While Abraham binds his son’s hands,
loads sticks on his chest, while he raises
his knife skyward and looks to the heavens,
while Isaac, obedient to his father,
lies still on the jury-rigged altar,
watching the knife as if the knife
were his real father, while flies swirl
around Abraham’s head,
and birds of prey circle above,
while an angel descends, touches
Abraham on the shoulder,
and their eyes meet for an eternity,
a ram, caught in the thicket, bleats.
Now the angel restrains Abraham,
whose haggard face is haunted by God,
haunted by the ghost of the deed he has yet
to commit. Is it necessary to sacrifice
his son? he doesn’t ask. The covenant
hangs in the air. A nation will be born
from grains of sand, from stars. Peace
will come only through violence,
through war, through sacrifice.
The flies fling themselves furiously
at his face. The circle of predators
grows, their calls threats.
The angel disappears into waves
of heat. Though Abraham walks
to the thicket, Isaac doesn’t move,
in his mind the dagger tip
still pointed at his heart.
Abraham frees the ram from the thicket,
returns with the animal in his arms.
Now his son won’t die alone.
Jeff Friedman’s sixth collection of poetry, Pretenders, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2014. His poems, mini stories, and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, 5 AM, Agni Online, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Solstice, Antioch Review, Quick Fiction, New England Review, 100-Word Story, Per Contra, New England Review Digital, Sentence, North American Review, Boulevard, Missouri Review, Big Bridge, Storyscape, Anthem, Vestal Review, and The New Republic.