Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The last morning I spend with my mother



After a while, she stirs. Her hand hangs, for a moment, in midair, a motion designed to reach out to me, and hug me, perhaps, in her own manner. Yet I can see that it is only herself, in the end, that she embraces. “On me your sin,” she smiles sweetly, placing a hand on her breast, where the heart can be found. “Let your curse be on me.” 
The sleeve, meanwhile, continues to climb, as if of its own accord, over my shoulder. By now it is covering the entire length of my arm. To my amazement, a part of me seems to have disappeared. Esav’s arm is beginning to take shape in place of mine.
She leans over me and with a sharp eye, threads her needle. But for some reason, we cannot bear to look at each other eye to eye. “Give me one minute, let me mend it,” she says, removed from me, smiling to herself. “We don’t have much time, I’m afraid. Your brother is on the hunt, and so are we.”
I sit there at her feet watching her work. My mother is so skillful in manipulating that sleeve. Inside of it, my limb feels hot, suffocated. I let her control me, control my hand. It is no longer my hand. 
By and by, a perfect calm comes upon me. I have no thought in my head, no clue that this is to be the last sunrise, the last morning that I spend with my mother; no premonition that our time together is running out, and that I should kiss her, and hug her, and bid her farewell. 
Yet for some reason, glancing around me, I commit to memory every aspect of this scene, every detail: The vivid pattern of the rug, spread across the dirt floor. The embroidered silk pillows, leaning against the woven headrest. The little blemish, barely visible in the corner of the blanket. The silver thread coming apart, at one point, at the bottom of the canvas. The jug of water, half hidden behind the curved leg of the bed.
I can hear little noises: The occasional cry of a newborn baby, searching blindly for his mother’s breast. The light snores of the maidservants, some of whom are just starting to wake up, only to fall asleep again. The yawns of the shepherd boys, stretching their limbs lazily under the sheepskins in the neighboring tents. The unrest of the sheep, the lambs, the kids, the goats, all eager to go out there, to graze in the sun-flooded fields.  
Meanwhile the needle flies back and forth, forth and back, over my shoulder, catching the light in its path. I am transfixed. I wish I could stay here forever. This place is so full of charms. 
This hour is so intimate; so sweet, and it is fast coming to its bitter conclusion. 

Yankle, in A Favorite Son


I have long been fascinated with the story of Jacob and Esav. To me, it captures several layers of emotions which we all go through in our families: a rivalry between brothers, the way a mother’s love, unevenly divided, can spur them to action, to crime, even; and how in time, even in the absence of regret, a punishment eventually ripens. 

The story had been brewing in me for several years before I put pen to paper. Being an artist, I had expressed it through sculpture long before I wrote the words. So here you can see Yankle and his mother Becky, plotting to cheat the father. Out of a sense of shame, they are unable to look each other in the eye. 

Having been cheated, I found that the character I wish to explore is not the victim of the crime, but rather the perpetrator. What are his motives? Has regret set in? Does he love his father even as he is cheating him? Does he long for the early years when he still had a bond with his twin brother? 

I wrote the first chapter, Lentil Stew, and thought I got the story out of my system. But no, Yankle kept chatting it my head, demanding that I record his thoughts. I wrote the second chapter, and the same thing continued to happen. It was not until I wrote the last chapter, The Curse of the Striped Shirt, where I find a ‘poetic justice’ to conclude the story, that Yankle finally fell silent...

So when reading my story, do not seek clear distinction between heroes and villains: no one is wholly sacred, because--like Yankle, the main character here--we are all made of lights and shadows, and most of all, doubt.

My clay sculptures of Jacob, asking, "What if my father touches me?" 
and of his mother, saying, "On me your sin, my son"

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