100th Volume Retrospective: Abraham’s Tent by Paul Spike

Today we have our first prose piece in the retrospective series. It was written by Paul Spike, now known best for his memoir Photographs of my Father, which he published six years after this was printed in our magazine.

Abraham’s Tent

by Paul Spike


Abraham was not the clock on the wall of his mother’s kitchen. He was born at the right time like all men. And when it was done, he covered his hands in the canvas.

Out in the blue auto, Abraham invents bargaining. It’s hushed as he hustles from bush to bush. He bargains the Lord until, exhausted, they both float downstream on each other’s word. Just for this feat, he begins to love his God. His mother calls the doctor. Together, the old doctor and the mother watch the son become a doctor. Together they rise about Abraham’s young head.

Father Abraham. He excites himself all day in the middle of books, reading his own book and looking up and getting ready to take off. Deep cores of running water circle the place. Young father, good father.

The tent is a unit in the desert. The tent steadies the strong feeling above the hand, the working wrist of Abraham.

The tent is a family. At each end is a small son, Sarah holds up the center and moans for music. Evening arrives in grunts and buckets on the enormous sand. Often the sons take down vanilla from their hair and cool their mother. Father Abraham invents peace for his ocean and enjoys his pipe.

God told Abraham to run for sons. These small pastries cost plenty in the imagination. First Ishmael, son of a fountain, trying to nurse the fountain.
(Another cousin and his two daughters, all pretending, drink some wine. The girls curl up

in a warm balloon of papa’s stuff while the bearer of the brunt coughs: I can’t see. This was Lot and his smoke ceremony in the rainy cave tidied by moss, as explained to the prophets and their salt.)

Strings of cells kept the blood stroking from chapter to chapter.


Issaic was the number two. With him came the prime hand to garner and the spot on his father’s map. Women offered him paths of rind. He stooped for feathers. He stopped for the lamb.

I am like Issaic so that you may be all the others. Issaic was born to make his mother happy. In this, I must be Ishmael. You may be the word, a number, or a rush of emotion.

I am like the sons and I waver at the doctor’s chore. You are the fountain. We turn inside, touch and smile. And we ask for Abraham in the museum of these smiles.

Sarah has died and Abraham has bargained. And she has fresh problems which nobody picks up. Father Abraham sent for a wife to replace Isaaic’s dreary load. His son would worship his bride, men would begin to see his marriage.

Abraham’s man met the woman beside the fountain. I have come from a father’s thigh to practise a new wife for his boy. Can you leave this water in ten days. Perhaps after her family bargain failed and refused to fail, she was free.

The tribes move and they hold still the funnels of sand. Father Abraham is writing on noise. He balances his noise against God’s, his children against their safety, himself along the side of his land.

She is the new value. Once she would be expected to perform but today she is enough to begin. Abraham has given his son the surface.

Issaic takes the girl to comfort, he takes his wife to the girl and through the girl. He takes his girl to undress.

Issaic begins in a dream which he calls being alone. He feels the skin of his wife and knows her breasts immediately. He opens her legs to call for children. The thighs he swallows are symbols of fruit in the breeze.

He finds his wife an animal. And he finds the animal a feather.
He finds his mother in his wife. This he leaves.
Issaic brushes his brother in his wife. This he hurts there.
On her eyes he reads about his cattle. On her belly he leaps about his tent.
Inside her bone he tastes her blood and hears her moan. Inside her he moans out an

education. Inside her he catches up the banner and he sleeps inside her.
Revolving across the degrees, she bursts open to the drums of his father’s parade. He

marches past his wife into the crown of Abraham, into the head of his bearing and the digest of his skill. Into the hood yes his father.


I am Issaic leaving my father’s helmet. Walking across a street and into a train station. Telling something to the lockers. Taking a picture.

Father Abraham is the beam. At long last we discover the level of the first mystery: the feather. For as he folds his hands in canvas, he is a bird. And with this look, he can fly as a mighty looker, as a cloud that knows its own streamline.

I am Issaic as I turn to hot jet under myself. I am the son as my father flys away. And you are everything else. Do you call this nature?

Father Abraham is the bird beyond west and beyond the tower. And he is in good shape as the bridge is in the air. For he never confused moments with personality.

Abraham watched Issaic become a curtain and then a theater. He watched his son’s entrance and he flew above the exit. Abraham is not a silver bird; he is a star. He calls himself extra and he jumps over superman.

Finally, I am Ishmael. Born in the splash, I nurse the water. You are everything else. From this window, Ishmael sees his hand in your hand.


from Vol. 48 (1967)