Burned – a poem by Larry Pike


after Anne Ross Bruce

Then Abraham returned to his servants,

         and they set off together. . . . —Genesis 22:19 (NIV)

Young Isaac had seen enough sacrifices to know
something was off  ̶  the long journey to a far mountain,
the confusing absence of a lamb. “God will provide, my son,”
Abraham said, an incomplete truth Isaac didn’t recognize
until ropes were knotted and he was trembling on the wood.

Years later Isaac may have wondered why he couldn’t protest
when Abraham bound him, why he looked up when Abraham
raised the knife, squinted against a beam bright as the image
of the Lord mirrored in the blade, and simply whispered, “Father?”
Everyone knows Abraham didn’t open his son’s throat

or burn his tender frame on the bitter altar. Everyone knows
an angel interceded, a ram appeared, trapped in a thicket.
Isaac survived. But say the angel had been delayed in traffic,
the ram had wriggled free, and Abraham, receiving no reprieve,
had plunged the knife and lit the flame. Back home,

what account could have satisfied Sarah? Everyone knows
crazy people say God made me do it. Sure,
God tested Abraham, and Abraham solved for x instead of y,
gambled on obedience rather than love. Maybe
God didn’t mean to see if Abraham would give up

his treasure, but whether Abraham could stand up and say,
“Lord, no, You know this is wrong. Everyone knows.”
After, Abraham loved Isaac, of course, likely with some guilt,
as fathers often do. He gave Isaac everything. Yet
at the end of his long life perhaps Abraham,

instead of never doubting his devotion, suffered some shame
that he hadn’t raised a question instead of a knife;
recalled in his waning hours the complicated conversation
with Isaac as they watched the ram’s charred bones cool;
regretted with his final breath descending the mountain alone

while Isaac remained, determined to have his own talk with God.


Larry Pike‘s poetry and fiction has appeared in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, The Louisville Review, Hospital Drive, Seminary Ridge Review, the chapbook Absent Photographer, and other publications. In June 2017, he won the George Scarbrough Prize for Poetry.

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