Collage created with stone ball drawings from The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum

Poem: Stone for a Pillow

God gives Jacob a stone for a pillow. Jacob, alone at night with only a stone for a pillow. On the pillow, then, a vision. Angels ascending and descending a ladder to and from the heavens.

Anonymous Midrash on Genesis 28.11

Dear God of Abandoned Hope,
I entreat You, may I feel each stone You place
under my head as a bolster of bright brocade.
May my castle of straw be comely to me.
May You place my bed on the ground
of embodied knowledge. My sometimes-stone
heart, may it soften, forgive my judging mind.
May I be enamored of missteps, mistakes,
lessons hewn from stoneheartedness,
though I know so little of how to study,
how to be curious, steadfast, when a heart
closes to me. And when You, Dear God,
extinguish the sun, drop it below the fiery horizon,
may I see it as night, not as destruction.
May I connect to the closed heart from a place
of belonging. May I know I am a beam
of Your precious light. I am ladder and rung,
cloud and rock at the same time.
I am this place. I call Your name.

Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments: This powerful and moving poem is an urgent prayer, not a confession of sins but a yearning for the hopeless self to be changed from within, enabled to experience hardship as opportunity, uncertainty as enjoyable, knowledge not just as theory but as embodied reality. The grace of a softened heart to replace a stony one, the ability to forgive oneself, and the ability to steadfastly love someone who is not loving back. The stakes keep getting higher in this poem until it approaches a psalm-like ecstasy of recognizing the holiness of the self. And the beautiful language is like an answer to the prayer.