Article Toolbar


Abraham Midrash

by Bert Stern

Bert Stern: Writing His Own Book

Sidebar: A Little Poem

Email Bert Stern

braham splits wood while the boy stands by,
restless, shifting his feet, looking this way and that.
The old man swings his ax and tries not to think.
God promised everything. Only walk before me
and be perfect, he had asked. Now perfection rests
in killing this boy, the hilarious surprise
of Sarai's old age and his own. The air's on fire
and the old man trembles and chokes,
but he swings his ax, again, again, into the ready pine.
When he's done he stacks the wood in the arms
stretched out to him. Himself, he grasps a burning brand

and his knife, and they climb. Halfway up the goat path
the boy wonders and asks: the fire we have,
and the wood, and the bright knife in your hand,
but where is the lamb for the offering? Even after
the old man ties him to the altar they built there,
even when the father ties him there on the wood
laid out for the fire, even when the aged father
raises his right arm to plunge the knife into the boy's breast,
the absurdity of this makes it impossible, because God
can't want it, yet He makes the old man bend
to blind necessity, so that, though the angel

comes now, in the flashing of the blade,
and the ram caught by his horns in a thicket
for Abraham to take up instead of his son,
it is too late already, the old man has killed the boy
in his heart, and though later he is fruitful and multiplies,
and knows great mercy and lovingkindness, Abraham
walks bent by the teaching the Lord smote him with
under stark skies, at the crude altar on a mountain,
the knife raised, the cascading weight of everything
already falling, crushing him, to leave him broken there,
complete and alone, in the catastrophe of perfection.