IN THE SAME KEY
They come together to bury their father
in the cave where Sarah's body lies.
(No one imagines the vaulted church
turned mosque with painted ceilings
or the synagogue, or metal detectors
to keep armed men from getting through.)
Isaac and Ishmael wash him with water
and sprinkle sand on his eyelids
so his visions in the world to come
will derive from the land he loved.
Isaac's memories of having a brother
and then losing him without explanation
Ishmael's memories of aching thirst
before his mother saw the spring
go unmentioned, the bones of their past
buried beneath the drifting sands.
Outside the cave the women wail
two families grieving in the same key
not yet the ancestors of enemies
Abraham's dark eyes in every face.
This week's portion, Chayyei Sarah, begins with the death of Sarah. Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah in Hebron in order to bury his wife there. At the end of the portion, Abraham himself dies and is buried in that same cave by his sons.
Atop the cave of Machpelah, a church was built. That church later became a mosque, which now shares the building with a synagogue -- though Jews are not technically allowed to visit the mosque (nor non-Jews to visit the synagogue) since the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.The visit to that space continues to resonate in me, and is at the heart of this week's Torah poem.
This poem let me imagine Isaac and Ishmael coming together to bury their father. It's poignant enough simply as a story of sons experiencing loss. When I overlay that with the knowledge of how history would play out between Ishmael and Isaac's descendants, it becomes even more powerful for me. When you read this story, what do you imagine?
Edited to add: this poem is now available in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2011; it also appears in Before There Is Nowhere to Stand, Lost Horse Press, 2012.