Isaac Returns to the Mountain
and Other Poems Inspired by the Bible
by James Green
20 poems ~ 36 pages
Price: $15.00
ISBN #: 978-81-19654-02-4
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

In my early thirties I was blessed to have, as a dear friend, a Professor of English who taught the Bible as literature at a university. I never took classes under Professor Duncan. We were friends at church. Bob was generous with his time and with his knowledge. We engaged in long talks about the Bible and about literature in general. From my professorial friend, I began to fall in love with the power of language, the influence of literature on life and on world events. I learned that the Bible has been and continues to be among the most interesting (and mysterious) of books.

Such thoughts returned almost immediately upon encountering Dr. James Green’s latest triumph: Isaac Returns to the Mountain and Other Poems Inspired by the Bible. While Bible knowledge is helpful in reading these poems, it is by no means required. Isaac Returns meets readers where they are on the road of life.

My goal is to show the practical application of Green’s work.

A Word About Style

Green’s writing styles range from blank verse in “Eve’s Rejoinder,” reminiscent of Milton, to a variety of quatrains, couplets, and octaves. Several sonnets bring out the poet’s facility with rhyme as well as internal rhymes, half-rhymes and tight, engaging rhythms. Speaking of style, Green leads with a shape poem based on the Bible’s opening verse:

In the Beginning

We are told
by those who claim
such knowledge that the universe
is still expanding: Matter since creation
lunges further, further into the abyss we fathom
only as theory, redefining space, fragments charged
by echoes of first cause altering time in swelling symmetry,
invading void with power and glory, bejeweling the nightscape
until (some say) nebulae turn inward again and retreat to home,
colliding, collapsing into the dark vortex of their fiery origin
tightening focus, drawn into negative space, the tiny
mass vanishing at the sound of a faint crunch
when, again, a spark strikes the urge
of a fresh heartbeat.

Green isn’t trying to solve hard problems. The best poets want readers to think. As this poem illustrates, both visually and by word, there is much to consider about how things got started, how they progress and how they “may” end.

James Green asks questions most folks won’t ask. Questions such as: Why should Eve carry the blame for taking the first bite from the apple? In these provocative excerpts, Green serves up a taste of Eve’s mind:

         Omitted [from the Bible text] is that he [Adam] was listening
         with all the same rapt interest as I.
         … …
         Standing there he looked
         upon the fruit, desire was in his eyes.
         … …
         I was the victim of seduction, yes,
         of that I do confess (and often have).
         His sin? It was more commonplace than mine.
         The both of us were clear on God’s command–
         the only one we had to follow–and
         the record shows I voiced some doubt before
         succumbing to the serpent’s evil guile.

Eve goes on to develop, from her perspective, what went down that fateful day in the Garden of Eden. Green’s handling of the Biblical material is pure poetic enjoyment. Indeed, Green shows his practical application skills by way of analogy to “any” married couple.
[Note: brackets above are mine.]

Each poem is supported by an appropriate Bible verse(s). For instance, the textual references to the title poem, “Isaac Returns to the Mountain,” are Genesis 22:9-11, which describes Abraham lashing Issac to the sacrificial altar, and 1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. These verses, taken together, suggest that total discernment of divine things is always a little beyond our grasp.

Green uses unrhymed octaves to describe Isaac’s return to the site where this life-shattering event took place. The opening stanza reveals a son still contemplating that fateful day:

         I come here often, always in the cool of the morning
         before the clutter of the day invades the hour,
         where the wind whispers and streaks of dawn
         rinse the mountains of purples across Moriah.
         They speak to me, this hour and this place,
         arousing memory that is a voiceless prayer
         and bares necessary truths that make
         for a separate hard-won peace.

Isaac’s mind is full of memories and details associated with what happened. I wonder what “I” would be thinking if such happened to me. Would I be like the adult Isaac who muses: “Now the years have dimmed my eyesight / and the dull ache in my bones make the trail a hard one.”

Other Bible stories given Green’s unique interpretation include “She Tastes the Salt,” which is about Lot’s wife looking back, then becoming a pillar of salt; the Israelites “Entering the Sea of Reeds;” “Uriah Prays for the Grace of a Happy Death;” “Jonah Recalls His Three Days in the Dark;” and more.

Superficially, Isaac Returns to the Mountain and Other Poems Inspired by the Bible, seems thin when held in the hand. Yet, this reviewer has found few volumes more useful to his life. The ending couplet from the sonnet, “This is Why the World Cries for Love,” resonates to that end:

         Endure the darkness, I once read, that fills the night
         and is more lovely than the dawn.

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