2 comments on “Jacob wrestling with his angel

  1. dmf says:

    Book of Isaiah
    By Anne Carson

    Isaiah awoke angry.

    Lapping at Isaiah’s ears black birdsong no it was anger.

    God had filled Isaiah’s ears with stingers.

    Once God and Isaiah were friends.

    God and Isaiah used to converse nightly, Isaiah would rush into the garden.

    They conversed under the Branch, night streamed down.

    From the sole of the foot to the head God would make Isaiah ring.

    Isaiah had loved God and now his love was turned to pain.

    Isaiah wanted a name for the pain, he called it sin.

    Now Isaiah was a man who believed he was a nation.

    Isaiah called the nation Judah and the sin Judah’s condition.

    Inside Isaiah God saw the worldsheet burning.

    Isaiah and God saw things differently, I can only tell you their actions.

    Isaiah addressed the nation.

    Man’s brittleness! cried Isaiah.

    The nation stirred in its husk and slept again.

    Two slabs of bloody meat lay folded on its eyes like wings.

    Like a hard glossy painting the nation slept.

    Who can invent a new fear?

    Yet I have invented sin, thought Isaiah, running his hand over the knobs.

    And then, because of a great attraction between them—

    which Isaiah fought (for and against) for the rest of his life—

    God shattered Isaiah’s indifference.

    God washed Isaiah’s hair in fire.

    God took the stay.

    From beneath its meat wings the nation listened.

    You, said Isaiah.

    No answer.

    I cannot hear you, Isaiah spoke again under the Branch.

    Light bleached open the night camera.

    God arrived.

    God smashed Isaiah like glass through every socket of his nation.

    Liar! said God.

    Isaiah put his hands on his coat, he put his hand on his face.

    Isaiah is a small man, said Isaiah, but no liar.

    God paused.

    And so that was their contract.

    Brittle on both sides, no lying.

    Isaiah’s wife came to the doorway, the doorposts had moved.

    What’s that sound? said Isaiah’s wife.

    The fear of the Lord, said Isaiah.

    He grinned in the dark, she went back inside.


    There is a kind of pressure in humans to take whatever is most beloved by them
    and smash it.

    Religion calls the pressure piety and the smashed thing a sacrifice to God.

    Prophets question these names.

    What is an idol?

    An idol is a useless sacrifice, said Isaiah.

    But how do you know which ones are useless? asked the nation in its genius.

    Isaiah pondered the various ways he could answer this.

    Immense chunks of natural reality fell out of a blue sky
    and showers of light upon his mind.

    Isaiah chose the way of metaphor.

    Our life is a camera obscura, said Isaiah, do you know what that is?

    Never heard of it, said the nation.

    Imagine yourself in a darkened room, Isaiah instructed.

    Okay, said the nation.

    The doors are closed, there is a pinhole in the back wall.

    A pinhole, the nation repeated.

    Light shoots through the pinhole and strikes the opposite wall.

    The nation was watching Isaiah, bored and fascinated at once.

    You can hold up anything you like in front of that pinhole, said Isaiah,

    and worship it on the opposite wall.

    Why worship an image? asked the nation.

    Exactly, said Isaiah.

    The nation chewed on that for a moment.

    Then its genius spoke up.

    So what about Isaiah’s pinhole?

    Ah, said Isaiah.

    A memory fell through him as clear heat falls on herbs.

    Isaiah remembered the old days, conversing with God under the Branch

    and like an old butler waking in an abandoned house the day the revolution began,

    Isaiah bent his head.

    A burden was upon Isaiah.

    Isaiah opened his mouth.

    A sigh came from Isaiah’s mouth, the sigh grew into a howl.

    The howl ran along the brooks to the mouth of the brooks

    and tore the nets of the fishers who cast angle into the brooks

    and confounded the workers in fine flax who weave networks

    and broke their purpose.

    The howl rolled like a rolling thing past slain men and harvests and spoils

    and stopped in a ditch between two walls.

    Then Isaiah unclamped his mouth from the howl.

    Isaiah let his mouth go from the teat.

    Isaiah turned, Isaiah walked away.

    Isaiah walked for three years naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered
    to the shame of the nation.

    All night you could see the Branch roaming against the sky like a soul.


    Isaiah walked for three years in the valley of vision.

    In his jacket of glass he crossed deserts and black winter mornings.

    The icy sun lowered its eyelids against the glare of him.

    God stayed back.

    Now Isaiah had a hole in the place where his howl had broken off.

    All the while Isaiah walked, Isaiah’s heart was pouring out the hole.

    One day Isaiah stopped.

    Isaiah put his hand on the amputated place.

    Isaiah’s heart is small but in a way sacred, said Isaiah, I will save it.

    Isaiah plugged the hole with millet and dung.

    God watched Isaiah’s saving action.

    God was shaking like an olive tree.

    Now or never, whispered God.

    God reached down and drew a line on the floor of the desert in front of Isaiah’s feet.

    Silence began.

    Silence roared down the canals of Isaiah’s ears into his brain.

    Isaiah was listening to the silence.

    Deep under it was another sound Isaiah could hear miles down.

    A sort of ringing.

    Wake up Isaiah! said God from behind Isaiah’s back.

    Isaiah jumped and spun around.

    Wake up and praise God! said God smiling palely.

    Isaiah spat.

    God thought fast.

    The nation is burning! God cried pointing across the desert.

    Isaiah looked.

    All the windows of the world stood open and blowing.

    In each window Isaiah saw a motion like flames.

    Behind the flames he saw a steel fence lock down.

    Caught between the flames and the fence was a deer.

    Isaiah saw the deer of the nation burning all along its back.

    In its amazement the deer turned and turned and turned

    until its own shadow lay tangled around its feet like melted wings.

    Isaiah reached out both his hands, they flared in the dawn.

    Poor flesh! said Isaiah.

    Your nation needs you Isaiah, said God.

    Flesh breaks, Isaiah answered. Everyone’s will break, There is nothing we can do.

    I tell you Isaiah you can save the nation.

    The wind was rising, God was shouting.

    You can strip it down, start over at the wires, use lions! use thunder! use what you see—

    Isaiah was watching sweat and tears run down God’s face.

    Okay, said Isaiah, so I save the nation. What do you do?

    God exhaled roughly.

    I save the fire, said God.

    Thus their contract continued.


    When Isaiah came back in from the desert centuries had passed.

    There was nothing left of Isaiah but a big forehead.

    The forehead went rolling around the nation and spoke to people who leapt to their feet
    and fled.

    If the nation had taken Isaiah to court he could have proven his righteousness.

    But they met in secret and voted to cut him off.

    Shepherds! Chosen ones! Skinny dogs! Blood of a dog! Watchmen all! said Isaiah.

    Isaiah withdrew to the Branch.

    It was a blue winter evening, the cold bit like a wire.

    Isaiah laid his forehead on the ground.

    God arrived.

    Why do the righteous suffer? said Isaiah.

    Bellings of cold washed down the Branch.

    Notice whenever God addresses Isaiah in a feminine singular verb something dazzling is
    about to happen.

    Isaiah what do you know about women? asked God.

    Down Isaiah’s nostrils bounced woman words:

    Blush. Stink. Wife. Fig. Sorceress—

    God nodded.

    Isaiah go home and get some sleep, said God.

    Isaiah went home, slept, woke again.

    Isaiah felt sensation below the neck, it was a silk and bitter sensation.

    Isaiah looked down.

    It was milk forcing the nipples open.

    Isaiah was more than whole.

    I am not with you I am in you, said the muffled white voice of God.

    Isaiah sank to a kneeling position.

    New pain! said Isaiah.

    New contract! said God.

    Isaiah lifted his arms, milk poured out his breasts.

    Isaiah watched the milk pour like strings.

    It poured up the Branch and across history and down into people’s lives and time.

    The milk made Isaiah forget about righteousness.

    As he fed the milk to small birds and animals Isaiah thought only about their little lips.

    God meanwhile continued to think about male and female.

    After all there are two words for righteousness, Isaiah could not be expected to untie this
    hard knot himself.

    First the masculine word TSDQ, a bolt of justice that splits the oak in two.

    Then in the empty muscle of the wood, mushrooms and maggots and monkeys set up a

    here is (the feminine word) TSDQH.

    God grave the two words on Isaiah’s palms.

    God left it at that.

    And although it is true Isaiah’s prophecies continued to feature eunuch cylinders and
    clickfoot woman shame.

    And although it is true Isaiah himself knew several wives and begot a bastard son.

    Still some nights through his dreams slipped a river of milk.

    A river of silver, a river of pity.

    He slept, the asters in the garden unloaded their red thunder into the dark.

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