Here is the poem I read at the end of my d’var Torah for Parashat Vayechi, the last Torah portion of Genesis, which tells about the end of the Patriarch Jacob’s life. I wrote this poem a few years ago, after finding it impossible to express some thoughts I was having in the more straightforward way. I was trying to get at the way that Jacob’s life seemed to be characterized throughout by the same tension between himself, his brother, and god. In the end, I found myself imagining how this tension might visit him on his deathbed, in a confused reminisence of the various significant moments of his life. The poem is full of references to the biblical narrative, which I hope will be obvious to people familiar with the story.

Jacob Dying

The eyes of old men
grow heavy, every shape
a shadow in overwhelming light,
every shadow bleeding
into its brother.

The twelve around your bed,
a vision of your death
in their eyes, and your eyes
still squeezing the fluid of dreams
from hard shapes: the lion
and the serpent, the shore for ships,
the wolf, and your heart
still bleeding
like a torn cloak.

He was so close
that you could wear his skin,
body tangled in body, suspended
in convulsing darkness, and
the voice, within, beyond,
whispering, shouting: fight! embrace.
And your own heart screaming:
leave me! love me! be me!
And you grabbed his heel
and made him bless you, when
you saw light breaking
on the other side of the canal,
but he would not say his name.

Though once when you were running
you stopped running.
Your head sank like a stone
and through half-opened eyes
you saw: two bodies,
earth and sky, and angels
passing back and forth
like shared blood.

You bowed down seven times
and then you felt him
standing over you.

He was crying
when he knelt and kissed you,
and he told you:
I am with you.
And you woke up
in the house of god.