top of page

Jacob and Esau

By Paul Hostovsky

My bar mitzvah portion was the story
of Jacob and Esau and the lentil soup.
At thirteen I was as smooth as Jacob:
I had learned just enough Hebrew to read
that bit from the Torah aloud, impress the congregation
and get the money. It was all a kind of fraud–
I had no idea what any of the words meant.
I had never even tasted lentil soup.
And when I finally did, I didn't like it. The story
of Jacob and Esau and the lentil soup
and the blind father, Isaac, as it turns out,
is a story of fraud. And thirteen isn’t the age
when manhood begins–that was the biggest fraud–
though it roughly coincides with the onset
of puberty. At thirteen I could count the number of hairs
that were growing down there: approximately
thirteen. I learned about approximate equality
in algebra class that same year: when any two quantities
are close enough in value that the difference
is negligible, you use the approximately-equal-to sign
with a squiggly, which looked like one of the curling
tender tendrils growing down there. So it all fit together
approximately. I didn’t have a hairy brother like Esau
or a blind father like Isaac, but I was smooth:
practically all of my friends were hairier than me.
I knew this because of gym class and because of
peripheral vision. I pretended not to see, but I saw.
I saw I would be a late bloomer. I saw that lentil soup
was an acquired taste. I saw I wouldn’t start liking it
until many years later, when I’d grown enough pubic hair
to sport an excellent beard. A beard is technically
pubic hair on your face–any hair that wasn’t there
before puberty is technically pubic hair, a factoid
that I thought the rabbi might appreciate. So I told him
during one of our boring weekly bar mitzvah lessons.
He made a face like he had indigestion, then fondled
his pubic hair and told me to keep reading. Just keep reading.


Paul Hostovsky is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently, Deaf & Blind (Main Street Rag, 2020) and Mostly (FutureCycle Press, 2021). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, The Comstock Review's Muriel Craft Bailey Award, and the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. He has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer's Almanac, and The Georgia Poetry Circuit. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter.

Website: Paul

bottom of page