Ishmael

Sarah was adamant
the other boy should not share
Isaac’s fame and history.

“God has blessed
our own son as you must
now favor him alone.”

Uncertain, needing guidance,
Abraham dreamt
of God’s other nation,

and offered the boy
to all uncertainty,
the wilderness of doubting

God lives everywhere.
What was the farewell speech?
“Though men would die there,

He has promised
you will be great.
So you will be great.

“I must not doubt it,
but I do; and I will cry,
enough to make a desert green

“for you.”  For Ishmael,
a long time Abraham’s only hope,
he may have promised anything.

Mother and son leave
with bread, a flask of water,
and promises.

Not Abraham’s but mother’s
weeping saves Ishmael:
Men build a well, nature fills it.

“We’ll be more practical,
make the promise happen
with work, not wanting.”

They master it together:
Ishmael, the archer,
Hagar, the matchmaker.

“What a place
To make a nation!
But the ingredients are simple.”

When sons return to their father’s death,
burying Abraham at Machpelah,
voices echo in the dark.

“Father, father”
on the lips of the boys:
they might make the same prayer …

“You tempted us to hate you:
me crying under the knife,
me cast to doubt.”

But the prayer made by Isaac
to a father’s history and fame
is also his own to live in.

Ishmael whispers
the first confession.
“What shall I do

“About forgiveness, father?
You start the story,
leaving me without end.

“In my new life
I am rich with everything
except belonging.

“I do not hate or love.
My life is the plain, the sun;
and for my heart, an arrow.”

Originally published in Studio, 1990