I wrote this set of poems in 2007. At the time I was very curious about the lives of the Biblical Patriarchs; what I had been taught in Baptist Sunday school compared to what I imagined when I re-examined their stories as an adult woman and mother. I wrote “Sarah” first, with a different title, “Limits,” and was told in a workshop that it was one of the worst titles anyone had heard – so I kept it in a drawer until a few months ago.
I wrote “Leah” after our family moved to Florida from California. It was a difficult transition for me, and it comforted me to read about the Biblical patriarchs, how they were nomads and traveled to some desolate places; how they could have imagined God forgot about them. Leah fascinated me because of how she faithfully kept plugging out children all the while feeling neglected by her husband. Each child’s name is so telling, at first I had every name in the poem, but ended up only keeping four.
“Ruth” always fascinated me as a child. She was so loyal to Naomi, and I think there must have been a flannel story about her gleaning in the fields, and then uncovering and lying under Boaz’s feet. I remember being told the advice Naomi gives her, and it’s amazing to me, how we sat in Baptist church with paper juice cups and graham crackers and learned these nuances about female friendship, power, and seduction. The focus I remember from the story of Ruth was the love and devotion between the two women, but somehow I intuited there was more to that story about how to survive loss.
It doesn't matter if you loved him, only that you want to live. A mother, not your own, hums foreign melodies
whose strange notes keep you awake. And when the metrics of your heart are weighted sand she whispers counsel--
lay yourself bare on that threshing floor, no artifice. Face and hair are freight enough, you are not
finished. More aching field than widow. How easy it is not to be dead, only still, blooming late, eternity is not
the miracle here, and this is not the last song you know.
Jill Bergkamp is a California native who now lives in Florida. A graduate student in Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Poetry, Jill now serves as Director of Children’s Ministries at the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches, as well as teaching English Composition. She was the recipient of Relief’s first Editor’s Choice Award, and a Rona-Jaffe Foundation Breadloaf Scholarship.