from The Book of Brothers
In the book of brothers, only one
is chosen, only he walks
with father, servants trailing them, to a place
that will be known when it is known, only he is given
to ask of father, when they arrive, the offering, where
is it? (And where, while this defining
story is being written, is his brother?
The story has already
dispensed with him, sent to hunt
for a scripture of his own.)
These brothers between whom
a river widens, from whom
civilizations grow—each with its own
holiness and violence, terror and art—these
brothers, Yishmael, Yitzhak,
a common letter, letter
of God, yud.
Yishmael may be butchering meat
for a feast at the very hour
his father, weeping though obedient-stiff
raises the knife to sacrifice
god for love of god.
Reading it, the book of brothers, the sisters
are by turns amused, appalled, and bored.
Those boys, they think.
To read about themselves, the sisters
turn to the page of blood, they listen to the shuffling
of the deck of cards of the sea. Their hands
know flour, dough, the soles of their feet
know life pushes
up through earth to light.
Through a needle’s eye of letters
the sisters were drawn
into a land, a Torah, not of their making.
The sisters were taught to read
the book, the only book for them,
the book of brothers. And what
is its first letter, its first lesson?
Bet. The letter for bayit. House.
See, they were told, this is your house, enter
and make it home, a home
for your brothers and you.
And the sisters understood.
Until the book of sisters is discovered,
the sisters will read
the book of brothers. Even so, the sisters
grow another way. They are Torah
told in a language
boys will never wholly understand.
In the book of brothers, while one brother ascends
a mountain of fire the other attends
to people below. How easy, he thinks, to know
God when you remove yourself beyond reach
of their cries. My brother, my brother
with his forty-day retreat, he thinks, leaving me
to collect the people’s gold, the Egypt
they clung to when they were dragged
from slavery. Now Aaron makes himself popular
by fashioning a figure to which they can entrust
their survival in this wilderness: a calf.
In time, he understands, they will walk off
their need to be led home by art.
Meanwhile, his brother’s intimacy with god
allows no material value to stand
between truth and man. Even from the start, each brother
claimed a role in working with a people chosen
to be set, for better and worse, apart.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.