Monday, March 31, 2014

Genesis 49: In Writing

To entangle
hold together

the still calm on the face of the deeps
while predators prowl within

between world mountains
gape the cracks
spewing wrath
too sharp to swallow

The more the is
the more escapes
open your arms
is anything left?

Wavering water
reflecting the looming dark above
the lurking deeps
the flick of the dove wing
brooding, prey in beak

if only we could merge,
mingle in my waters
without breaking forth

to drown the earth

Genesis: Chapter 49

To gather
and be gathered in

and stream out
the simmering tensions

spreading above
lurking below

[For full chapter, click here
The focus on the future introduced in the last chapter gains prominence here, as we move to eschatological poetry about "the end of days." Yet s the focus on the past, on "gathering in" the threads of a life,, is heightened as well. Erich Auerbach's characterization of the biblical text as "fraught with background" is particularly apt here, where years worth of tension suddenly emerge from hiding. Reuben's sin with Bilha was presented baldly and passed over without commentary. Yet it simmered in the background, in Reuben's desperate need to atone, his offer of his two children in place of Benjamin. Now, nearly four decades later, Jacob finallyspeaks: "Reuben, you were my firstborn; my strength, the beginning of my might... wavering as water, you shall exceed no longer." There is no true forgiveness. Likewise, comes the response to the massacre of Shechem, fraught with implicit accusations regarding the attack on Joseph. "Let my soul not come in their council," Jacob declares, "scattering" Levi and Simeon throughout Israel.
Yet the leitword remains the opposite: "to gather" (asaf, yosef): "gather together" "group, oh Sons of Jacob" "gathered to his father" "gathered his feet" "gathered to his people" and of course, the beloved Yosef, the "gatherer."  This final address is an attempt to weave the family together. The blessing intrelink not only by animal imagery, and the relation to food and drink,and repetitive words (teref, rovetz), but also by their order. Jacob does not bless his sons by order of their birth . Rather there is a nested chiastic structure, framed by Leah/ Rachel, with Bilha (Rachel's surrogate) and Zilpa (Leah's surrogate) nestled between. The liminal surrogate children, not quite Rachel's, not quite Leah's, serve as the binder for the two sides of the family. Jacob interweaves  them: Bilhal's Dan is paired with Zilpa's Gad, interlinked by the imagery of the akev, the heel, and a focus on public life; Zilpah's Asher is paired to Bilha's Naphtali,  united by the key-word "giving" (latet), and a focus on  the mouth, with Asher providing food to balance Naftali's "sweet words."
The centerpiece is the gatherer, Yosef, who acts here as an almost cosmic force, reuniting Creation's primordial divisions. He is given "The blessings of the heaven's above, the blessings of the tehom lurking under," reconnecting the split "waters above, and the waters below" that have not merged since the Deluge. Male and female also reunite, as he is given the phallic bow and arrows, and the blessing of "breasts and womb" (a crystallization of Joesph's leitmotif of androgyny). The book closes by returning to its primordial openings]

Genesis 48: In Writing

At the end of long, twisted road
from the place it began
the dreams that fell
heavy in my palm
slip-slid between my fingers
to the ground

The prayers I prayed
oaths I oathed
doors I closed
naked nights spread on the earth
sights seen and unseen

The unexpected that sprang to greet me
on the lone plane of between
she died on me
earth spreading before, below and after

I had no faith to see your face
now I find you budding beneath me
round, heavy, sprouting
springing through my fingers

To see your face
I found no faith
Now I see your future
Flittering through the deeps

In flashes of flame 


All the visions
lonely dreams
beneath  bare skies
all the fell into my hand
and trickled from it

What was born,
and bears
birthed in pain and shame
I call by name

Bury the loss
in the weeping moss
along the littered road
with darkening eyes
that can no longer see day

Shepherding the dark
she comes with the sheep
I throw my clenched blessing
into the fish-haunted deeps

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Genesis: Chapter 48

Giving over
what was given

past, present, future

Blessing, loss

[for full chapter, click here
A return to the past, and an investment in the future. Jacob, who "took the blessing with cunning," now becomes the one who gives blessing, his eyes "heavy" as were his father's, "unable to see." In a recreation of that pivotal scene, the younger once again is give precedence over the firstborn--but this time through a conscious, insistent choice.
Jacob reiterates the primal turning points of his life: the leave-taking from  his parents, where he slept in Luz, and the death of Rachel after his return to Luz, "As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died on me, on the road...and I buried her along the road." There are splits that are eternal, that cannot be undone. But there is also hope: "To see your face I did not believe, and now God has shown me your seed as well." The focus is on what is born (nolad, molad, ashe yalad), on dreams of the future. The "blessing" given in the past, is given to Joseph in the present, and  given over to his children in the future: "by you will Israel bless." Death encroaches--"Behold, I die"--but the future intimates redemption: the root "gaal", redemption, is introduced for  the first time]

Genesis 47: In Writing

Sojourner, stranger
seated, encased

The living earth
the breathing dust
bought by belonging

Take me home
root me in the deeps
seeds climbing to the sun

merged with my fathers
cradled by my mother
to germinate
when the rains come

Genesis: Chapter 47

Bonds of belonging
let us live and not die!

We are the land

Do not bury me here!

[For full chapter, click here
Tensions of belonging.
Are you a sojourner /stranger (ger) or are you settled (yoshev)?
Joseph continues his battle to redefine possession. As in the case of his brothers, the tension between money, and the food needed for life. "Why should we die before you?" demand the Egyptians. First Joseph "gathers" (a play on his name Yosef--"God has gathered my shame") all the money  to Pharaoh, yet the word used, "liket," is a cognate with "leket"--the leftover wheat over which one has no ownership. "Money becomes worthless" (afes ha-kesef) "the money was gone" (va-yitam ha-kesef). We move into more intimate possessions: from non-specific money, to the mikneh, the belongings and animals to which one has a relation. Finally possession is reduced to the most basic bond of belonging: the very earth (adama) from which humanity (adam) "was taken." Humanity and humous become one: "Nothing is left but our bodies our lands"; "why should we collapse, us and our land?" "Buy us and our land" "give us seed, that we may live and not die, and the land will not be desolate".
Joseph recreates his own sale, as all of Egypt become "servant/slaves" (avadim) to Pharaoh. But it is not an exchange of commodities, but of lives. The bonds of exchange have become existential and relational: "You have given us life (he-heyetanu). Let us find favor in your eyes..." 
In the context of this recreated relation of man to the "earth from which you were taken," Jacob begs: Do not bury me here. Let my dust indeed return to the earth from which I came. Bury me with my fathers]

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chapter 46: In Writing

I will not fear night-terror
the gaping pit of dark
will close my eyes
and lay me down
in the tender shelter of your palm
knowing day-break
when the sun climbs its steep incline
gathering the winds

I am here
recalled by name

To send forth
and know return
see the ladder
build its rungs
To come, and find you coming
over the edge of the hill
flowing with the sheep
familiar taste of tears and loss
your pulse pulsing mine

On its beat
I die
ready to be
with you

now that I see your living face

Genesis: Chapter 46

A return to dreams

Once again, I am here

what goes down
will come up

hands and eyes
grow tender

[For full chapter, click here
Jacob's return to life, is a return to dreams. After the protracted mourning, he suddenly has "visions in the night." The alienation and dissolution of the missing years begin to heal. Jacob is once again "hineni", fully present. God is once again the God "of your father", and Jacob's sons are once again his sons, the dead and lost included in the total, gone,but not forgotten. The dead Rachel is resurrected, at last acknowledged as "the wife of Jacob."
Yet the hints of darkness in the last chapter become here explicit. The "going down" to Egypt is fearful. God must promise that there will be a rise, and ability to escape this pit (e'ale, gam ale). Reverberating is the covenant: "You will know, surely know, that your children will be strangers in a land not their own, and they will be enslaved and afflicted (ya-anu)..."
Here, God makes Joseph's redefinition of the narrative in the previous chapter definitive: the darkness of the "going down" will be the source of life: "I will make you there into a great nation." Or, in Joseph's words: "God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (oni)" The continuity between generations offers comfort. God promises Jacob that Joseph will be there at his death to "lay his hands over your eyes". Instead of an agonizing decent into the Pit mourning his son, a peaceful sleep, and an eventual "rise." Death--an exile--are  no longer fearful: "I will die now, after I see you face, for you are still alive."
In a final knitting together of the shattered family, Jacob "sends" Judah forth forth to Joseph, as he had once "sent" Joseph to look for his brothers, in a chiastic closing that gives Judah a place in his father's trust.)

Genesis 45: In Writing

To make the night soft
loose my hands
and let the cavernous cry free
to roar outside
and come home

To clasp you
neck on neck
lip to lip
feel my skin by yours
tears meeting in a murmur
that fills the silence

shadows solidify
to the shape of your heart

Turn the depths 
to rest
save the remnant,
what  survives the searing winds of life
For life God has send me hither

Do you hear me
make the world with my voice?
present in your gaze?

Speak to me
And in the vibrating voices

The fallen begin  to breath

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Genesis: Chapter 45

A return to life
before death

To be seen
to be heard

The reverberating cry

[For full chapter, click here
The denouement, and another closure.
The chapter once again continues seamlessly from the previous one, with no break in the Masoretic text. The leitwords are the same, with a focus on the gaze, seeing, eyes, and the face (panim). 
Yet if Joseph had previously controlled himself (ve-yitapek) and the situation, here he can no longer be restrained (lo yakhol le-hitapek).  In recreating--and reversing--his sale into slavery through the confrontation regarding Benjamin, Joseph breaks something loose. His cries, which were ignored and silenced by his brothers at the time of the sale, echo throughout Egypt, shaking Pharaoh's house. Once unheard, he is now heard; unseen, he is now seen.
Emotions are now pushed to their outer limits. If Joseph cannot control himself, his brothers also "cannot" (lo yokhlu) respond to him--an echo of their initial inability (lo yokhlu) to speak "peace to him". Yet even if the relationship is not fully resolved the brothers have at least discovered one thing they care about in common: Jacob.
Joseph regains control be redefining the narrative, turning what was bad to good. If Joseph was "dead" he is now "alive" (another key word in the chapter). The sale was  not a breakdown, but rather a continuation, of Jacob "sending" him to seek the peace of his brothers.God Himself "send me here to bring life (lemihya shelahani)." Following this reversal, the verb "to go down" (laredet) which previously indicated imprisonment, slavery, and  the Pit, now becomes a source of hope and peace: "quickly bring my father down."
The chapter closes with a final undoing of the sale: First Joseph was let out of the pit, and now Jacob at last emerges from his living hell, as his spirit "revives".
Yet this reversal of evil  to good, of death to life, is fragile: " I will go and see him before I die" says Jacob, indicating a temporary resurrection,  and indeed, the chapter is rife with hints of the enslavement to come. "Going down" might have come to mean reconciliation and peace, but  it retains the threat of "we will all remain here as slaves.")

Monday, March 24, 2014

Genesis 44: In Writing

“Why have you exchanged evil  for good?”
How can you exchange at all?

The isolated moment
we perish, each alone
the hidden escapes
the stranglehold

Let me go
for morning comes
and ghosts scatter
with the coming day

I will not let you go
but follow
night shadow
into the gaping hole
at soul-center
the agony that beckons
I will not let you go
without a name

the moment of acceptance
sans struggle
or healing wound
first born
last chosen

stand in place
my life for yours
dark-hued core
pulsing love

there is only one
we are the periphery
the fading edge

step in, bring the beloved
not be
so they can be

What to say?
What to do?
What to justify?
The blood screams from the earth
Swallows my cries

No good, no evil
futility of possession
I cannot be present in your face
Can only make him present

I am the proxy
soul bound to soul
enwrapped in both
unseen binder
that at last looks into your face

Genesis: Chapter 44

"What is the deed you
have done?"


Who is exposing whom?
What is the exchange?

[for full chapter, see here
The issues set into place in the last two chapters come to a head. The issue of exchange and commodification is highlighted ad absurdum. Once again, the money (kesef) is returned; this time, with the addition of the silver (kesef) cup planted in Benjamin's bag. "Why have you exchanged bad in place (tahat) good?" thunders the steward, utterly ignoring the glistening money sitting at the top of all the opened bags. Only the personalized cup (gevi-i) matters. The full power of Judah's bond is the counterpoint: not value, but an existential bond, a life for a life: "Your servant-slave (avdeha) has bound himself for the youth to his father...Let your slave/servant stay in place (tahat) the youth as a slave to my master, and he shall go up with his brothers."
 "With this you will be tested," Joseph informed his brothers, "when your youngest brother comes here." The hidden issue resonating since Joseph saw "his brother, son of his mother" now comes to the open. The jealousy and breakdown has always been about Rachel--most beloved, always hovering on  the edge of "nothing". "Is it not enough you have taken my husband?" Leah had accused, denying her sister any place in the family. The sale of Joseph reflected the same impulse. Now Joseph recreates the situation with Benjamin, who becomes the "enenu"--the one "that is not," in a thrice-repeated echo of Reuben's despairing cry upon finding Joseph gone.
A change has taken place in the "many days." Judah's matter-of-fact, unemotional approach comes is defense of the relationships he had attempted to reduce to commerce. "He remains alone from his mother, and my father loves him" "My father had said: 'You know that my wife birthed me two sons." This bald re-iteration conveys the emotional truth powering Reuben's desperate offer of killing his two sons--Joseph and Benjamin are the only ones who matter. Yet even as Judah conveys what had driven the brothers to sell Joseph in the first place, he also repeatedly denounces himself: "we will send our father's old age in agony to the Pit."  The attempt to save Benjamin is the acceptance of guilt and a responsibility beyond emotion, rejection and pain.]

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Genesis 43: In Writing

He said to his father
“Send the youth with me

that flickered  movement
agile and free

We will get up
And walk

after the
deep plunge
try to rise

And not die

ropes of loss
of death
of hollows
of names not called
things not ours
dead that don’t rise
to return
when seeds  sprout

I am his bond
Seek him from my hand

deeper than possession
That demand: 
to whom
with whom
what have you done?

deeper than desire
never escaped
the shadows cast by days
darkening each way
I am the repository of the asking
seek from my  grasping fist,
prized open

If I do not bring him to you
Present him to your face

in a place sans profit
where gain hollows in sacks
face you
swallowed in his presence
and say
I will no longer

sin to you

All of the days

Genesis: Chapter 43

What do you ask for
and from whom
do you ask?

money returns infinity
can be doubled
worth nothing

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter follows seamlessly from the previous. We are still dealing with the recreation of the sale, and its aftermath, with a play on the same key words "return" "to take" lakaha; hands; "slave/servant"--and most of all, "money" (kesef, repeated a dizzying 9 times ). We at last come to the central issue of commodification and possession: "What is the profit in killing our brother?" Judah asked, reducing brotherhood to commerce. This was a move that was to play out with devastating results throughout his life, until his discovery of responsibility-within-exchange in his "bond" (eravon) to Tamar.
Here, Joseph attacks the concept of money. Payment is returned, as though useless. When the brothers bring back double money, it is waved away. Is it their money? any money? Can there be any meaning in something so unspecific as to lack any markers? It is not enough to get them the food they need for life. Only the sight of their brother will do so.
 Judah also has moved away from the "taking" that has so defined him. "I will be his bond (e-arvenu)" he says, when asking to take Benjamin down to Egypt. There is no violent shelihut yad--"sending forth the hand"--but rather responsability: "seek him from my hand (miyadi tevaksheno)." For the first time, Judah can also conceive of a quest, a bikush, a desire that requires seeking, not buying.
Within the darkness are hints of reconciliation. Joseph was sent to "seek" the "peace" of his brothers; the word "peace" moves center stage at the the closing of the chapter. "Perhaps he will send you your other brother" Jacob says, as he sends Benjamin down. Within the context of the conflation of Simeon and Joseph that was set into place in the last chapter, this seems a reference to Joseph himself, who was "sent to you" with such disastrous results.
Yet still, each eats "alone," separate even as they begin t o draw together.]

Genesis 42: In Writing

What do you fear
What haunts your night
When you fall down, down, down
to dreamful sleep?

We are the sealed ciphers
the gaping hallows
of where you don't look
don't hear
don't see
the black shadows
you trail
on the naked land
the thickening ink
that grabs your feet
on the path you walk

Genesis: Chapter '42

who is heard?
and who is seen?
who is recognized?

to go down again

Be the dreamer,
not the dream

[For full chapter, click here
The two strands of the story begin to come together, as the brother's follow Joseph's footsteps "down." Here, we begin to feel the deep reverberations of the sale, how the family has been shaped and poisoned by it: Jacob fears to "send" Benjamin (as he had originally "send" Joseph). Joseph is the constant hole that "is not"--present and mentioned in his absence. The depth of the rift and alienation becomes heartbreakingly clear at the closing of the chapter, when Reuben offers: "You will kill my two sons, if I do not bring him [Benjamin] to you. Give him to me, and I will return him." Here is a desperation to undo his greatest failure--the inability to "return" Joseph to his father. Yet this desperation also reveals how far Jacob has withdrawn. Reuben, the one who was most concerned for their father, actually believes that this offer would appeal!
 The leitwords are "return" (ve-yeshev, ho-shev, a-shiveno), "see" and "hear," as well as that terrible word that ended the story of the sale of Judah's story: "recognize" (haker).
Joseph "recognizes" his brothers, though he is unrecognized by them. He remembers what he has been thankful to forget, and sets out to force the recognition his brothers do not give him by making them experience his experiences.He "sees" them, as they had seen him from afar. "You have come to see the nakedness of the land" he accuses them twice, an echo of the double stripping of his clothes. He places them "under guard."
There is a response. "I told you not to sin with the boy, and now his blood is being demanded," Reuben says. We should have listened, the brothers acknowledge, we should have heard. The brother whose very name means "hearing" ("Shimon") is separated, and placed in prison, as Joseph was imprisoned. He becomes an echo of Joseph, his cast shadow: "Joseph is not, and Shimon is not." Like Joseph, Shimon becomes "the one"--nameless, separated, alone. ]

Friday, March 21, 2014

Genesis 41: In Writing

In the gaping hollow
world is swallowed
and emptied

In the sere east wind
memories dry, crack
and crumble

Beauty, soft and round
as a lost child
turns hard,
painful to look at

Within each other
we are ingested
good to bad
and bad to good

a phoenix
dying in its flames
birthed again
renewed in a name
and fire-gold feather

from forgotten
to forgetting
fertile within my scream
spilled out soft
on the crusted earth
a satiating stream

Genesis: Chapter 41

from the

Out, over Egypt

Remembered, forgotten, forgetting

bad swallowed by good
as good by bad

Duality is one

[For full chapter, click here
A chiastic structure, as Joesph finally is taken from the Pit
Repetition, and change: the leitmotifs remains in place, but with transformations. First, from the timeless monotony of captivity, we enter a specific time frame: two years,and things are moving quickly (they "rushed" Joseph; God is "hurrying" to do). Then, the sale is reversed:
Once again, two closely related dreams, with natural imagery, but this time the dreams serve as a catalyst to freedom rather than captivity; Joseph is taken from prison (now defined as a "pit"); he is dressed (the change of clothes happens twice, a balance to the two strippings); he comes to answer to the "peace" of Pharaoh, as he was once sent to seek the "peace" of his brothers; he is finally, once again, "found" (ha-nimtza), and so is able to "go out" (ve-yetze). From closing in, things "open" (ve-yiftach Yosef).
The "forgetting/ not remembering" is reversed, as the cup-bearer "reminds," and "forgetting" is defined as the coming ruin of Egypt.
Yet in some ways, this is also a continuation of Joseph's experiences: as with his former master, he is put in charge of the "house", with only one above him; he is still passive: everything is "given", there is no "taking": even his marriage is defined as "va-yiten" (vs. Judah's "va-yikach); he is passively dressed, as he was stripped, his name is changed.
Only with the birth of his children--again, the thematic duo--does he "call" a name. "God has made me forget all of my suffering, and all my father's house"; "God has made me fertile in the place of my suffering (onyi). From being forgotten, an active forgetting, yet of a different type: a letting go (nashani, "let go") , a falling away.
Good and bad become intertwined: the "two dreams are one"; just as in the dreams, the bad swallows the good, here, the good begins to emerge from the bed)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Genesis 40: In Writing

There were stars
night air
and broad, fecund fields
long days that grew ripe and heavy
overflowing in sun-warm wine

Once, I was there
called by your presence
present in your face
questing in scattered fields
lost, but found

Now the years eat my flesh
light hidden in a thicket
of tangled vines
they put me in a pit
haunted by nothing
and nothingness
my voice  echoes in silence
swims in emptiness

To be outside
rise on beating wings
bones feather light
skin lucent
as a cave-dwelling creature
flesh exposed on the highest trees
eater and eaten

floating in my hollow scream

Genesis: Chapter 40

God holds
the key

I did nothing
for they have
put me
the Pit

No memory--forgotten

(For full chapter, click here
"And it was after these things..." once again, time has passed--how much, we do not know. A pattern: Joseph gains absolute trust, so that his masters worry for "nothing" meuma, then "after these things," something happens...
We once again enter the world of dreams: yet again, two dreams that seem almost the same, but this time, Joseph is no longer the dreamer, but the interpreter.  And this time, the dreams are dualistic: one promises a "return", that other death. Two sides of being "raised" (yisah) out of the depths of the "pit". The leitword is poter, "solution, opening, release". And indeed, as Joseph offers the solution, he suddenly dreams of freedom. For the first time since the sale, he speaks of himself, conflating the sale and his imprisonment into a single reality: "for they have put me into the pit." The nothingness that has haunted him since the moment  when he was "not" ("ha-yeled enenu--the boy is not") comes to the fore: "I have done nothing"--(meuma). His greatest pain and the source of his success seem one and the same...
Now, coming out of hiding, he begs to be remembered. But this return to life is for naught. The chapter closes with rhythmic finality: "and he was not remembered...he was forgotten")

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Genesis 39: In Writing

Into the gaping silence
of my hands
falls everything
nothing held back

to want nothing
but not to be
take off
like a hollowed bird
rising in the air


buoyed by the warmth
of your Being
with me

Genesis: Chapter 39

 To Be

I am nothing

and everything slides
into open hands

(For full chapter, click here
the aftermath of the sale of Joseph continues, this chapter in some ways a mirror-image of the preceding story of Judah
Judah goes down (ve-yered); Joseph is taken  doen (hurad, horiduhu)
The difference between  active and passive is thematic: If Judah engages in commerce, buying Tamar's time, Joseph is sold; if Judah sees, Joseph is seen; if Judah seeks to sleep with Tamar, Joseph tries only to escape Potiphar's wife. Where Judah achieves by "taking", Joseph "is" a "successful man." If Judah turns, God "turns" the jailer towards Joseph. Where the brothers were characterized by their violent hands (shelihut yad) Joseph's hands do nothing--everything is put within them (be-yadav)
Little is left of the boy who went seeking his brothers, who did not know when to be silent. Joseph's only action is to refrain (va-uimaen), an echo of Jacob's refusal to be comforted. Even when he describes himself, it is in the negative: "there is no one [eyneno-- lit. nothingness, Reuben's cry upon finding Joseph gone]."
Yet he remains, as he was before, the beloved. The refusal to take brings everything into his hands. But this giving is not ownership. It is not about possession but loyalty. In contrast to Judah, for Joseph there is no continuity between commerce and relationships: "he has given everything into my hands but you, for you are his wife".
Joseph's passivity, though, protects him no more than did his blithe activity. The chapter ends as he is once again stripped of his clothing and thrown into a pit. )

Genesis 38: In Writing

No longing or belonging
no quest
no reckless search

only clear,
what is an action worth?

Turn, and turn again
to find yourself back
on the path
that twists from your feet
exposed on the eye promontory
where you cannot find
what you don't know you seek

To profit
to trade
what of loss, can be lost?

To be someone
contain an other
birth the ingrained
in the words
that echo
the bonds that bind
your shadow cast
over the path

Genesis: Chapter 38

Go down
then turn again

The things you
cannot find
even by the open eyes

(For full chapter, click here
After throwing Joseph into the Pit, Judah also "goes down" from his brothers
Judah's reduction and sale of Joseph is to define his life. Judah brings out to the open the dangerous overlap between relationship and possession that has haunted the book of Genesis since the creation of Eve. He creates a seamless continuity between money and flesh, a complete commodification of the bonds of brotherhood: "What is the profit if we slay our brother... Let us sell him for he is our brother, our flesh".
The sale of Joseph causes a "turn" va-yat. No love or longing for Judah. Profit is the key. His deepest connection is to his business partner; his wife is not even mentioned by name; he is quickly comforted for her death [ in stark contrast to Jacob's refusal to be comforted]. "What will you give me, to sleep with me?" he is asked by Tamar, in the first open exchange of goods for sex. The price is a goat.
Yet the second "turn" va-yat to Tamar  introduces a new element to Judah's sterile transactional world. "Will you give me your bond?" demands Tamar. The physical commodity of the bond/pledge becomes a demand for responsibility. "Recognize please." Even within the world of commodities and exchanges, there can be deeper responsibilities, bonds that cannot be paid off.
Judah's failure is epitomized by Onan, who cannot give something that "will not be his". There is no room for giving in this world. Judah, by contrast, contains the seeds of duality, which finds expression in the closing of the chapter, in the birth of the second pair of twins. This recreation of Jacob and Esau also struggle over the birthright, and this time the Jacob-like-Peretz manages to enters the world first.)

Genesis 37: In Writing

I searched for you
but you were not
but heard no answer

lost in the field
the watchman found me
Have you seen my brothers,
the ones I seek

I passed from him
and came from afar
my hands a gaping cry
you beat me, hurt me
flung me naked into the pit

down, down, down
in my wishing well I drown
hang over the abyss
and stare at my nothingness

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Genesis: Chapter 37

throw me
down down
to the abyss of

"The child is not,
and I, where shall i go?"

(For the full chapter, click here
From the simplicity of the toldot of Esau, we move back to the torturous complexity of the toldot of Jacob
The love Jacob felt for Rachel, which Leah translated as hate for herself, here turns to hate aimed at Rachel's son; the jealousy Rachel felt towards Leah is echoed back to Joseph. The only increase/gathering (yosef) Josef seems to gather is hate: va-yosef-u sena'o.
The non-being that haunted Rachel comes into sharp relief. "hineni" I am here, Joesph tells his father, but soon he is utterly lost in the fields surrounding ill-fated Shechem. When he finds his brothers, it is only to be stripped and cast into the pit, which turns into the abyss of the underworld in Jacob's closing words to the chapter.
"Do not cast your hand on the boy (tishlakh yadha) Abraham is warned as he prepares to sacrifice Isaac. Here too Reuben begs "don't cast your hands on the boy." In this case, there is no heavenly intervention. Shelihut yad--the possessing of what is not one's own, which has haunted Genesis since humanity was exiled so they could not be sholekh yad, stealing from the tree of life, here comes to full fruition. Joseph is reduced to a literal possession, sold from hand to hand. There is nothing left in the pit to be found when Reuben returns.
And again, the continuing resonance of Jacob's interaction with Esau. Jacob was the first in the Bible to ask for a sale. "Sell me," he told Esau, "your birthright." Now his own eldest son by his beloved wife is sold...)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Chapter 36: In Writing

There is a weight to possession
the burden of anger
nights of brooding
bogging my feet

accretion of memories
baying asses
whining sheep
of accumulation
causing the earth to sink

to let it go
and flit free
enthroned in my thousands
in rising suns
and roaming expanse

yet still I sense you
over the span
of space
of time
action to my reaction
twined in fearful symmetry

Genesis: Chapter 36

A parting of ways

And yet reflections, symmetry
hint no true separation

the weight of accumulation

(For the full chapter, click here
Esau leaves to Seir, and the separation of the twins seems at last complete, the final closure: like Lot and Abraham, the brothers have split in divergent directions on different paths. the ease and simplicity of Esau's marriages as opposed to Jacob's entangled family life makes the difference stark.
Yet the language used for Esau's departure "va-yikakh Esav et nashav ve-et banav" echoes the description of Jacob's own journey towards Esau. And the chapter describing Esau's kings before "there reigned a king in Israel" is full of reverberations and intimations. Familiar names in unfamiliar contexts: Reuel, Moses' father-in-law, Zerakh, son of the royal Judah, Korakh the rebel. Familiar stories retold in the tone of lore and legend: a search for donkeys, that calls to mind the story of the crowning of Saul--and sure enough, a few verses later, a king named Saul appears. Esau, the elder, seems to be providing the signposts for his younger brother, who will once again "clutch at his heel."
The birth of Amalek, Israel's historic antagonist and nemesis, lends this twinning-reflection a darker tone.
The twins remained entwined in each other, as the prophecy to Rebecca foretold)

Genesis 35: In Writing

to return there
stand there
at the place it began
strong as a rising stone

beneath gaping loss
heart's hold
the suckling breast

Rise and return
rise and find
the light that broke for a moment
the trailing warmth
the heavy presence
that said
not alone

Purify from loss
the dross
of vulnerability

trace that path
to come back
where you were
to call your name
in a new voice

Not in sleep
but wake
the place stark and bare
deeper and heavier
with each reiteration
baring down'
like a beating bird
boring down, down, down
forcing the curled silence
the your long-held death
untimely into the world

You are swallowed
by the fullness of the nothing
you carried within
always arriving
never here
gone the moment i arrive
a fleeting light
dancing down the path
always too dear
for any possession

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Genesis: Chapter 35

Closing circles
to arrive where you left
fulfilling vows

with the finality of death
the end of paths
and dreams
and childhood

The which is buried
and retuns

(For the full chapter, click here
A call to closure: Jacob is told to leave Shechem, and return to Beit El "sit there, and make there an altar"
In an attempt at purification after Dina was "nitme-a", violated, made impure, Jacob calls to leave behind all the alien gods that are within. This already intimates that the return to Bet El is dangerous: Rachel has stolen Laban's gods, and we are now reminded that Jacob has declared that the thief "shall not live."
The finality of return is indeed accompanied by death. Jacob returns to Beit El twice, each time building an altar, and each altar is followed by a death--first of Devorah, then of Rachel. The connection between the death of Rachel and return to Bet El is emphasized by the dual matzeva, standing stone. The first is erected by Jacob in Beit El; the second stands over Rachel's burial spot "along the road."
We are moving in a spiral of repetition and change: Jacob is once again named Israel; Beit El is renamed twice, yet changed each time in the naming (El-Bet-El, Elohim-Bet-El); Binyamin is named twice, once by his dying mother, once by his father.
Jacob at last "comes" to the place he "left," but nothing is the name. we return, we repeat, but there is no true going back)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Genesis 34: In Writing

To have
to hold
to take
to steal

to grab
to hurt
to speak
to love

is there giving
after taking,
can heart-speak
follow force?

Soul stick
the predator-gaze
the taking tongue
turns sweet
all you have is mine

sway and assuage
we enter and violate each other
at that instant

of terrible vulnerability
of hurt
we cannot defend


long case shadows
endlessly ripple
on the waves

is there forgiveness?
gift of reparation?
can i speak  to you, heart
or do we

on the edge of extinction
mother upon child?

Genesis: Chapter 34

the thin dangerous line
taking and

coercion and

possession turns violent
and speech murderous

(For the full chapter, click here
 Jacob and Esau parted in peace, and Jacob arrived "whole" [shelem] in Shechem. But the closure proves illusory. History continues to reverberate in endless echoes. As in the last chapter, we open with a focus on seeing. Like Jacob, Dina goes out to see. Instead she is seen, and the gaze turns into violent possession. The rape and kidnapping and Dina seems a direct continuation of the equivalence drawn between women and property in the previous chapters, which only gains force here [the leitworts are "take" and "give"]. The theft of Dina has disturbing verbal parallels with Jacob's theft of the blessing.Like Jacob, Shechem takes [lakakh]; like Jacob, he seeks to be motzeh hen, to find favor; like Jacob, he attempts reparation through  gifts.
The possibility of redemption hinted by Shechem falling in love to with Dina and speaking "to her heart"; by becoming "soul-tied" (va-tidbak nafsho); and even by the verbal merging of Shechem and Dina in the term naar, youth,comes to naught.
Is the persuasion just another form of coercion?
The possibility of extinction that has haunted Jacob is here turned on the city of Shechem--and Jacob continues to fear for the destruction of his house)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Genesis 33: In Writing

I ran to you
away from you

crossed, and crossed, and crossed again
through mornings and nights
through frost and heat
greetings and partings
predator pray
love an hate

I reduced myself to a bare branch
to find you bubbling within me
in doubled faces
twinned wives
 river reflections
murmurs in the night
dreams that refuse to sleep

I separate my parts
in ruthless order
stark clarity of a linear path

your arm on my thigh
my hand on your heel
forever entwined in a twisted circle

I sent my face towards you
and found yours coming to greet me

Begged your eyes
touched your lips
till you gave me what was mine
and I had all

and your face went on before me
you to your path
mine to mine
and I felt the spaces open up
between us
before us

Genesis: Chapter 33


And the final split

I see your face,
now pass my face

(For the full chapter, click here
the climactic, chiastic closing of Jacob's journey, the end of his second escape [barakh]
after the night's  aloneness, Jacob once again splits to duality: the two wives, the two handmaids, and of course, the duality with which he was born: his twin.
This chapter is dominated by the imagery of faces: it is introduced by Penuel [lit. God's face] "for I have seen God face to face, and my life is saved"; Jacob goes "before the faces" [lifnei] his family; he sees Esau's "face as one sees God" and is not only saved, but "finds favor, desire" [ve-tirzeni--first time this root appears in the Bible]. After this brief contact, the brother's once again split, as Jacob tells Esau to "go before my face" [le-fanai])

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Genesis 32: In Writing

Crossing the river
reflected and refracted
a dizzying rush of faces

float away, separate
come together ahead
how many faces do we wear

Strangers to ourselves
a dual camp
doubled and redoubled

Coming back,
i find you coming towards me
sleep splits and flees
cracking to day

where I stand alone
and my arm reaches out
to grab me
cracks my leg
till the sinews of self
stretch, tear, cut
 at last I see you
face to face
and call you by name

Genesis: Chapter 32

All the doubling
and redoubling

and divisions

merge within
till we see face to face

(For full text of chapter, click here
The duality that has haunted the text since the birth of the twins, Esau and Jacob, becomes almost dizzying here
the chapter opens with "Mahanayim"--lit. dual camp--of angels
the divine realm is soon reflected in the human as Jacob fears a dualized brother ( ("my brother...Esav"), splits his family into two camps; sleeps two nights, splits the second night in two, then moves his two wives and his two maidservants to the other bank of the river.
it is then that Jacob is left utterly "alone," not dualized for the first time since his birth. And at that moment the mysterious assailant comes--an assailant who fuses with Jacob, until it is unclear who is whom in the description. A merging multiplicity, that comes to a head when Jacob receives the second name Israel.
From duality, we come to complexity, internalized multiple names...)

Genesis 31: In Writing

Mine, ours, yours
possessing and possessed
a terrible tangle of belonging and longing

                "He's taken what's ours...
                from ours he has made..."


               "we have no part
                been sold and eaten"

To take
to have
to steal
to lose....

I entered and saw you
opened a well of longing
Now I seal the path
and you waver
 under the shadow of knowing
the nothingness that is ours

stolen hearts
stolen days
stolen selves
stolen gods...

and you are stolen away

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Genesis: Chapter 31

 A closed                               box

Open well            closed passage

And the distant                 journey

                  becomes home

Longing                            kisses

(For full chapter, click here
This chapter is so dense, I feel every drawing is inadequate...
What stood out first is the chiastic structure: we have here an inverted closing to Jacob's arrival:
A second escape (barakh)
a second exit (yatza)
a focus on stones, and the root gal (to remove a stone, a pile of stones)
A second matzeva/ altar
The question of stealing and possession
and a goodbye kiss in place of the opening kiss to Rachel
But even as we seem to have closure, there are intimations of disasters to come, from Rachel's death, to the loss of Yosef)

Genesis 30: In Writing

To increase
grow solid
or cease

feel the force of
the echoing hole

I am
a cipher
a hollow scream
the gaping O

my voice trails
lost in
the cacophony of the many
who will gather it together?

I am
the barren tree
reaching dried branches
towards winter

the thickets thicken
as I feel the press
of emptiness
between my leaves

Genesis: Chapter 30

A tangled triangle
move and counter-move

and within
the terrible emptiness

Tottering on no-being
"If nothingness..."

(To read the full chapter, click here
The first verse holds a powerful punch: "Give me children, and if not [lit. if nothingness, ayin] I die
echoes of Rebecca's  "Why am I?"
The liminal state of motherhood raises existential questions, uncertainty about the limits of self
For Rachel, the problem is more acute. She seems to hover at the edge of non-being. In the morning, transformed into "she is Leah"; her sister dominates the family, at last even claiming Jacob as her husband, whom Rachel stole. A growing gap, in which she is begging to be heard, and is drowned out...)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Genesis 29: In Writing

and the path unfolds
back to the place before

Tangled time drawing together
do I sleep
or do I waken?

The sun is high
yet vanishing
the stone flits from my fingertips

you appear
my distant vision
and my soul quickens
in reverberation

the well opens
within me
deep waters
haunted by reflections
telling me that all is gathered together
that return to its place



You are my time
and my desire
my dream
and impending loss

You are the light
that disappears with morning,
the fugitive beam refracted
in the rolling waves of ewes
in the whispers of the wind
in the floating stone
the gaping waters

your lips touch mine
a quenching kiss
I wake,
and you are someone else

Genesis: Chapter 29

Absolute place
to local place

as time twists on itself
and the vertical axes goes down

angels and women

(For the full text of the chapter, click here
There is a dreamlike continuity between Jacob's dream, and his arrival in Haran. The introductory anaphora of " behold"; the stone beneath his head is  transformed into the stone that seals the well; the focus on place, here transformed into a local, specific placement rather than "the place"; the repeated word "return"--to return home, to return  the stone to its proper place; the focus on day and its ending--the day disappearing, the day is yet high. The scene has a surreal quality of bringing the dream into the real world. Dream-like, people begin to transform one into the other--"Behold [Rachel] is Leah", and the time frames melt one into the other. Jacob's arrival echoes Eliezer's; his crying echoes Esau's...)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Genesis 28: In Writing

 fingers buried in soil
quiet hum of night creatures and stone

surround my head
weight of my arms
clasp the splayed toes

the star-sprawled sleep
extended seaward
and to the rising sun
to Polaris
and the desert dust

 Bodied world
place enough
 to find the sky open within

Genesis: Chapter 28

As we leave
we discover the power of place
this place


God within place
that allows for return

(Struck by the fact that the word "place" is mentioned 7 times just as Jacob "leaves." If for Abraham, the place is an unknown blank that will be shown, for Jacob it is here, this place.
The difference between the sprawling horizontal spaces--north, south, east, west, the journey for Beer Sheva to Haran--and the vertical axis of up down, which is also an axis inwards, into the dream space of the subconscious"

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Genesis 27: In writing

Doubled and redoubled
and now the choice
resolution of two to one

Who are you?
the primal scream
I am
Present in your touch

I am
he who brings the gift
will it be accepted?

shuddering multiplicity

if you would  no be
would I be 
the one and only
or are we both, or lost at once?

enwrapped in 
each other's womb
each grip birthing the other

Genesis: Chapter 27

Who are you?
The primal scream

Is there only room
for one?

Genesis 26: In Writing

to double back
and do it over
turn the clock
and t urn the other way

all the sleepless moments
wishing other words
other looks

Dig deep beneath
the dried and desiccated
arms outstretched
in place of hate and strife
to discover living waters

Genesis: Chapter 26

Go back!

A laughing re-creation.


Genesis 26

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Genesis 25: In Writing

At the moment of ingathering
I gather to you

my woman
my wife

possessive of belonging
possessing and possessed together

as other possessions
spread outwards
to distant beginnings
and  rising suns

you and I
curl into each other

At last I say yours
you becomes mine
and the exiled, expelled, separated
seen and unseen
are gathered back
and called by name

Genesis: Chapter 25


yet specificity
to at last be the only

Genesis 24: In Writing

After the walking
and the wandering
the endless road
and distant hills
the pieces sloughed
and lost
trickled and dried
within the cracked footprints
there is a way back to the doorway
to return from outside in
into the warmth of your mother arms
murmuring living water


To Sarah:

Go back in time
start over
fix this time
the primal mistake
I hear you in your listless silence
See you in your gaping tent

This time I asked
you acquiesced and followed
rising in your new-moon glow
full of endings
and beginnings

Genesis: Chapter 24

After loss,
Go home,
if not fully home

Find comfort for what was taken