30 October 2013

Bilhah: Shackled

"While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine. And Israel heard of it." (Genesis 35:22)

I wear my body
like a shackle;
to what is not my own -
no escape.

They see me -
they see my body.
They use it
for pleasure,
for gain,
for themselves,
not asking me,
for my body is not my own
and I cannot be free.

How I wish that,
like clothes,
I could take it off,
let it drop to the floor,
slip out of it, free -
but would I still be me?

I wear my body
like a shackle -
how I wish I could love it
like a friend.
it is my trap,
locking me
in the arms
of man after man
who wants it,
who owns it -
no escape.


[30. October 2013]

Huge family drama: Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel (who were two sisters). Leah had children, Rachel had none, so Rachel became jealous. They ended up having a sort of "baby war", competing for Jacob's love and attention, so because Rachel could have no children she gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob to have children in her stead. When Leah couldn't have children anymore, she gave Jacob her maid Zilpah. Bilhah and Zilpah often "go under" and aren't remembered (maybe because they don't make it into children's Bibles) - but what could it have been like for them, stuck in their mistresses' fight?

And then Reuben slept with Bilhah too (incest, and it got him disinherited). With that story, I was wondering: what was Bilhah's part in it? Some people might like to paint it as a seduction (blame the woman, as always). Or one could see it as Bilhah rebelling in a sort of 'bid for freedom' and 'true love' (which is understandable but maybe a more 'modern' reaction). Or was it rape?

When I got to writing, I ended up focusing on Bilhah's position of no choice, and the problem of being treated as a sex object.
I was thinking in particular of the relationship one has to one's own body
(inspired actually by one half-sentence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles: "Tess had spiritually ceased to recognize the body before him as hers - allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will." - good book btw).

I think we should have a good relationship to our body, not just see it as "the flesh" (contrasted to the soul) but as part of who we are (as was the original Hebrew notion, actually; the concept of "soul" as a separate entity is Greek). If someone destroys that, e.g. through abuse, then that is a terrible thing. Terrible because we might end up not caring what happens to our body, or might end up harming ourselves. Terrible also because you can hardly escape from your body - and I think our body is a major part of who we are, especially as a woman (our emotions being connected to what goes on in our bodies, and all that). It's not really "good" to reject your body. But it's terrible when people force you to, or when they turn your body into something that imprisons you - e.g. by viewing you only as a sex object.

Anyway, that's sort of what flowed into this poem...

Picture by Etienne Dinet

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