This is Not a Poem About Leah, Let Alone Zilpah and Bilhah

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Today we revisit work by 2018 The Laurence Goldstein Prize winner Jasmine V. Bailey. Bailey’s poem “This is Not a Poem About Leah, Let Alone Zilpah and Bilhah,” appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of MQR and was selected by Raymond McDaniel.

It’s impossible to disregard the authority in “This Is Not a Poem about Leah, Let Alone Zilpah and Bilhah,” a poem that in relatively little space communicates both ancient, matter-of-fact deliberation and contemporary urgency and immediacy, Jasmine Bailey seems to be drawing from a well so deep that it goes all the way through the earth, starting with what we can be tempted to forget and leaving us at the edge of what we might wish to deny. This poem won’t let us. It’s indelible and irresistible, patient in what it details and furiously resolute in its demands. –Raymond McDaniel

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Then Yaakov kissed Rahel, and lifted up his voice and wept.

            –Genesis 29.11

 

First is the well, before thirst

and after death from thirst.

First the well, then Eve,

the space in Adam’s chest

she’s pulled from on a rope

like an answer unrehearsed.

First is dream; Avraham

the last man God will face awake.

First is a ladder, first

a fight, a gouged hip socket,

and the same God sudden

with promises. First is skin,

which God knows well

for someone with no body,

for a bachelor, for Sheddai.

 

God help us if fourteen years

is not a lot of time to pine,

to work off what we want. It passes

like a summer without a car. Passes

like the skin that once was taut

and now reminds you of an aunt

who never got her man. God

help those who help themselves

to the one good thing in the desert.

And if Rahel dies giving birth

to make you numerous as dust,

there’s a stone for that, and oil

and a hundred years or more

to reconcile your great freedom,

all that silver, your better arm,

to sand.

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To read more, purchase MQR 57:3 or consider a one-year subscription.

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