The Passion of Lilith

When Israel was exiled, the Shekhinah too went into exile, and this is the nakedness of the Shekhina. And this nakedness is Lilith, the mother of a mixed multitude. -The Zohar, Book I

I & II: The Creation and The Created: Lilith was Adam’s first wife according to Hebrew legend, and one may speculate as to how and when she came to be. The traditional way to treat a legend is to add to and/or combine previous speculations concerning it, and this is what I have done. I imagine that Lilith took her first elusive form before the creation of “man,” literally by the inspiration of God, by his unpremeditated gasp, seeing for the first time the magnificence of the earthly dawn he had made. Lilith, therefore, as I see her, is not part of God’s plan. He is unaware of her compression and development in his dark lung and is taken by surprise when she emerges at last. This happens with no ordinary exhalation of His, but at the close of the six days when he surveys His work and observes to himself that not only is it good, but very good. Lilith is freed on the emphatic word very, not on the good, and it takes a long time—perhaps eternity—for the good to catch up with her. She is God’s inadvertent or unconscious creation, and this is what separates her • from man and frees her also from God’s direct control. Her unorthodox creation is responsible for her very original disorderliness and her very disorderly originality. It is responsible for her mystery, her indignity, her special sort of passion, her burden and her gift.  

I. The Creation
And when God saw the sea by light
He caught His breath . . .

II. The Created
Swept from the surface,
trapped in unutterable black,
a star collapsed, reversed,
a diamond too deep depressed,
I thought I’d never come back
to be light and ease

until, with His last self-praise
riding astride the very not the good,
I rushed into the world, dishevelled, contraband,
neither hell-whelped nor heaven-pedigreed,
a creation pre-eminently
out of hand,
ready to finger the world, bitch, breed.

III. The Garden: God, not always above weariness and short cuts, postpones the deliberate creation of a wife for Adam. He notices Lilith wandering the world, His accidental and feminine by-product, and decides to experiment. He puts his two sorts of creations— considered and inadvertent—into Eden together. Adam and Lilith, unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, do not hit it off. Adam would like Lilith to lie beneath him in the sexual act, and to be subservient in every way; Lilith naturally has other ideas. She leaves him and flies up to their great Lawyer in the sky to petition for divorce, which God grants. She then, according to one account, proposes that God marry her Himself. As that is, for Him, out of the question, she sets out to make something of herself, and by herself, on earth. She is the first liberated woman; in making new names for herself Lilith is merely her pseudonym; and though she leaves Adam’s paradise without his particular curse, she manages very well to receive many later on. This is her passion.  

III. The Garden
On the other side from order,
the unintended bride,
one part gasp, one part express,
careless of symmetry, regardless of time…

What had the likes of me to do with the likes of Adam?

Yet by afer-whim
or black humor of Him
we were thrown together, clay
sun and glaze of moon—one
real garden with imaginary
goad—spitting image and spat upon—
Adam named and I with pseudonym:
man plus manifold, sure to explode
belief and make-believe
alike, alone.

Then Adam nearly drove me
mad—my original gaping
letter-man, docile as a stamp
and bland as logic
flapping forever the divine right
of his real estate
at my obvious lack
of properties…

I tried at first to please,
opened my box of miracles for him;
he only wanted to hoe the peas.
He wanted his birds in his hand.
All mine gladly beat round the bush.
I wove an arbor, bindweed and angels’ bane;
he wouldn’t enter in.
He wouldn’t lie under my crazy quilts
or improvise. He’d rather die.

He had the Word,
had it from on high, while I,
previous to alphabets, superfluous as ampersand,
curled on chaos still, my edges blurred.

Gardens are made for orderers,
gardeners made to order,
but I am disorderable, the first trespassor.
So as Adam was carefully hedging his betes
and hugging the hedge,
and while angels were warring and setting
God’s teeth on edge,
misfit and mislaid, I fled.

I gave a damn.
And I left my first love sucking
his green thumb.

V. The Desert: Self-pity is not the least of any exile’s characteristics, and it is one of Lilith’s first really human accomplishments. She realizes she must not let herself go soft with it, however, and she chooses experience in the desert to harden her. By this time Adam’s kind has established its fallen civilization, itself hardened by work and exile, but Lilith sees the human ability to reproduce as compensation for their pain and she wants to learn herself how to join and create out of her elusive body and random experience. She figures at the end of her desert exile that she is ready to confront her most particular desire—to have again a direct mortal contact and mortal children.  

V. The Desert
Out of the woods.
Here’s my hard light. Clean slate.
The vulture rings me gold.

The lion roars me blood.
Rocks mimic life in the heat-
palsied air, its terrible weddings.
Where I dance it’s a panic,
the sun direct in my hair, blood jade.
All day the wind
rubs its back in the dust
like a dispossessed genie, and distance
opens and opens like a wound
hardening the new crystal ball of my heart.

I grow havoc-wings and mordant feet,
scrabble with scarabs on their playground.
Invisible midwife to prophet’s shrieks,
I stare down distance like stone Sekhmet,
riddle the hot sky’s cinema.
Sandblast scours my sleep.
The camel humps higher at my jokes,
bites back a bitter laugh.

Who wouldn’t get sick of the vulture’s claptrap,
sphinx talk and the rest of it?
Here is where raw visions lie
in a scorch in the sand to dissolve by night.
Nothing lasts.
I’m sick of the indignity
of picking my wishbones alone,
watching them whiten in the sun like dung
while Babylon fourishes in its curse
and blooms with the cries of children.

VIII. Coming To/ The Men: In becoming conscious of the work that is ahead of her, Lilith recounts her past and the attitudes “Adam” has seen fit to take towards her. One of his myths about her is that she comes to him at night, seducing him by dream and hallucination, that she is thus responsible for the embarrassment of his wet dreams and for his unfaithfulness to his wife. In her meditation Lilith reveals that she is indeed interested in “Adam” sexually, partly now because she wants so much to be made pregnant in a human manner, but that she also wants to reawaken in him the sense of her mysterious and lost beauty. She reminds him that Solomon once invoked her presence because he, of all men, recognized the supernatural wisdom and the humor in her crazy abandonment. Lilith wants, nevertheless and at last, to be taken seriously.

In the first place
Adam forgot
Eden’s lily pond and wild
lilies in the vale; having Eve
Adam forgot himself
and in the second place
while he was counting begats and gold,
while he was stomping the marriage goblet,
while busy despoiling the alpha-omega,
scrolling and unscrolling the pentateuch
according to season…
Adam forgot then
how one Lilith tried to give him a wilder balm,
how even in Eden I dressed to kill
in crysoprase, beryl, lapis, opal…
thirty-nine jewels in all.
And now how easily might his offspring fall
into gentle sighs towards me as if
they had never fallen before.
They might step through mirrors to me
and set all the red leopards running loose
in the temples….O tricky Lilith,
a jade thrown into the center
of pooled holy water, the disappearance ringed
by widening dreams, marriages to absence
as I roll graved stones away
from gaping eyes and step out in all
my names and disguises, a million,
reviving a vow:
to make Adam remember how
to ask if eclipse can shine in hiding,
to ask if elapse can come back with pearl’s
concentric, to ask if the serpent
curled at his hearth might earn her warmth
and a proper blessing, to ask
if the waters that wash my heart can be
divided with prayer, walked through, turned red
with defeat, to ask if dream
would barter its wonder for a blood algebra,
if the willow would barter her journal
of excursions through all the zeros
below zer for the moon’s arithmetic…
For I would barter my magic
chrysalis for a planter’s hands,
my desert panache for a bridal veil,
myblatherings for the cabala’s shackles…
O I would barter anything—my whole bizarre bazaar
to make Adam remember
that my life too went on in exile
weaving green sorrows from shapeless abandon
slithering through destructive twilights
and through the mad heats of the Nile,
that I was exiled without company
save what I could make of myself from air.
And I would have Adam consider this:
Solomon bothered to learn my tongue.
I made him laugh; he made me dance to his laughter
and in the end he joined the dance.
Should one forgetting come out from under
the marriage canopy let him remember
how I bring the spice to espousals,
fierce glitter to the ring,
how I bring bright conclusions to dull
premises, how I bring the eternal triangles
to a point, how I dissolve at the point
of panic,
at the point of loss like the pain
of a joke,
how I transform by lay and by lie the myth
that Adam forgets,
what then? Could he make of me
more than an immaculate conception?
Admit me to his children?
For I would have him let me bear
some reality.

X The Odds and Ends of Passion: According to The Zohar, the exiled Lilith is the “nakedness of the Shekhinah,” the Shekhinah being the feminine and indwelling spirit of God. Legend develops the figure of “Lilith the Younger,” no longer a figure of the devil but an embodiement of the Shekhinah who is allowed to enter the temple and to inform its sacred space. Lilith, re-instated finally in this way, looks back over the passion of her life. There is still some self-pity, regret, and indignation in her, but at last a certain calm and self-satisfaction for having endured.

X. The Odds and Ends of Passion
Even when the trees began to walk
through me, beating
my mirage of hearts
inventing the first rhythms of weeping
and later laughter,
I was meant to be
unwritten, erased, effaced,
the Shekhinah in her nakedness.

Never the less, I was
the first and more
lithe love, first demeaned,
a white haunch hiding in willow,
a lost wing and riddle in the desert,
a lion-tamer and wild for prophets’ tongues,
a lady who made a name for herself,
or thirty dirty names, a lady who,
so suppressed and so mixed in her multitudes,
got even by being odd;
and little credit to God.

After all how can I forget
how I was meant to be
left out,
haphazard whore, bejeweled
how they called me callous incubus,
failed succubus of Adam,
fit consort for Cain;
how they missed me and misunderstood 
how I was meant to be:
the sun dropping its red
last radiance
to the willow bled
into my silence.
Passed around all my lives
like an anti-eucharist;
passed over as an orphan or a widow,
passed under like a secret at high tables,
but never passed away
I finally re-enter my temple,
put on my proper veil.
I am a kind of virgin, the one who
managed with no
manseed to grow
to the shape of a funerary urn:
Lilith the Younger,
making new.

Pamela Hadas is a poet living in St. Louis. The Lilith verses appearing here are a preview from a chapbook to be published shortly.