Wrestling, names, and shipwrecks). Jacob / Yaakov wrestled all night with a messenger (of God, or angel) while crossing the Jabbok / Yabok river. In Hebrew and English, the two names are variations of each other, transposing consonants. The messenger gives him a new name, Israel / Yisrael as the sun rises (Genesis 32:22-31). I’m not sure that I can fully explain what that means. That’s why I have poetry. Here are two poems I have written about Jacob at the crossing of the Jabbok ford.
They’ve all gone ahead, those I loved,
those I cared for but did not love—
arrayed and ranked, walking toward doom
or reunion. This bank, this river I have crossed before—
this creek, this life, this wreck on this shore—
all too familiar, all too fresh, all too unknown, all too new.
Now a shadow over the moon, or
perhaps my own doubt
forms as I ford the stream.
Now I wrestle with myself,
with this messenger,
this something of nothingness.
Now the moon fades—
darkness less dark—
what is my name?
Now I limp away
from this tangled life
of deception and counter-deception—
to losses, deaths, uncertainty,
a favorite son sold to the gypsies—
Who will redeem us?
Soon my brother and I will embrace
but keep our defended distance.
Soon nothing will be the same.
Now, I wrestle with God.
Originally published in Voices Israel 2009: Poetry from Israel and Abroad.
Jacob wrestling with the angel
I didn’t notice you come up. It’s so dark.
Look at the river, though, a darker strain beneath
this evening’s melody, flowing against the harmony.
Perhaps you won’t believe me, but God has spoken to me.
He sent me here, on the journey, to this river. I must cross.
But I don’t want to. On the other side, reckoning. Maybe death.
Odd, how we will tell strangers things we wouldn’t tell
our closest friends. Not that I have had that many friends.
As you stare at me, I feel that you understand, though.
See over there, across the river? That direction is the direction
I must travel. I’ve already sent the others ahead. Made offerings,
sent gifts. A man grows lonely in a foreign land. That direction,
that direction I must travel, that direction is home.
How far are you from home? Your silence doesn’t surprise me.
I’ve kept to myself, too, not told the whole story.
I had to keep silent when I wore goat skin to fool the old man.
He took me for another, gave my brother’s blessing.
I don’t suppose you know what that feels like, to betray a brother?
Why do you remain silent? Well, you also remain here, listening.
I will continue. My brother liked to play rough when we were young.
As we grew up, he would hunt, ride, spend his time out of doors.
I studied, read. I was pale, he ruddy. I wasn’t really a sissy,
well, now you can see, I have grown strong, worked hard,
made something of myself. Back then, I guess you wouldn’t know
that I would do so well. That must be why I went along with my mother,
when she suggested the plan to cheat my brother. Well, I can’t blame
her, can I? I mean, she might have told me what to do,
but I did it. Besides, I was the one who made the stew, red with spices.
Anyway, after our father gave me the inheritance
instead of my brother, well then I figured there would be hell to pay.
So I left.
What’s that you say? Yes, it is growing light. You must go?
Work to do, you say? Oh. Well, now that you’ve heard my story,
even if you are a stranger, won’t you give me your blessing?
Are you sure you won’t tell me your name? What’s that? Oh,
I’m Jacob, the Usurper. What’s that you say?
You have another name for me?
All work ©Michael Dickel
Fragmentarily/ Meta-Phor(e) /Play (Michael’s blog).