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End of the beginning


Hard to believe we’re at the end of the first book of the Torah, though I’m delighted that the last reading of the ancestral accounts comes just as we’re ending a calendar year. Coincidence and a nice touch. My poem, “Outside Tapatio’s Bar“, is a true-life tale about endings as well.

This week’s reading, Vayechi, wraps up the Joseph saga nicely. Everyone does okay, more or less, farming in Goshen. After a life self-described as 130 years few and difficult, Jacob is on his death-bed. He meets, then blesses Joseph’s sons Menashe & Ephraim, and moves on to the more difficult task of blessing his own motley crew of kids (it’s really poetry in motion: see it here).

Jacob’s one request is that he be buried with his ancestors.  He is brought to the cave at Machpelah where Abraham & Sarah, et. al. is buried; soon after, Joseph receives a message from his brothers. It’s content? Before he died, your father said to forgive us. The brothers get down on their knees, in tears, and ask for his forgiveness and protection. They actually appear to be both afraid and truly repentant. Joseph assures his next of kin that everything is okay between them. The book of Genesis ends with Joseph’s request that his bones, like his father’s, be brought out of Egypt.

I was particularly interested in what it meant to Jacob and Joseph to be buried in Egypt and why that would be so terrifying. Immigrants – whether willing or unwilling – are almost always buried far away where they were born. They leave their dead behind. Even though I am not an immigrant, I am a migrant to the Mid-west who will likely not be buried with my own parents. This saddens me.

I began with a press clipping from  July 2000 (I save these sorts of things): the beating of a Mexican immigrant in Jennings County, Indiana, rescued before he would have died alone in the woods. I used language from Jacob’s blessings was to describe the man’s tormentors and though I improvised his rescuer’s motives, otherwise the story I tell is accurate: A man alone, far from home, dying and then noticed.

p.s. The poem was first published at Terrain, an on-line literary journal concerned with the natural world. It’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. judith rose permalink
    12/31/2009 2:11 pm

    I’m anticipating failure already. when I tell others what to do; they always seem to listen. However, I seem never to listen to myself and my own resolutions. Outside Tapaticos Bar struck such as cord as January is the month that one of my best friends sons tragically died in an electrical accident at Purdue University; not to be found until March. Three years and still painful. I’m sitting wrapping a present – a ceramic dove – for the parents who are just learning again how to smile and laugh and accept that hope and love still continue as I check out your site.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      12/31/2009 4:10 pm

      Judith – I love this insight: “when I tell others what to do, they always seem to listen. However, I seem never to listen to myself…”. That’s it in a nutshell.

      And I remember when Wade died, how at the time I thought (and still do) that there cannot be anything more heartbreaking for parents than to have a child die young and so far away from home. It is the terrible thing about war and other, less expected, tragedies – coming face to face with how little we can really protect our kids, try as we might.

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