurried faster
he bowed as i came near, but i would not have that. i ran to meet him,
and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. hearts once at war
were reconciled, and i wept for the wasted years apart, for my prideful
past, to think that i once considered killing him. i wept for joy, that he
had been spared, that we were closer now than we had ever been
so very long ago in mother's womb.
George Frederick Watts - "Jacob and Esau" (1878)
©2016 Jim Lewis
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