Monday, December 25, 2017

Joshua 18: In Writing

Feel the earth:
crumble of soil between your toes
jab of rock against your heel
grit rubbing against your skin.

Watch the trail that stretches away behind you
Shadowy hillocks,
five toed valleys
marking you passgae
from here to there
from where you came to where you go
gaze beyond the horizon

Looking out
the land is filmed
over with the letters of your name.
textured with your skin's veins. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 18

Held in place on both sides
write yourslef into the land
with your feet

[For full chapter, click here
"How long will you be slack in going to possess the land that God, the Lord of your fathers, has given you?" Joshua demands, when the nation finally "assembles" to recreate a national center. Ostensobly, this is a criticsm that reflects back on Joshua himslef--why has he been slack in completing the allotment that he began?
He continues, "Appoint for yourself three men for each tribe, and I will send them, and they shall rise, and walk through the land, and write it according to their lot, and come to me." Inheritence, it seems, is not passive. Like Abraham, the father to whom the land was promised, the tribes must "rise and walk" (hithalkh--a reflexive form of the verb, iimplying a self-reinforced walking, becoming walkers). And--as in Michel de Certeau "Walking in the City"--this walking becomes a kind of  language, the appointed men "writing" the land. The inherited land is not nuetral territory, but a textual landscape.
Judah's inheritence begins with Caleb's personal connection to Hebron, and the gifting of his daughter to the one who could conquer Kiryat Sefer (lit. "The City of the Book"); Joseph's inheritence holds within it all the painful history of favoritism and usurpation, as well as Jacob's choice of Ephraim. Now the other tribes must find their own viceral connection to the personal tract of land that "God, the Lord of your fathers, has given to you." Only then can the land be their own lot.]

Joshua 17: In Writing

shadow with no name
hidden from the sun
crevice between mountains
silence between names
embedded within.

The memory after the storm
when debris is sifted
snapped branches, fallen beams
the dead, the blood
Where do  the forgotten go?

When will you learn
to speak my name
to step out, stand in place

to say: I am born

Friday, December 15, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 17

Two or one
One or two
Who gets counted
Why does not
Who is seen
Who disappear? 

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues the allotment of the tribe of "Joseph" begun in the previous one, this time detailing the inheritence of the children of Menasseh, "the first-born of Joseph". The themes of the previous chapter continue to resonate, becoming more explicit and extreme. The strange doublness of Joseph--both a single tribe given a single inhertence, and a double tribe receiving a dual inheritence, here comes out into the open. The inheritence of Josph is framed by this question of singlness and duality: the previous chapter begins by defining "the lot for the children of Joseph" before breaking off to define the detailed inheritence of Ephraim; this chapter follows the details of the inheritece of Mennasseh with the "sons of Joseph" coming to complain "Why have you given me one lot and one plot for an inheritence?" The schitsophrenic split between individuality and group identity is reflected in the syntax: even as the tribe of Josph demands a dual inheritence, they speak of themselves in the singlular--"Why did you give me". The utter intertwining of these two tribes is emphasized in the details of Menasseh's inheritence, which is punvtuated by cities that belong to Ephraim. We cannot detail his allotment, without detailing his brother's as well.

On the other hand, the dulaity of Josph's inheritence is here further exsaserbated by the fact that Menasshe is split in two, effectivly inheriting two different sections--one on the west side and one on the east side of the Jordan. The eastern section goes to "Menasseh's first-born", drawing attention to that strange insistence in teh opening verse: "Menasseh, the first-born of Joseph." Indeed, biblically, the first-born is meant to inherit an extra portion. Jacob, in his love to Joseph, gave that double portion to him.  We return to early history of the tribes in Genesis, which has been resonating in teh background since "tribe of Judah" first "approached Joshua-of-Joseph. When Joseph brought his two children to be blessed by Jacob, Jacob gave preference to Ephraim over Menasseh, and Joseph protests, insisting on Menasseh's promigeniture. Both elements continue to resonate here, in the allotment of these tribes. Ephraim is indeed given presedence to Mennaseh, but then the text return to insist that Menasseh is the first born. This contested promigeniture is central to the tribe's identity: this is the only place where the "first born" of a tribe gets a serperate inheritence, neighboring Reuben, another displaced eldest.

Yet in addition to the continued agon with Ephraim, Menasseh's inheritence introduces a completly new element: the question of female inheritence. For the first time, when counting the "children" of Menasseh, the chapter goes out of its way to explicate that they are "male." This is because for the first time, females are also inheriting. The daughters of Tzolphad rise from th ebackground, and break the default story of exclusivly male inheritence. 

In doing so, they also allow for the recollection of the one child of Jacob who receives no mention in this story of inheritence: Dina, daughter of Jacob, who was raped in Shechem and then disappeared from the story of the family.  Menasseh's inheritence begins in "Shechem" (17: 7) and one of his sons is named for that city (and for Dina's rapist), "Shechem" (17 :2).   In the acknowlegment of daughters, her story begins to rise as well],   

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Joshua 16: In Writing

Where am I
in the ties that bind us
can there be a line
between me and you
a place where one hand
moves without the other
breathe, and you breathe inside me
I am scattered within you
spliced in your nucleus
colonies bubbling round the invasion
and within me
empty spaces
where others bubble and grow

Joshua: Chapter 16

Are we one or two
Emeshed in each other
We have no seperate space

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues the allotment of the Land to the tribes. From the inheritence of Judah, we move on to detail the inheritence of Joseph. The loaded word "approach" (g'sh), which introduced the interaction between he tribe of Judah and Joshua-of-Joseph in chapter 14 sets into place the allusion to the historic reapproachment of the brothers back in Genesis, which continues to resonate.Alotting the Land is returning to the issues of competition and jealousy that drove apart the brothers in Genesis. Joseph and Judah dominate that story, and it is they that lead the inheritence, in the dual figures of Joshua and Caleb, each of who leads the Land to "rest from war."
"This is the lot of the children of Joseph" opens the chapter, seemingly presenting a single inheritence. Yet Joseph was given the gift of a dual inheritence, and this tension of two-in-one drives the chapter. The chapter begins by presenting a single boundary, "going up from Jericho" (a fitting inheritence for Joseph, the only one of Jacob's sons to never "takes" what is not his).   Yet then it splits, "This is the border of the children of Ephraim." While this might seem to create a clear demarcation within the single block of "Joseph," Ephraim retains "the cities and their villages set aside for the children of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritence of the children of Menasse." The two brothers remain intertwined,  swallowed one within the other. This lack of seperation is echoed in the fact that Ephraim does not completly conquer their territory, but rather ingest the Canannites inhabitants, who "dwelt in the midst of Ephraim, unto this day, and became servants to do taskwork".
If the tribe of Menasse is split, its two sides becoming the sinews holding the two sides of the Jordan together, the tribe of Ephraim also lacks a unified contiguity. There is something in Joseph, beloved, desired, that evades the strict boundaries of self-and-other.]

Joshua 15: In Writing

Dry as bone
crumbled dust
give me a pool
dripping from above
welling from below.

The earth turns, leaves, passes
over, circles back
holding even the dead
embrace, vise, a chokhold--
duck and fall
she will rise to catch you.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 15

To everyone their place.
What you are given
What you give
Where you lie.

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter begins the actual allotment of the Land, which was introduced in the previous chapter.  The tribe of Judah, who "approached" with Caleb, are given their inheritence first, and Caleb's inheritance of Hebron is placed within the broader context of the borders of his tribe. Yet the broadening of the context does not come with a loss of detail--on the contrary, the story is expanded here. Instead of a quick "resting from war", we are told the names of the Children of Anak whom Caleb defeated, as well as of the conquest of Debir / Kiryat Sefer, with the fairytale element of the promise of Caleb's daughter's hand in marriage to the man who could win the battle.
This same city of Debir punctuates the chapter at three seperate points: the border rises to Debir from "Emek Ahor"--the "valley of ugliness" that is the site of Ahan's execution and burial ; Debir is the site of Otniel's victory, earning him the right to Ahsa's hand; and it is mentioned in the litany of the cities of Judah asan  alternative name for Beet Saana. 
The repetition of Debir points to how the inheritence of the tribe creates a space for the interaction of its members. Even Ahan, disgraced and rejected, is kept within the borders of his tribe, his burial place defining its boundary. Human interelationships become defined by place. Otniel marries Ahsa through Debir; Ahsa approaches her father with a complex mix of complaint and demand that is expressed in terms of place: "you have given me dry lands, give me water." Whether this evocative exchange is meant literally or as a comment on her marriage, the act of "giving" between parent and child becomes a function of  place. And while the names change, these places remain the same, providing a prims for a slice of history.]

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Joshua 14: In Writing

Sometimes you flinch from your reflection
somtimes,  your reflection turns away.
Run, run, after the retreating back
getting smaller and smaller.
He's faster, more graceful
refuses to grow old
and you are left, panting, tired
as he moves on.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 14

Halves that connect
Who we were then
Who we are now 
Follow your heart

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues directly from the last, with narry a break in the Masoratic text. Whearas the last chapter decribed the allotment of the two and a half tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan, this chapter introduces the allotment of the remaining tribes by Joshua on the western bank. Again and again, the two half tribes of Menasseh are emphasized--two parts of a whole that weave together the two sides of the Jordan, a glue holding the nation together.
The new allotment begins with the tribe of Judah, as the next section of the introduceds a new doubling. Joshua's old comrade, Caleb, "comes close" (g'sh'n)--a root with deep resonances, alluding to the historic reapproachment between Joseph and Judah in Egypt--to ask for the inheritence he was promised. The scions of Judah and Joseph meet again, the first interaction we have see since both spoke in favor of the Land all those years ago in "Kadesh Barnea".
"You know the thing that God spoke to Moses...concerning me and concerning thee in Kadesh Barnea," Caleb says, creating a sense of the deep intimacy between these two men. Yet immidiatly after asserting the bond, we also begin to see a split: when Caleb speaks of the experience scouting out the land, his "bretheren" are the other spies, not Joshua. Joshua does not appear in Caleb's story at all. 
Caleb's story rather revolves around the relationship to the "heart." Caleb.  (literally "ka-lev", "like a heart" or, midrashically, "all heart") "brings back what is in his heart", while the other spies cause the "heart" of Israel to melt.   Joshua's defense seems to have been driven by something else.
The whole-hearted devotion with which Caleb is "full after God" seems to give him an everlasting youth. In contrast to Joshua, who is "old and coming into days," unable to continue the battles, Caleb is "as strog this day as I was on the day that Moses sent me, as my stregth was then, so is it now, for war, to go in and come out."
Underscoring the disparity between Caleb's vigor and Joshua's withering, the chapter closes by repeating the refrain from chapter 12: "and the land rested from war"--the war this time led by Judah's Caleb, rather than Joshua.]

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Joshua 13: In Writing

And you are getting older
walking into your days
and you see the empty hours
staring like a hallow eye
In a shadow landscape of 
the places you didn’t walk
the names you didn’t call
the spaces between words
the moment between touch.

All the hours of waiting
expanding like a giant balloon
to float over the endless expanse

of even encroaching nothingness.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Yehoshua: Chapter 13

What is left undone
The negative spaces before the quiet 
What lies between the name

[For full chapter, click here
From the uplifting soaring of poetry, we land back into the nitty gritty of prose. And discover that the triumphant listing tells only a small part of the story. The land has not "rested from war" (11: 23). What is left is an uneasy truce, and an incomplete possession. In this chapter, we are presented with an alternative map to the victorious presentation of Joshua's victories: the anti-matter map of what has not been possessed; the negative to define the positive. Almost every name mentioned in the course of the description of the battles of 11-12, are here mentioned again, demarcating lines between conquered and unconquered territory. 
As Joshua grows "Old, coming into days" what he sees are the things undone, a landscape of incompleteness.  
All that is left is to assert the virtual possession declared in the last two chapters, and alott the land as though it is already possessed. The assigning rather than possession will be Joshua's final achievement.]