Anyone who has a sibling can understand how Cain might have socked Abel when God preferred mutton to bread.

Or how Esau might have wanted to slay his brother when Isaac mistook Jacob’s lamb curry for Esau’s venison stew.

Or even how Medea might have chopped up her younger brother in bits and tossed him lump-meal into the sea, that little tittle-tattle-tell.

Consider those long legends of parental partiality, never a question which child was good and which was bad, never a query which offspring the mother or father or fairy godmother loved best or why.

Consider all those resentments the ugly sisters with big feet tucked into the creases of their brains.

And who hasn’t pulled the wool over her father’s eyes so she could escape with a lover or a fleece? Who hasn’t tried to slow the silvery sloop?

Ask me what I could have done when my beautiful sister – the one who had all the high school suitors, my sister shining and golden as coin of the kingdom passed from hand to hand, as fair as the glass slipper fit from foot to foot – when my beautiful sister informed my mother that my grandchildren were not yet baptized.

A verity that I, the goat, the godless one, long without faith or father, had not thought necessary to divulge – at least not to our mother.

To my believing mother, an eighty-nine-year-old woman, with all my sister’s little lambikins safe in that certain fold.

Ask me what I could have done, what I sometimes still think of doing, when my sister’s irresistible truth sent my mother weeping to the phone.

Author's Comment

As a child, I was the chubby, clumsy, shy sister, and perhaps as a result, I was always interested and often outraged by stories of sibling rivalry – from Cinderella and her ugly step-sisters to Esau who sold his father Isaac’s blessing for a “mess of pottage.” I particularly found Bible stories, which were ever-present in my household, wrong-headed. In the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” the wastrel son was rewarded while the good-stay-at-home son was scolded; likewise, Jesus praised the lazy Mary who sat and listened instead of helping her sister Martha feed the visitors. So this poem is part of my long argument with pious people who are often more rigid than kind, more sanctimonious than loving. However, I do owe my love of language to King James, the Grimm Brothers and D’Aulaires.


Lois Marie Harrod’s seventeenth collection, Woman, will be published by Blue Lyra in February 2020. Her Nightmares of the Minor Poet appeared in June 2016 from Five Oaks; her chapbook And She Took the Heart appeared in 2016, and Fragments from the Biography of Nemesis (Cherry Grove Press) and the chapbook How Marlene Mae Longs for Truth (Dancing Girl Press) appeared in 2013. A Dodge poet, she is published in literary journals and online e-zines from American Poetry Review to Zone 3. She teaches at the Evergreen Forum in Princeton and at The College of New Jersey. Links to her online work can be found at

2 thoughts on “That Mess of Pottage

  1. My sister stopped talking to me after I published a memoir piece in Persimmon Tree because she thought I said something that I didn’t (Still not sure exactly what it was.) We reconciled for a while, and then she decided to end our relationship. I was the younger sister who was shy, awkward, and so jealous of my older sister’s grades and dates. Now I don’t have a sister. A huge loss, and one that I don’t understand. Thanks for your moving words. P.S. The name of my piece is “In My Mother’s Closet.”

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