The following poem was sent to me in November of 2022. At the time, I described the piece as “electric.” In all the time I’ve sat with it since, I’ve only grown fonder of it. This, in my opinion, is how a Bible-based poem ought to look: ekphrastic and difficult. The narrator of the poem sees her own struggle in that of the Biblical Leah. It’s a story of grace…but as Flannery O’Connor rightly notes: “…grace changes us and the change is painful.”
I love this poem because it doesn’t shirk the painful part. It’s easy to gloss over the parts in the Scriptural account in which a woman is “second place.” It’s easy to take the specifics of Jacob’s story and fail to consider the “minor” characters. But I’d submit that this poem posits a simple truth: in God’s mind there are no minor characters.
But I digress. I’m writing too much about a piece of art, which is, as Frank Zappa states, “like dancing about architecture.” Read on. I hope this poem will stoke the fires in your soul as it did mine.
Dear Leah, did you love him?
The man your father tricked into marrying you?
The man you bore seven children to,
And with each one prayed he’d finally love you?
How did you suffer it, knowing your body and life weren’t enough for him?
Dear Leah, how did you endure it?
Being the plain sister, the “tender eyed” one?
(What the hell does that even mean?)
Did you ever shed tears of blood because he did not and never would choose you?
Did you ever scream at the stars, shatter them in their fixtures, because he loved another?
Dear Leah, did you hate them?
The father who denied you the chance to be wanted,
The sister who punished you with her existence?
The two sons she finally bore, damning your children to your own second place?
Did you ever hate the man who lay with you, then one, two, three other women?
Did you ever wonder why even Rachel wasn’t enough?
Dear Leah, how did you live with it?
The dense, damaged hole in your chest where your husband’s love should have been?
Did you bear it like you did your children —
With howling and with sweat and with blood,
With the ancient, terrible strength all women possess?
Dear Leah, I am terrified, because I am you
My younger sister is beautiful
My reflection is tender eyed
And the man I loved did not want me —
I did not know pain like that existed
Or that I could bear it like a squalling, gory babe
And Leah, I am devastated by fear
That a man will never choose me
(How very unfeminist of me) —
That, at best, he’ll settle for me
Give me his home, his children, maybe even his respect
But never, ever his love
So Leah, I beg you, I beg you
Tell me how you survived my nightmare
Tell me what blood you spilled, what salt you threw, what screams ripped from your throat
Tell me what excruciating price you paid
And I swear to you, by the God we both cry out to,
I will pay it
Kaitlyn Bancroft is a reporter with KSL.com in Salt Lake City, Utah. Previously, she’s written for The Salt Lake Tribune, The Spectrum & Daily News (part of the USA TODAY NETWORK), The Denver Post, Deseret News, and The Davis Clipper. Her poetry has been featured on EveryWriter, in Illumen Magazine, in Wingless Dreamer’s 2021 Halloween anthology Whispers of Pumpkin and in Hole In The Head Review. She also has poetry forthcoming in Tiny Seed Literary Journal, the Ocotillo Review, and in The Dread Machine. Follow her work on Twitter @katbancroft or on Instagram @katbancroftreports.