Lucille Clifton is an African-American writer and teacher who creates poetry that allows the reader to see well-known situations at a completely different angle. She uses her interest in feminist themes to recreate the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac in which God demands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but at last second, God stops him and he later just sacrifices a lamb. This theme has been prevalent throughout history and has been recreated by many artists, but always following the same story line.
For many artists, this has been a very popular scene to paint. It is almost always at the point in time where he is just about to sacrifice his son and God stops in just seconds before. As you notice, Isaac’s mother, Sarah, is not present. She has no influence over this situation and it is unclear as to whether she agreed to this or not.
In Clifton’s poem, sarah’s promise, she gives this figure a voice. Whether this be the truth or made up, she allows this person who is never even viewed in the visual recreations of this story a say. She states:
who understands better than I
the hunger in old bones
for a son? so here we are,
Abraham with his faith
and I my fury, Jehovah,
I march into the thicket
of your need and promise you
the children of young women,
yours for a thousand years.
their faith will send them to you,
docile as Abraham. now,
speak to my husband.
spare me my one good boy. (820)
In the Bible, women often don’t have a voice. They are viewed only for procreation because the greatest woman is Mary. Clifton takes this opportunity to give Sarah back her voice and create a different context for the reader. Sarah is demanding God of all things to stop this blasphemy and spare her son. Not only is this unacceptable for a person to do, but it is INSANE for a woman to do or even think of. She doesn’t show this women as weak because she is “losing faith” in God, but strong-minded because she has expressed her anger and stood up for herself. Clifton believes strongly in giving this voice back to women and starts to do so by almost rewriting history in the way that she would like to view it.
Similar to Clifton, Paula Gunn Allen creates a new view on the most well-known biblical story of Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve has been told for many years in order to teach Christians of the ultimate sin. This is part of the creation myth where God creates these two people to multiply. God gives them one rule and it is to not eat from the tree of forbidden fruit. As the serpent tempts the two, they are persuaded to take part in the “Ultimate Sin.” Of course the women, Eve, eats from the tree and then persuades Adam to do the same. Resulting from this is the expulsion from the garden. Leaving Adam and Eve more aware of their nakedness and ashamed of themselves. As of the story of Abraham, this has also been one that has been reproduced time and time again in the history of art. Visually, this has never been an invigorating experience, sexuality is clearly a topic that is frowned upon and this is where many Christians teach lessons about sexuality and what they belief is right and wrong.
In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo illustrates two parts of this scene. At first, before the serpent tempts these two people, they seem care-free and happy. After the expulsion, they end up mortified and run away covering their private areas up. Also in these two examples below, it is clear that they are ashamed of themselves.
Paula Gunn Allen’s poem Eve the Fox she states:
Eve the fox swung
her hips appetizingly, she
sauntered over to Adam the hunk
who was twiddling his toes and
devising an elaborate scheme
for renaming the beasts: Adam
was bored, but not Eve for she
knew the joy of swivelhips
and the taste of honey on her lips.
She was serpent wise and snake foolish,
and she knew all the tricks of the trade
that foxy lady, and she used them
to wile away the time: bite into this,
my hunky mate, she said, bending
tantalizingly low so her warm breasts
hung like peaches in the air. You
will know a thing or two when I get
through to you, she said, and gazed
deep with promise into his squinted eyes.
She admired the glisten of sweat and light
on his ropey arms, that hunky man of mine,
she sighed inside and wiggled deliciously
while he bit deep into the white fleshy
fruit she held to his lips. And wham-bam,
the change arose, it rose up in Adam
as it had in Eve and let me tell you
right then they knew all
they ever wanted to know about knowing,
and he discovered the perfect curve of her
breasts, the sweet gentle halfmoon of her belly,
the perfect valentine of her vulva,
the rose that curled within the garden
of her loins, that he would entered like bees,
and she discovered the tender power
of his sweat, the strong center of his
muscled arms, she worshipped the dark hair
that fell over his chest in waves.
And together riding the current of this
altogether new knowing they had found,
they bit and chewed, bit and chewed.
In this poem, she clearly shows Eve expressing her sexuality and embracing the erotic. She uses phrases like “Eve for she knew the joy of swivelhips and the taste of honey on her lips.” Here it is clear that she is aware of her sexuality and it is in a positive way. She also uses words like “appetizingly” to express Adam’s desire for Eve’s hips. This story has been converted into something almost liberating, showing women that they need to express their bodies in a positive way and that the awareness of these sensations is okay. Many of Paula Gunn Allen’s poems and Lucille Clifton’s poems express the many differences of women, but in a positive way. Often times, women have been viewed negatively for expressing their sexuality and have been judged for their many differences. Just by their different sexual organs, women have been put on the bottom of the totem pole and both of these poets want to reclaim these differences and express the beauty in them.