The Book of Genesis provides many opportunities for literary creation. As a poet, I keep returning to it for ideas and themes. I tend to view its events as part of a complex mythos that predates Christianity by millennia, yet also represents an interpretation of creation as viewed by the Old Testament/Torah authors – more intuitive than analytical, but still compelling. The Word figures prominently in this narrative, not to mention in the New Testament, and in Greek The Word is Λόγος or logos – Logic, Reason. I approach Genesis from a metaphorical and symbolical perspective rather than as a literal text, yet the process of creation itself appears to be vaguely parallel to what actually must have happened, albeit with certain artistic liberties. It does have its inherent logic. The primary issue is in the exact details and, of course, the time frame. There’s a certain progression from formless void to a coalescing planet, the appearance of water and an atmosphere, the rise of marine creatures, vascular plants, land animals with birds, then homo sapiens – appearing quite late in the sequence. The creatures of Eden that existed in this period were already there when Adam showed up. He was asked to name them, in fact. Needless to say, he did not have to identify the extinct ones since they were already gone. But I digress (as usual).
Being a woman, I have long resented the burdens placed upon my gender by those who see Eve as some sort of original sinner – regardless of Adam’s own role in this particular transgression. I, personally, understand why she reached for that pomegranate*. She was consumed by curiosity and a hunger to know things. As the verb sciare means “to know”, it is not a stretch to consider Eve as the first scientist on the planet. She was willing to overlook the serpent’s rather sinister appearance, although she may have instinctively distrusted it, in order to learn. The pursuit of learning often comes at a considerable price, after all. Many have since died for it. Discovery is often tied to great personal risk.
These intellectual qualities were part of Eve’s composition from the outset. Therefore, I have to assume that God fully expected her to go after enlightenment and orchestrated her “fall” to make it look like deliberate defiance on her part. He didn’t give Adam that kind of drive toward understanding. It seems rather clever of Him to force Eve’s hand by forbidding her to even think about that Tree of Knowledge. As He had made this pair as childlike beings in adult bodies, He probably anticipated the next step. A child will inevitably push the limits and grab whatever he or she has been told not to touch. Any parent is well aware of this fact. If this sounds like determinism as opposed to free will … yes, it probably is. Free will might not have been as important in the beginning as it has become in later ages. First, humanity had to evolve somehow and survive the process.
In the end, Eve’s actions quite conveniently resulted in the punishment of childbearing. The world needed to be populated, after all. God could simply have erased her and used another rib. But He chose not to do so. Eden was undoubtedly a glorious place but, as Robert Frost has noted in a poem by the same title, “Nothing gold can stay.” Maybe it was never designed to last forever. But coupled with Eve’s newly-assigned physical pain was an intense emotional bonding to her baby. Most mothers would probably view this as a fair exchange.
At any rate, I write a fair bit of “Eden Poetry”. I’m including two samples below, with accompanying photos. If you tend to hold the fundamentalist and literal view of Genesis or Biblical history in general, my blog will possibly not be to your liking. I tend to wrestle with metaphysical issues that make people uncomfortable – not always, but occasionally. No apologies, however. God and/or Goddess (I can’t associate either sex with such a remote and incomprehensible being) gave me an imagination and meant for me to use it.
On to the poems …
*Note – Since apples were unknown in the region where Eden is said to have existed, but pomegranates were native to that area, most historians now believe that “apple” is a faulty translation for a fruit that looks quite similar, in that both are red, round, juicy and seed-bearing.
He tightens himself into his branches,
rustles their leaves only a little –
yellow hearts, he notices. Jigging
lightly in a late-harvest shower.
But he cannot name the tree, although
he knows it has one. Everything
is named, but fading like himself.
Memories wrap around and around,
tendrils without the strength
to cling harder or vine wilder.
He has chosen carefully his lure,
red ripeness and high sweet notes
like a descant above the darker alto
of this abandoned garden.
Blemished, certainly, but some
imperfections grow their own hooks.
He has set himself above her,
runs his tongue over the last
of his teeth as she steps without
questioning this path made for her.
She scents the grass with musk –
resonant as these autumn apples –
and scans the hedges for spies
among their thorns. He looks down,
deeper than the already shadows.
She has been here forever.
Only the coyotes are evil, but
they hold music in their voices
so she accepts them as necessary.
Shrinking light limns her
with a brief aureole. Her gaze
lifts toward him, mandorla-eyes
centered with sun points.
The odour of their temptation
wreathes them – his locked arms,
her eagerness. She stretches
her neck; he remembers a swan
dropping from the blank sky
with arrows in its breast.
He slides out his instrument:
that weapon hidden in his head –
less merciful now, primed
with all the failed chases strung
from his neck. Beads shaped
like every sorrow in the world.
He understands he is not beautiful,
so cruelty must be sufficient.
He owns this forked seat
of both cunning and disaster.
When she finally eats, he blinks
with sudden regret. As if his vision
shows only part truth. As if her
innocence trumps everything
he believes about himself.
I am your God, he whispers then.
For once, I get to decide.
But no tremor shakes the quiet.
Because nobody cares what he says.
She is listening to the wind. He strains
toward her, so elastic now. So cocksure.
He will give her one chance. Yet she
stands unafraid, the juice of his sin
leaking from her mouth. No hand
out of the holy air will drag her
away from this place of atonement.
This lost orchard, where ruined fruit
offers her all its power. Where
nothing else wonders what its name is.
And everything depends on the fall.
He is quick as any striking asp, but
still winces at the recoil that rattles
trunk, earth, even the dusk itself.
A birdwing flurry rises above him.
He wishes he could take it all back.
But she is lost to him now,
vanished into her new awareness.
He stoops to stroke her, draws
away from the up-and-down saw
of her ribs dying under his touch.
She has put on mortality – lies
here in mud and damnation.
Night pools around her like blood
under an old and broken bough.
Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011 – all rights reserved
from Tipping the Sacred Cow, Fortunate Childe Publications, 2011; reprinted in Wingflash, Pink Petticoat Press, 2011
In the Beginning
Our mothers taught us too well
to fear the snake, bringer of a cry
under the knife, a cutting, the mangled
cord that loops us to a single loss,
one night when we forgot
to be wary. The rind stretches,
In this blackberry meadow
we gather – we women who hold
that same pomegranate
the serpent offers, month after month,
year upon bloody year, until its lure
gleams flat as a mirror, raised
for us to bear witness.
Here, then, are its red-jellied ova
in their five hundred cradles: this,
a sea-maid with war under her fists;
this, a dust orphan who believes
only that each road leads
to some new sorrow.
There, tumbling downriver,
a firstborn son grasps his own
ankles, jellyfishes on the current.
And there, a buttercup lass
without voice refuses to curse
her creator. She does not recognize
a bribe when it dangles in front
of her hand. The swollen skin is fruit –
nothing more. She wrinkles it
into the dirt.
We limp toward our dry age,
when every kernel is blown and gone.
I throw off my heavy scarf
dividing skull from spine. Thought
has become acceptable. I am
no longer forbidden to jackknife
questions for my enemy
in a round-bark trunk. Nothing
grows inside me any more.
The Garden temptress hums sweet
as a harp – she, who has tricked
us from the beginning. Her secret
teeth fill a gourd with droplets
of juice. Its neck juts firm,
the last man-thing in paradise.
The false adder hangs her trap
on a thorn. Insects jostle each other.
Come, you are not too late.
Flies’ wings click-zip together
like angel bones.
She could have bitten Eve
instead of feeding her. She has never
shared a bond with Adam, the lust
that urges every poor girl to damn
herself. Now she relives that choice,
over and over, having no legs
to walk away from it. We are all too late,
but she understands.
We watch her tend the tree, cultivate
its next crop – wisdom and illusion.
Apples for fools. Pomegranates for the rest,
who should know better. She lacks
interest in us now.
Then we leave her there and follow
the flowless rivers out of Eden,
where beheaded grasses shake and mourn.
She has taken our wombs before
letting us go. No rapture can ever enter us
by that path again. The gate rings
as it closes.
Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011 – all rights reserved
First published on IBPC, Web del Sol (October 2011)