This beautifully delicate poem by Laura Eve Engel pulls the reader in two directions, responding to the story of Lot choosing his inheritance of land in Genesis 13:9-13.
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9 Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomor´rah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zo´ar. 11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. 12 Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. 13 But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.
I’ve been fascinated with this passage—and the story it foreshadows—for a long time. The moment between Abraham and Lot where they willingly part company for the sake of a future peace is an understated turning point in Genesis, and it may even be the first moment in the Bible where we see an instance of literary foreshadowing: we see Lot consider the verdant land, “well-watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gommorah.” There is, in this moment, the briefest appearance of dramatic irony, a nod to a reader who knows what’s coming. (And speaking of the presence of the literary in this passage, Lot’s predicament is also a “Road Not Taken”-style proposition—and how he manages this decision will, in a sense, make all the Frostian difference.)
I like the idea of thinking of Lot at this crossroads—or anyone, in a moment of choosing—as two people. He’s both himself and his future self. Or, he’s both about to go left, and about to go right. He exists as a monument to a present moment just before the future overtakes it, and as a remnant of a present that, once he moves, will be altered forever. We’re all that way when we stand at a crossroads, perhaps. I liked the notion of adding to these ideas the visual metaphor of a wishbone—not just because wishbones themselves are two-pronged, but also because a wishbone invokes the idea of luck, which is something that, if not invoked at a crossroads, can lead to an absence of humility. This poem aims to be humble before choice, to acknowledge and honor that sometimes having to pick a direction with confidence can make us all feel like wanderers in the desert.
Laura Eve Engel is the author of Things That Go (Octopus Books). The recipient of fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, her work can be found in The Awl, Best American Poetry, Boston Review, The Nation, PEN America, Tin House and elsewhere. She's in a band called The Old Year.