“The Journey” and “The Waiting”: Two Poems

Heather Murray Elkins
Casperson School of Theological Studies, Drew University

(Abraham and Isaac enter) [2]

We�ve started to climb.
The air is thin
Knifing my chest,
slicing the breath.
I grow older,
colder each step.
He doesn�t feel it.
Three hops to my stride.
He clutches the kindling,
glowing from the wind.

Sarah.
Ssar�ahhh.
The wind rebukes in your name.
What will is say?
What can I say?
Barren before.
Barren again.
Blessed be the name of the Lord?
Sarah!
Forgive me.
I am torn bet between �love� and �obey�.

Left foot. Right foot.
Nightmare drains from my eyes.
Left foot. Right foot.
Terror is crouched in my throat.
Left foot. Right foot.
It swallows even my sighs.

We�re reaching the top.
I stare at the ground,
Not wanting to see.
He is puzzled, uncertain.
�The gift, Father?
Where is the gift?�

I stare at the chasm,
Watch for a sign.
Now he is silent,
but his eyes ask the question.
Where is the gift?
The gift to span the gulf
Between heaven and not-heaven.

O God�
O God, provide!
I gathered my past at your call;
Cut through its fibers,
unraveled my strength in the sand
as a tent for the future.
Again in my hand
rests the razor of vision.

The altar waits.
The child waits.
The silence waits.
Fear grinds against me
As I turn to meet his eyes.

He knows!
How�
He knows.
He offers his arms to be tied.
My fingers fumble the ropes.
I must steady my hands.
The end will be
suddenly clear.
He watches me
tremble in
silence.
He rests in the
mystery I
fear.

So be it.

But hear me, You without name,
This death ends our journey.

Hopeless, I hobble,
Descending alone.
Sonless, I bury God on the plain.

So be it.

I don�t understand.

(Abraham lifts the knife and hears)

Lay down the knife.
Bright and sharp.
The blessing rests
between your past and every future.
You know that God is God.

The Waiting [3]

FIRST DAY

I�ve lost them.
The ridge cut them off.
Why wait any longer?
There�s world for stiff muscles
made rigid by parting.

Draw some water.
Mend a shirt.
Re-arrange the tent,
my second skin, my home.
There�s work to fill the waiting.
The pain from stiffened fingers
Clutching a loom
stops the circling question.
Why has he taken the boy?

Fold up the bed.
It leers at me,
openly empty.
My years, tears, stains
shimmer in its creases.
Fold up the bed.
The memory of the vision
clings to its threads.
I try to erase the dent
where his head wrestled fierce dreams,
then froze in one place near morning.

What do you know of it, Bed?
What icy words was Yahweh dropping in his ear?
His knees buckled, sought mind.
He trembled and clung.
His face hunted my breasts,
seeking warmth like a child.
Did death passing over freeze us together,
one brittle sculpture of two lives?

You know too much, Bed.
I fold your edges in
As I fold my own.
Keep your secrets.
I can wait.

FOURTH DAY

The morning spreads like split wine,
and soaks the thirsty sand of my eyes.
Three dawns met in patience.
With the fourth rises fear.
I have worn a hole in the door flap
Like a small gnawing worm.
Four empty dawns.

I have taken to holding myself.
My arms weary of voids
where a child ought to be.
My arms remember this place,
this arid stretch of no skin but my own.

Abram.
I remember the slow parching years.
Our bodies rasped in the bed,
like withered leaves in a wind.
I held only the moisture of tears.
My salt scorched your touch.
Barren bitterness.
Withered womb.
Your desire for life
shattered my heart.
So I brought you fertile ground.
She who waits on me then waited on you.
And I spread her breeding blanket
with a blessing and a curse.

I had followed you following God
into this barrenness, hoping.
God�s promise rang in your ears.
There was only silence in mine.

Where is my child?

Hush.
Hush.
I lullabye myself.
Remember I wrenched God�s promise before.
I forced a false labor,
a birth out of season.
Across my knees came the offspring
of my shame.
Hagar smiles behind her hand.
The broken promise lurks in Ishmael�s
eyes.

Hush.
Remember.
Spring came to my desert.
My body swelled with a son.
Yahweh broke the silence with a laugh.
The wisdom of old women was undone
by the birth,
the mirth of God.
What was given once can�t be denied�

My womb,
my body clenches in fear.
What does it know?
What does it hid from my mind?
The desert has swallowed them up.
But my body�s preparing to mourn.

What does it mourn for?
Which grief grips my side?
The death of a husband,
The death of a son?
I rip my clothes seeking the answer.

Abram!
Abram!
I am stumbling after your name
Whose life is at stake?
Is it yours?
Is it God�s or my son�s?
Abram!
Don�t finish this journey without me!

SEVENTH DAY

How peacefully it ends.
The sun edges away,
leaving less color, more silence.
My breathing settles with this seventh sun.
My fingers move like honey,
slow, warm, preparing a place to rest.

I have passed the time with a game,
a game of possible ends.
Here is the widow�s drape
slowly woven in the order to tear,
to rend with the violence of grieving.
I would drape it round my neck
at the sight of my son,
coming home without a father.
My son, coming home,
with news of the dead
and grief of the living.

Here, a timbrel,
placed in the hope of the promise,
Placed in faith of the one who had
promised.
A timbrel to shake
When the ridge returned them together.
I hold the timbrel in tears.
I wait to rattle old bones
in a dance of celebration.

Like a virgin I�d run from the tent
to meet them, to greet them
with the awkwardness of an old woman�s joy.
But the silence sings louder than hope.
The dance trickles like sand
through the cracks in my hand,
leaving it empty of all but one thing.

How peacefully it ends.

The knife winks at me, knowing,
Knowing how easy the obvious is.
I delay going for only the sun.
Darkness is the journey of the dead.
The living travel in light.
The seventh sun sealed my eyes.
I will track their footprints
In the dimness of Sheol,
following signs of invisible God.
I am a woman done with waiting.
Not even Jahweh can leave me begin.

(Sarah lifts the knife and then sees in
the distance the figures of Abraham and Isaac.
She lays the knife down, picks up
the timbrel and goes to meet them.)


ENDNOTES

[1] This monologue is part of a longer mystery play: “Testimony,” written by Heather Murray Elkins and published by E.W. Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1989. Published by permission, all rights reserved.

[2] Stage directions are in brackets and italics.

[3] This second monologue, also part of �Testimony,� is a midrash on Genesis 22: 1-3. Published by permission, all rights reserved.