Abraham and Sarah at the Oaks of Mamre

“And the Lord appeared to Abraham at the door of his tent in the heat of the day . . . three men stood before him, and he ran to meet them and bowed himself and said, ‘My lord, do not pass by your servant’ . . . . Then he took curds and milk, and the calf he had prepared, and set it before them. One of them said, ‘I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son’” (from Gen. 18:1-9).

Turn in to me, my lords,
And rest yourselves at noon,
Draw under my pavillion by the well
And let your servant’s bread be yours.
The saying means ‘Safety here,
And hospitality,’
A sacred thing, for who knows?–angels may call.

Sit down, friends, we’ll swap our news and stories, Have cheese and raisins,
Quote favorite lines,
And bless ourselves in pouring out libations.
We’ll have hot bread and roasted calf.
Let our minds at play
Entwine in pungent words and tastes and quenching drafts. Let the talk draw on and swell
Till sounding human ripples fill the air
With thrust and parry, merriment,
And gleanings of affection.

Now the talk at Mamre turns to baby-making, Who does it well or doesn’t–
‘Softly now, shh!–
The women mustn’t overhear
Our tips and tales,
But I’m telling you, try that,
And this time next year when we come by,
I say your wife will have a child.’

From the kitchen tent a laugh breaks out– Me?!
Years out from any blood
Of women’s way across my thighs? It’s long since I kissed the bellies
Of my household Holy Things for luck. ‘All right, my lords out there,
I hear it.
No, no. I didn’t laugh at you–
It was my scullery girl,
Her antics had me tickled.

Say on, my lords, [no stanza]
Ply your talk of bargains, boons, and blessings– Let it be if Yah may grant,
Fear not me–I’m ready.
This time next year turn in to us, my lords,
And rest yourselves at noon.’

A Late Pregnancy—Divine Creativity

A scholar–a specialist in Latin and Greek and ancient goddess cults–went to her doctor one day. She was puzzled over not feeling well. At age forty-seven she was jolly well balanced and unusually healthy. When not working she rode horses, swam laps, played the piano beautifully for relaxation, traveled to digs and did archaeology. Now, a few years into a marriage that had surprised her friends (after her long single life), she had to hear shocking news. She was pregnant. She was not just pregnant, she was carrying twins.

She and her husband went into gear, reshaping their life. An ex-academic and house repairs contractor, he got ready to be a half-time house husband and began remodeling a room for the babies. Her friends were charmed and rallied round, bringing baby clothes and cases of formula, teasing her, taking her swimming in her mountainous state the last weeks before the birth. Her mother was embarrassed—didn’t only working-class people go through with such late pregnancies?

The scholar wanted a natural delivery, but after three nights and two days of labor agreed to a Caesarian section. The babies developed jaundice and needed alarming care. Her milk supply was short and needed more supplementing with formula than she had wanted. But finally, there they were, home. Instant family. A boy looking amazingly like his father, with plump cheeks and a wide head, and a much smaller girl looking quite like her mother, soon with a near-classic nose more formed than any baby’s nose had a right to be.

What unlikely children. Will their descendants be as numerous as the stars in the sky?

My husband and I went to dinner one evening at a poet’s place in Sacramento, a loft apartment surrounded by treetops in a neighborhood of Victorian houses. The murder rate here is known to be high. We weren’t so comfortable parking the car at night and getting out.

As we ate, the talk turned to family lines, and we traded stories. One person’s family was Irish, but her grandmother had long kept secret who was the biological father of her first child, our friend’s father. Just before her death the grandmother said it was a Choctaw Indian that she’d met as a teenager. But she’d kept no contact with him. Another person told of her Jewish paternal grandfather, early divorced from her grandmother, and likewise kept out of her childhood by her mother’s family. My own maternal grandfather had been a late child of an aging couple, the second marriage for his father; he became a failed Baptist preacher (non-active), who liked whiskey and horse-racing–asthmatic, unfunded, finally married to a wife older than he, who was over forty when she had my mother. My husband’s maternal grandmother had married shockingly young in middle-class Danzig, and had a baby right away; then two years later at twenty-two she died of a congenital heart defect.

A pause came over the conversation, and someone said, “None of us should exist. . . But out of all that came these fine people, sitting in this leafy apartment having dinner!”