Ellen M. Taylor
First, let's name her, let's call her Patience.
With Noah, she bore three sons, documented
with names: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
The Earth is filled with violence, God told Noah.
Corrupt. Make thee an ark, three stories,
enough room for all three sons, their wives too.
Patience, Noah gushed, God is sending a flood,
the likes of which we've never seen.
We'll all set to sea together.
As if eight people isn't enough
in a homemade boat of gopher wood,
destination unknown, he added,
we need two of every living thing we can find, one male and one female:
fowl, cattle, everything that creeps or crawls. And remember,
bring enough food for everyone; even serpents need to eat.
Patience was tried. All those mouths to feed,
all that squawking, honking, braying, and baying.
Noah, how am I supposed to cook and clean for this crowd?
Noah, at 600 years old, was having a mid-life crisis.
Patience couldn't imagine going on like this
for another few hundred years, Lord have mercy.
Then the rain began, and for forty days and forty nights (you know the story),
it rained and it rained. Patience prevailed. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner,
doing laundry, picking up after the clean and not so clean pairs.
It got old, fast. The sons' wives (nameless) didn't pick up,
complained about the food, the smells, the tight quarters. The ark
felt smaller and smaller with each wet day, when
after 150 days, the water receded, and receded, until Patience
could see the tips of mountains, pinnacles poking up from the water
like – miraculous dry land. The sky was brightening, the color of eggs.
A brave dove was sent off (the female), to look for ground. She returned
with the proverbial olive branch. Praise the Lord, Patience thought.
Noah removed the covering from the ark and the ground was dry.
The whole family disembarked, the sons, their wives, and all the beasts –
clean and not so clean -- the fowl, cattle, and every living thing Patience
had fed and picked up after for all those months.
Once off that boat, Patience bolted like a horse,
never to be heard from again,
in Genesis or anywhere else.
Can you blame her?
The genesis of this poem was indeed, one of tri-via. First, while preparing a course on poetry of the Holocaust, I learned that the Old Testament of my Catholic schooldays was indeed written for the Jewish people. Two ideologies sharing the same set of stories gave them new interest to me. Second, a neighbor of mine, the delightful poet Kate Barnes, loaned me a book on Old Testament Figures in Art. There I saw Noah and his sons in all their visual glory, while women were largely absent. Third, there was a happy coincidence at the University of Maine in Augusta, where I teach. Each year we have an honor's colloquium theme, and this year that theme was Immigration. It struck me that Noah and his unnamed wife, as well as their three named sons and their unnamed wives, are one of the first immigrant families in literature. Forced to relocate due to rising waters (another familiar theme in our recent history), they begin life in a new land. She remains unnamed, despite her integral role in the whole journey. So I named her, and with proverbial poetic license, took her away.
about the author
Ellen M. Taylor lives in Appleton, Maine and teaches at the University of Maine at Augusta. She has published her work in Puckerbrush Review, North American Review, Passages North, Sojourner, and a number of other literary journals. She also has two chapbooks, Humming to Snails (Moon Pie Press) and Letters from the Third World (Sheltering Pines). She lives with her husband Daniel, their dog Bella, and a clutch of Rhode Island Red Hens, Maria, Maxine, and Pizza.