Joseph’s Dream

(Surah 12 / Genesis 39-41)

Pharaoh dreamed

That he was standing by the Nile.

He dreamed the river went

From white to red and

Out of the river came seven cows, sleek and fat,

and they fed in the reed grass.

Then seven other cows, gaunt and thin,

And the gaunt and thin cows

Devoured the seven sleek and fat cows.

And the king awoke crying for Joseph.

“By Aton, by the radiant sun, I will

Die tomorrow—Oh! my poor wives

And bakers and architects and priests.”

But Joseph was dreaming too:

Dreaming of goat-blood and wells and

The sons of Ishmael who brought him as a slave

To Potiphar–and the priest’s wife saying

“He does not know how to love a woman;

Take me and love me, Joseph ,or I

Will tell him you raped me. And he will

Believe me because I am his wife.

Lie back on the silk, arch your back

Over the cushion; I will do the rest.”

Joseph woke to the cries of Pharaoh

Reeling into the room, his robe twisted

Into a knot around his neck.

“What does it it mean: cows do not

Eat cows. Does it mean my death,

Zaph′enath-pane′ah?”  No, Joseph said

Rubbing crust from his eyes and the memory

Of the woman’s perfume. “It means

Nothing like that–it means other men will

Starve: children, mothers and grandfathers

Mainly, Nothing to do with us.  You are the sun

You cannot starve or be deprived of brightness.”

Pharaoh clapped his hands: “Praise god,

I was hoping it was something like that.

I am sorry about Potiphar’s wife–always the slag;

 But I will give you As’enath—you’ll have sons

 I’ll fill your grain stall and your belly will

Always be full of wine, your bed never empty;

I will kill the baker for you–

I will kill Potiphar and give you his head

as a token of my love for you–

Only please, never leave my side

Joseph, Joseph I need you at my side.”

The Hebrew looked closely at the king’s face;

There was the sort of practice that comes

From fright and superstition,

too many dreams, and too little rest.

“I will, my Lord: I will stay—for a while. Only

do this–wash your hands, and your feet

Bring beer and meat and bread, bring your sons

And I will summon my faithless brothers

and Benjamin from my father’s house, 

 and we will all sit together—recline together

We will eat together.”

Ah! Joseph,” said the king—“You ask too much.”


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