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Two Poems


Isaac

After that grotesque business up on the mountain,
Abraham comes down and goes to Beersheba,
but what about Isaac?
                                     No, not a word about him.

A mistake?
                    There cannot be mistakes in the Torah!
The hole is there to let the rabbis fill it,
to see through that emptiness the light of truth.

In study houses, then, those earnest old men
told one another stories, made up midrashim
to answer the question that loomed. Maybe he went
out into the desert? Maybe out there he met
Ishmael, and the half brothers compared
their sad stories. And maybe reconciled?
Or at least came to that delicate equipoise
of civility relatives need to be together.

Another rabbi says that it's too much,
that there's no need and therefore no warrant to go
quite that far into the desert shimmer.
Be sensible. Think! Where could he have gone?
We need an answer. What would a young man do?
Say he spends a year or maybe more
at some yeshiva!
                               Where would there be a yeshiva?
Torah is eternal: although it had not
yet been written, it had always been written.
Its sacred fire always burned, like the bush
God allowed Moses to see that does not
consume itself and therefore burns even now.
So if there was Torah, there were yeshivas,
high in the sky, or perhaps just around the corner,
though not yet visible. Maybe he studied there.

But who, then, could his teachers have been?
                                                                         Us!
And what would we have been doing until that moment?
Waiting for Isaac, of course.
                                              As we are still waiting.
 

All We like Sheep

No sheep would ever say, or, all right, think
"The shepherd is our Lord." They are not good
with metaphors but, stupid as they may be,
they know that the shepherd sooner or later will come
with his curved knife and the sheep always run
whenever they see him. They run from his dog too,
because it bites, but neither one of them means
any good to sheep. On the other hand goats,
forgetting their native caution, come when they're called
and even learn to nibble out of your hand,
denying what's real for these sentimental moments
their herdsman allows them in their foreshortened lives.
The knife waits in its sheath for them too,
so, if they're smarter than sheep, they're also dimmer,
not having learned Abraham's hard lesson.
Matthew's peculiar story about how Jesus
sorts out the sheep and goats assumes that it's hardó
they separate themselves, the believing goats
on one side and the fearful, atheist sheep
all on the other, nervous even there,
to embarrass us, which is why there are no scape-sheep
wandering the wilderness for our sins.


David R. Slavitt

Civil Wars
Louisiana State University Press


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