It was Joseph, as the man in
authority over the whole
country, who sold the grain
to all comers.
— Genesis 42:6

Unlike my father,
I knew what was coming.

When my chief tormentor
told me of his visions —
seven fat, seven lean,
seven sleek, seven hungry —
I knew there would be
more years.

Just like for father,
there would be labour
by expectation and hope.
There would be
more mortified by broken promises
and exhausted land.

But again, thanks to dreaming,
I was able to plan . . .

and when my brothers came to visit
I knew just what to do.



Favoured, I was barren
while she
bled life.

pleading, kissing
a father’s hardened hand,
like lips on coals,

I opened;
with life
and prayer,

watching soft faces
turn rough with whiskers;
a father’s fashioned colours
smeared with blood.

[For Daphne Abraham]



Daniel Seiter, The Sacrifice of Isaac, c. 1690

          Abraham went and took the
ram, and offered him up for
a burnt offering in the stead
of his son.
— Genesis 22:14

How could he know
the smile to give me?
But he did — he must have —
and chose to hold it from me.

You would think it was conflict
that kept him silent,
but conflict cannot
conspire in certainty.

Father was certain:
I was to be spared,
but I would be taken
by his own grey-knuckled,
resolute hand.

Even now
I like to think
he was climbing
just to clear his head,
keeping silent and binding me
just to prove his point,
raising the knife
in symbolic devotion.

But he knew — he must have —
that he would do it,

clean the knife with his tears,
and cautiously guide the donkey
back down
in the dying light.

[For Fraser J. Abraham]



Mathias Stom, Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham, first half of the 17th century.

          And Sarah said, God hath
made me to laugh, so that all
that hear will laugh with me.
— Genesis 21:6

From the beginning, your hands
are eyes
out of darkness,

your fingers fragile lashes
brushing over palms
of vision, tipped
with teardrop nails.

Sarah, in the darkness,
open your hands
to the sky
and know

they can hold everything:
all that you see is yours.

When we hear you laughing,
we’ll know what
we share.

[For Sarah Bridget MacLeod]



Jan MatsysLot and His Daughters, 1565.

          Listen, I have two daughters
who are virgins.
— Genesis 19:8

It was my great uncle
who reasoned with Him.

“Don’t,” he pleaded,
“Sometimes the guilty
and the innocent look the same . . .
sometimes we can’t even
tell the difference.”

“Perhaps you’re right,”
was the answer,
“Find Me the fifty,
the forty,
the ten,
and all will be forgiven.”

But when the angels came
to my father, the evidence
had not been collected.

Father was frightened when
the guilty gathered in the doorway,
clamouring for the angels’ blood
and asking to be blinded.

And yet, it was hatred,
not fatherly love,
that spared my sister and I;
it was the wicked,
not the just,
who refused our blood.

And later, when Mother
had turned to stone and
Father was blind with drink,
it was

the righteous man
who found his way to our beds,

swelling our bellies
with children to
rebuild the cities.



The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré (1865)

          Come, let us go down and
confuse their language on
the spot so that they can no
longer understand one an-
— Genesis 11:7

His face looked the same —
almost as if he didn’t really mean it —
but what he said
made no sense at all.

It was our idea,
all of ours,
one that only required
labour to fulfill.
Common purpose had been taken
for granted.

But when he looked at me
so plaintively and began his
blaspheming gibberish, I used my hands
to squeeze him silent,
knowing my god was no longer his.

How could we know
there was still only One?


          Never again will I curse the
earth because of man, be-
cause his heart contrives evil
from his infancy.
— Genesis 8:21

the land again
bleeds the tasteless
tears of infancy.

This morning,
at last in declining shadows,
recovers shape in
the liquefied blending
of orange and green.

This day,
still possible,
expands its fragile lungs
and weeps
the diminishing jewels
of clarity
briefly gleaming.

stretching weary
and forgetful
beneath our daily shrouds,
we will pray only
for a world with
the dew still on it.

[for Nada Nubani]



Ivan Ksenofontov. The Damnation of Ham

          He shall be his brothers’
meanest slave.
— Genesis 9:25

I walked in,
and there he was: confused,
loaded again,
tipping the bottle
like a sentinel trumpet.

Not that there was any blame.
It was dark and it had
been raining for weeks.
The grey placed sand
under my skin.
The lack of sun
gave me
a whole new colour.

I don’t know why he stripped —
maybe his clothes were soiled,
maybe the wine made him hot —
but there he was,
in all his greying glory.
I had to call my brothers
to help me clean him up.

Just like before,
he started to rage:
screaming that
his no-good sons
shouldn’t look at him that way.

My brothers turned their backs
as I tried to calm him down.

I scrubbed him,
cleaned his clothes,
brought him food and water
to settle his stomach and
clear his head.

And that’s how it started:

when he woke,
his head splitting,
all he could remember was
fighting and rage.