When Isaac entreated the lord, speaking for his wife
because she was barren,
the lord let himself be entreated,
and Rebekah his wife conceived.
In her womb the sons pushed and shoved one another,
and she said, “If this is how it is,
why do I live?” and went to inquire
of the lord.
— Genesis 25:21-22
Rebekah Speaks Her Prophecy
Once this stew is stewed, once it is served and serves,
I could vanish into vapor. I could discharge my sharp scent,
dispel all that has made me watchful, taut.
The wan light of Isaac flickers. I inhale my strength
through his nostrils—the hot game and spice,
man's hunting, man's hunger and his fleshpot, the fragrance
of wild herb chewed tender for Isaac by Esau, his man son.
My life boils in my eyes, a raucous, racing steam.
I stab the pieces of meat, pierce them with the stirring fork.
Yet, as the water slows, seethes into broth, as the chunks
of rump and shoulder soften, so my rage grows quiet,
its end and purpose softening now into form,
for my bridehood was blessed, they blessed me saying,
“You will grow to be thousands, your offspring myriads.”
—I call to Jacob.
There he goes sauntering on his spindly shanks, Jacob, my ninny.
“Hurry,” I cry, “be commanded by my voice, pay attention,
go quickly to the flocks and fetch two kids, choice kids
for me to cook for your father, in the savory style
your father craves. Quickly,
before your brother returns with his game; you
must be the son to take him his meat, so that you, Jacob,
will be blessed with your father's blessing.”
A bold thought it was. For Jacob was slow
to rouse to it, Jacob lolling in pursuit. And I,
what have I known of game and spices, the two kinds of goat,
the black cumin, the mustard leaves.
Only my long watching from the dark of the dwelling tent,
searching out the men at their cook fires, studying
their long gazes as they stand over the piquant stew
that haste will ruin, for the meat and the pungency
ripen only with time and practiced tending.
“Jacob, quickly” For your brother bounded
to the chase, Esau nimble on the crag,
he whose foot but reaches its foothold and the goats leap
to his arrows, as your father's trembling chin and slathering jaw
leap to the hot juices he pants after, Isaac's quavering mouth
that opens wide and steady for Esau's meat,
for the seasoned broth,
the greens melted in broth and coriander.
I listened, and I caught them in their old ways.
Esau and his father, Isaac waxen and cold--how he lives on,
outlasts his age, specter not yet spirit,
not yet blown into distance like smoke that rises
from the fire, grows feebler, thins
until it vanishes utterly;
Isaac pants again for spiced food biting to the tongue,
wild meat that only a rough-hewn man,
sure-footed Esau, can slay and season
and coddle in the fleshpot.
I must slow the hot steam, damp the fire--the steam pushes
up at me, blinds me, as if a cloud of hot dust choked my sight.
A blindness forming fruit for the inner eye, fruit
of these long years dry as the autumn grasses, fruit of silence, shadows;
now I see the fruit, what the lord foretold:
“Two nations are in your womb;
two separate peoples shall come from you;
one shall be mightier than the other,
and the older shall serve the younger.”
In my father's house, the house of Betuel,
Betuel born of Milcah to Nahor,
I pictured in my mind the flocks of Isaac, son of Abraham.
I pictured him, my husband, a man of affairs.
I saw him standing tall among his flocks, among the dwellings
of servants, among the strangers who would sit
at the bounty of Isaac, where I
would grant hospitality, speak graciously and satisfy them.
I saw my proud journey, saw myself approaching my bridegroom
in the lateness of the day, my skin oiled and fragrant,
my hair wound, my bracelets chiming.
His eyes would search for me, he would spring
with the step of the antelope, his voice
would sound like the ram's horn; then, in the cool of his tent,
his voice would murmur like a stream in the hills of evening.
I saw all this, I, prized among women in my father's house,
I, Milcah's son's daughter, daughter of Betuel the Arami,
favored in the city of Paddan-Aram: I could not number
my coming days of joy and plenty.
These were the visions that visited me when the stranger came,
the servant of Abraham seeking a bride for his master's son,
for the son of Abraham brother of Nahor, a bride
for the princely son of Abraham of Canaan, a wanderer wealthy
in flocks, who sent his servant in the protection of the God of Abraham
to win Betuel's daughter with woven garments,
and jewelry of silver and of gold, who sent his messenger
to place the weighty ring upon her nose. And I assented,
I set out with great promise and blessing.
My heart was lulled by the lure of evening.
I had ridden the long day of heat on the swaying camel,
I was dizzy with the haste of my guide, my husband's servant,
who hurried to exult in his triumph,
to proclaim himself the instrument of the God of Abraham.
As I rode at evening with the servant, with my nurse and my maids,
a retinue fitting the daughter of Betuel, bride of a prince
in Canaan, I spied not far a man sitting in the field.
I had never known so piteous a man, a man hollowed, thinned.
His gaze was fixed in the distance, he did not stir
at the thumping of the camels, the journey song of the women,
his sense was elsewhere, not upon our triumphal, weary clattering.
Abraham's servant stayed his camel; I thought,
it is their custom to honor the poor and the humble,
I said to myself that Abraham's servant
stayed his camel to give heart, give alms, to this wasted man
shrouded in the brown thin robe.
And I got down from my camel saying I would walk
in the ways of Abraham, I would go to him
and give alms, proclaim my notice of all
in Abraham's care. And I stopped to question the servant
concerning the strangeness of the man,
how it was that he sat so at evening in the field
when the men of a camp milk their goats
or build the cook fire. And the man rose
and walked toward us, and then my heart knew fear,
my heart was a kid's, when the master
who approaches each day to lead it out to water
comes one morning and draws from his robe the bright blade
that glints in the sunlight and the goat knows
the goat knows then
that this world will suddenly cease.
And the servant spoke the words my heart had just learned:
“It is my master.”
Therefore I took my veil and covered myself.
Then the servant spoke with his master
words I could not hear, words I did not ask to know.
I stood as the evening darkened
and cooled. I was cold with a fear so cold
I knew it would never leave me. Isaac,
a specter in the darkening field.
The servant held firm his arm as they spoke,
lest the trembling grow wilder, and I saw--my mind scarcely knowing
how the eyes could see, how the mind could know
in the absence of my heart, in the cold of my heart--
that the trembling in the man stilled and that Isaac
was turning to come toward me.
In his tent a woman had dwelled, an old woman.
There were the dark robes, the jars, the mat,
the dwelling of Sarah. I learned how Isaac
was with Sarah, and Sarah with Isaac. I wept.
Isaac drew me to him, but no speech came.
See, my right arm reaches to Efraim;
my woman's arm, not armed,
but sure in its direction; now may I rest;
Efraim is counted among my seed,
numerous as the stars will he be.
“You, Jacob, man of solid mind,
my instrument. Listen to my voice,
understand it. Take these garments,
Esau's careless hides, quickly,
drape them on you, fit them to you,
and cover your smooth neck,
fit your voice to your brother Esau's,
lest your father know he is deceived.”
Thus Jacob wore the burden of Esau, wide garments of skins,
and Jacob went as I instructed him, acknowledging the right
in what I said, that otherwise all would be for nothing.
He took the savory dish with bread and drink to his father Isaac.
And Isaac in his dimness was sharp to what he craved;
he smelled the stew, he embraced his son's garments,
eager for his pleasure; he caressed his son's cheeks
even as he heard a voice that was not the voice
his ear longed for at the end of his old age.
Isaac hungered for his first son,
to bless him the blessing that Jacob came to speak for.
I listened, and I knew fear,
for Isaac's love was with him,
to sharpen his senses like the knife of slaughter,
to whisper him the knowledge
that in his nostrils blew a foreign savor.
Jacob began, saying, with fine speech his brother
would have scorned, “I am Esau your firstborn,
I have fulfilled the request that you made of me;
therefore, sit up now, I pray you, and eat of my game,
that your soul may bless me.”
And Isaac doubted, asked how it was
that Esau came so quickly with meat prepared of game.
And Jacob supplied answer, upon which his father
should confer faithful blessing:
“Because the lord your God
put it before me.”
And still Isaac held himself off, saying,
“Come near that I may feel you, whether or not
you really are my son Esau,“ and he felt,
and the covered hands were of Esau, though the voice,
steady and even, was of Jacob.
But Isaac was weak,
and he hungered for the meat, panted to taste
what he breathed, and he blessed his son,
blessed the smell of his garments, saying,
“See, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field which the lord has blessed,
therefore let the lord bless you in the dew of heaven
and fatness of the earth. Be lord over your brothers,
and let your mother's sons bow down to you.”
And I knew that Isaac sowed his blessing to be a curse
on Jacob, son of my choosing, and I rejoiced
that I had turned the curse
from Jacob thus forever.
I listened as Jacob left him.
And Esau came then, and Isaac knew he was deceived.
Isaac trembled, in his rage and in his fear, lamenting,
“Your brother came with cunning and has taken your blessing.”
And when Esau wept, I hardened my heart for my deed,
knowing the promise I had brought to pass. Still
Isaac moaned and grieved,
but comforted his wide-shouldered son saying,
“Yes, you must serve your brother,
but one day it will come to pass
that you will break his yoke from off your neck.“
And I feared then for Jacob. I bade him flee,
bade him run from the wrath of the brother
whose heart was swollen.
And Jacob took himself to the house of Betuel,
to the house of Nahor, home of my longing,
until the years would pass.
See how my son Jacob concludes his days.
Jacob lies near blind as Joseph brings to him his own sons.
Joseph brings Manasseh and Efraim, elder and younger,
first and second sons. And Efraim the younger
is at Joseph's lesser hand, the left. Joseph stands
facing his father dim with age.
Joseph, governor of Egypt.
And Joseph understands the right, the elder is at his right.
But Jacob forgets how these things stand; his right
is the right. He blesses to his right, blesses first
the second son. Or Jacob knows more than he knows,
remembers the slant of his birthright,
the twist of his father's blessing.
“Bring forth Efraim,” he repeats, “truly
the younger shall be the greater.” An old man
holding what he must remember.
And he makes his portions one the more, Joseph
is twice counted, Efraim and Manasseh
are twelve and thirteen.
Steady is my son Jacob, with my direction.
His rule and order hold.
The fire is cold. Jacob is fled.
By my temptation I am redeemed.
I will be gathered
into the house of Abraham, I will lie in Machpelah
in the plain near Mamre. And it will come to pass
that Joseph's sons will carry his bones from Egypt.
What is further I cannot see. What I have watched,
what I have readied, the lord has promised to keep forever.
Naomi Myrvaagnes, © 1993