Akedah: The Binding of Isaac
Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. —Genesis 22
The Rock Speaks:
Why do you bring the boy to my house, Abraham?
Has he come of his own free will?
How do you explain the fire and wood, Old Man?
Is this what you prayed for all those years?
A gift so recently given, to be given away?
My country is hard, unrelenting.
The angel wept to see a boy, his limbs
gathered with ropes upon his unlikely bed.
The angel’s tears fell into his eyes and dimmed his sight.
Though father lifted up his eyes on the third day,
the son, from that day forward,
could not see, in his mind’s eye, that place.
About the Ram:
And what of the ram?
Was it one of Abraham’s flock?
Or fetched by an angel
as it grazed under the Tree of Life
in Eden? Has it
no say in all this drama?
I loved the child; hadn’t my body
awakened from its long sleep
to tend to this one growing
within me; hadn’t these breasts
come to life again
to nurture him?
Some will criticize me for my silence.
Others will say that I did not know.
Was I at home waiting for their return?
Perhaps preparing the noonday meal?
And why did I find only Abraham
when it was over?
In the End:
Thus we must leave him there, our Isaac,
bound on his altar at Moriah, his father Abraham
going about his work, the fire just beginning,
an angel coming nearer. Certainty and its companion
uncertainty, the seamless tide of questions
flowing from that iconic place.
At the Syrian Border
Walking between two mine fields
I pretend I am a tourist here: What trees,
I say. What mountains. I mouth
slogans bitter as a salt sea.
The wind feeds on the basalt rock.
Under every eucalyptus there is
the yawning shadow of a bunker. My people
is an armed camp.
I remember a boy who made a bridge
of his body for the others to climb across.
They turned him into air and fire and earth.
And here is the place where a father
let his child down a knotted sheet
like Jacob, only not going up.
One child by one child down the ladder
of knots and when he himself climbed
down for the last time, he found each one
murdered. O Jacob, let us put away
our strange gods. My people is an armed
camp. Her sons wear old faces.
“At the Syrian Border” reprinted from Lithuania: New & Selected Poems (Azul Editons, 1995) with permission of the author.
Myra Sklarew was educated at Tufts University and the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She studied at Cold Spring Harbor Biological Laboratory with Salvador Luria and Max Delbruck and conducted research in frontal lobe function of Rhesus monkeys at Yale University School of Medicine. She is the author of 17 collections of poetry, fiction and essays including Invitation to a Country Called Aging (co-written with Patricia Garfinkel, Politics & Prose Books, 2018), Harmless (Mayapple Press, 2010), The Witness Trees (Cornwall Books U.S./London/Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture, 2000, reprinted 2007), Lithuania: New & Selected Poems (Azul Editions, 1995), and the forthcoming A Survivor Named Trauma: Holocaust Memory in Lithuania (SUNY University Press). Awards include the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and the National Jewish Book Council Award in Poetry for From the Backyard of the Diaspora (Dryad Press, 1981). She is the former president of the Yaddo Artist Community and professor emerita in the Department of Literature, American University. To read more by this author: Five poems, Winter 2004, Whitman Issue, Myra Sklarew on May Miller: Memorial Issue, and Myra Sklarew on Leon-Gontran Damas: Forebears Issue