The boy clung to his father’s cloak like mud.
For it was the feast, and Hajar was at work
Toiling over the pots and staying out
Of Sarai’s way. The embittered crone hated her
And hated too the boy, the apple
Of Abram’s eye, the son she couldn’t bear.
Hajar was young, and she was beautiful,
Most beautiful among the lambs, he said,
Most beautiful of those he chose to bed.
Rounding a thicket, Abram spied a ram–
‘Father’, said Ismail, ‘Our God is great’.
‘Great yes’, the father said, ‘but never sate–
This year he asks still more of us than rams.’
The old man touched Ismail’s hair and sighed.
‘For what is given, so much is required!’
But Ismail knew the old man’s moods and that
Sometimes he heard voices sounding in his ears,
And that this madness was upon him now.
‘Abba’, he said. ‘You hear the voice again?
It is Sarah’s voice–not God’s –who hates me more
Than Philistines, than Canaanites and snakes–
And curses me and shakes her knotty hand
And beats my mother when you cannot see.’
‘This time, said Abram again,’God requires much more.
Lie down my child, our sacrifice is near.’
The boy leant against a rock and found it soft.
He did not see his father draw the knife
From out its sheath or circle it towards heaven
(As the laws of sacrifice require). He slipped
A rope around the filial wrists
Another round his ankles, jerked them tight
And woke the boy. ‘Abba, by God, what will you do?’ he cried.
Abraham danced in circles, spanned
Ismail’s face with his ancient hand and sang
‘Our God is great, and God demands your blood.
O my son, O Ismail. my only dearest son,’
And brought the knife plumb leftward
Against the boy’s pale throat, from left
To right, one slice would do the trick:
Ismail dead (imagine) God satisfied at last,
And Sarah full of joy to get the news.
But then awakening from his deathly trance
Abram heard the voice as what it was:
Not God’s command but Sarah’s jealous plea
‘Kill him, kill Ismail, kill Hajar too–for me’.