What Else God Wanted – elana bell

I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also,
because he is your offspring. —Gen. 21:13

I. Ishmael

First you were the only 
and two mothers cooed 
and chewed your food 
to make it soft. 
Then he came. The choice cut 
of lamb, milk with the skein 
for strength and you were told 
Bring it in a silver bowl!
That was all she’d say to you,  
the one who’d begged 
you to be born. He smelled 
like the soil after rain. 
He was small enough to crush.

II. Sarah

Her laugh like ankle bells, 
returning from the well, a vessel 
balanced on her head. Or squeezing 
milk from our goats. At night 
when she unbraided and brushed 
my hair, her hands were like birds 
and I imagined the lightness 
of owning nothing. I wanted 
to wear her laugh like skin, 
I wanted to flood her eyes— 
I sent my husband in.

III. Hagar

Like sisters before 
the child came. 
I was the younger 
and she scolded me 
but when I made her laugh 
I’d get my way. 
And on the nights when lonely 
drifted in like smoke 
she’d call me to her tent. 

A woman who can’t bear 
a child? What belongs to her? 
Can I say I didn’t gloat 
to have a son, fat and laughing 
in my lap? Of course 
it all belonged to her: 
the clothes, the meat, the tent. 
Even the child I’d birthed. Hers 
to snatch back like an angry god.


The morning I sent Hagar and Ishmael away, 
the sun closed its eyes. Nothing shone 
on the muscled back I’d oiled in the dark 
of the tent, her back, that shouldered the skin 
of water, sack of bread, our boy. 
I watched until they shrank into ants 
and the desert whitened. 
I could have given away anything after that.


After he left I was stuck 
with their desire 
and their invisible god. 
Father shrank and mother paced, 
counting steps like silver coins. At night 
the goats circled and their bleating 
filled the camp like rain. 
When the one I’d helped to birth 
dried up like a fig in the sun, 
I brought the knife. 
I filled the bowl with blood.