Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My strength was sapped, as in the heat of summer

I adore my son, which lures me into seeing myself—my own image, only more invincible—in him. So what if he is rebellious? I must have been the same way at his age. Back then, did I not leave my father, exchanging the safety of his home for something unknown, for adventure? Did I not defy his charge for me to remain there, in Hebron, and support him in his time of need? 
Never before have I considered how the old man must have felt, left behind in fragile health, in a crumbling house, with not one of us children staying there to keep him company—no one but loneliness. 
Her face still rosy with a sense of embarrassment, Abishag wipes the little smile from her lips and curtseys before me. She is obedient, perhaps even fearful of me. Plumping herself on my blankets, she goes back to holding the inkwell for me. 
I dip the tip of my feather in it, glancing at the veins marbling my thinning, nearly transparent skin. Is this my hand? Why is it trembling so? It seems to be my father’s, and so does my voice, when I utter the words as I scribble them, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away, through my groaning all day long. For day and night, your hand was heavy on me. My strength was sapped, as in the heat of summer.

My father is gone. Finding myself now in his place is a humbling surprise. I know I deserve it.
So I ask myself, how can I blame my son? His mother keeps telling me that he is restless, which must be my fault, of course, for not giving him a role or any kind of training in governing the land. It is too early for that. I mean, why should I loosen my hold on power? I am still the king, am I not? So I keep telling her that I am training him in patience. Adoniah is still young. His life is ahead of him. He can wait a little while longer.

My trilogy, The David Chronicles, is greatly inspired by art of all ages. Here are two fascinating examples, where the artists depicted the old, frail king as he is lying on his bed, depending on his concubine Abishag, whom he is never going to conquer. 

Ivan Schwebel, an American-born Israeli artist who blended modern and ancient Jewish imagery and American cultural icons in his art, approaches this moment from a unique perspective, which is purposely vague: does he dream of Abishag, or is she reflecting on him? Either way, she is presented in a passionate red gown, where everything around her--including the old David--is sapped of color. And despite her oriental gown, the scene is immediately accessible to the modern viewer, because David is a modern man.

By contrast, Pedro Américo de Figueiredo e Melo, who was one of the most important academic painters in Brazil, approaches this moment by emphasizing the rich splendor of the decor, and the attempt by Abishag to fulfill her duty to keep the king warm by embracing him in the nude.

David and Abishag by Ivan Schwebel

David and Abishag by Pedro Américo de Figueiredo e Melo

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  1. These sound fascinating. I can't choose which one I'd like to win.

    1. Oh thank you so much Micki (and sorry to discover your comment so late...)