Dark Sons

Dark Sons

by Nikki Grimes
Dark Sons

Dark Sons

by Nikki Grimes


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A guy whose father ripped his heart out too.

You and me, Ishmael, we're brothers, two dark sons.

Destroyed, lost, and isolated, the perspectives of two teenage boys--modern-day Sam, and biblical Ishmael--unite over millennia to illustrate the power of forgiveness.

"Grimes's commanding metaphors ("Look at you, mother, / trembling, / a bowshot away, / your tears/ the only water/ for miles," says the exiled Ishmael), authoritative style, and complex characterizations are uniquely compelling." --Publisher's Weekly starred review

"The simple words eloquently reveal what it's like to miss someone ... but even more moving is the struggle to forgive and the affection each boy feels for the baby that displaces him. The elemental connections and the hope ... will speak to a wide audience." --Booklist starred review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310761501
Publisher: Blink
Publication date: 01/03/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 1,123,714
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile: 740L (what's this?)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include ALA Notable book What is Goodbye?, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin's Notebook, Talkin' About Bessie, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Words with Wings. Creator of the popular Meet Danitra Brown, Ms. Grimes lives in California.

Read an Excerpt

Dark Sons

By Nikki Grimes Jump at the Sun

Copyright © 2007 Nikki Grimes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781423102519

Chapter One

FOREIGN COUNTRY My mother and I face the foreign country of the desert, valley of heat and sandstorm and the false hope of juniper and olive tree- just enough green to tease the eye. Behind me, the grassy court of sheep, cattle, and goats. Before me, the cry of jackals, the kingdom of Thief and his brother, Wolf. Vultures lick their beaks while eagles draw my eye to the bowl of sky, and the horizon. Beersheba's wild goats, wild sheep and boar remind me that even her wilderness is kinder than the Negev beyond. All sandstone sculpture, a dance of naked mountains with occasional crags where wise Bedouins hide, the Negev boasts the bones of travelers luckless whose waterskins ran dry. will Mother and I even reach this desert's doorway? My thoughts thrash about for comfort, and it is this I hit upon: the life of the nomad is in my blood. My father left his father's house long before I was born. For years on end, his family, servants, and cattle have wandered from Haran to Shechem, from Moreh to Egypt, from Ai to Bethel, and beyond, with settlements in between. Lo! My people are experts at striking camp, constantly in search of newgrazing land, of fresh pasture, moving ever deeper into the Promised Land.

I wonder, Father, did your stomach churn like mine the first time you stepped from the safe shadow of your city's gate? Of course, our situations are different. When Jehovah called you out of Ur to conquer Canaan, you had a choice. Or did you? BEGINNINGS How did I get here at the edge of the desert, at the edge of tomorrows as pale as the sand? Oh, yes! I was born. That's how it all began.

Hammurabi's Code of Laws #146

* * *

If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.

SURROGATE My father was eighty-five, rugged still, but his hair was dipped in silver and so was Sarah's. She could have played the part of grandmother, but her long, lonely years without a child made that a cruel joke. Worse yet, she was pregnant with the promise of God to make her husband ancestor of more children than there are stars. A sweet promise, but slow. Ten years and counting, her belly remained empty as an ancient well. So she told my father, "Have a baby with my servant, Hagar. Make her Second Wife." The law made provision for such things. The child Hagar has will be as good as Sarah's. They all agree. It seemed an acceptable solution, at the time.

SHOW-OFF One night. As soon as that, and I was on my way into the world, a feat that seemed like magic to Sarah, who'd tried the trick for years and got nothing but tears for her trouble. Then comes my mother, a dark beauty, a young Egyptian, strutting with the pride of the pharaohs in her veins, saying, "Look at me! I am already with child."

I am told the smack that nearly cracked my mother's jaw could be heard for miles. EGYPT-BOUND

Her clothing quickly bundled in a sack, face still stinging, my mother ran. Never mind the murdering sun, the moonless dark, the distance, the danger of strange animals and robbers. The way she tells it, she ran toward Shur, stumbling into the wilderness, feet split by thorn and jagged rock, falling, parched and breathless near a spring, encountering Adonai- Adonai! My father's Lord and Master, the God she barely knew, who spoke to her, unlike the several gods of Egypt. "Hagar," he said, "Return to your mistress and I will bless your son." He told her she would grandmother more children than she could count. She believed him, and why not? God never lies. So she rolled his promises around in her mind like rubies, slipped them in her pocket of her memory, and hurried home.

THE NAMING "The angel of the Lord gave me your name that night," Mother said, "warned me you'd be more thorn than rose, that someday you'd be at odds with all your kin. I knew then I'd drown in tears of grief over you." I stuck my tongue out when she said it and rolled over on my sleeping mat. "He knew you, son," she said, "before you ever were." I pulled those last warm words up over me, snuggled up for the night and went to sleep.

HALF AND HALF Half Chaldean. Half Egyptian. Half slave. Half free. Half loved. Half hated. Half blessed. All me. SARAH I was only two or three when I toddled up to her, in love with all the world and wholly oblivious to rocks in my path. I fell face-first and let fall tears of embarrassment by the time she rescued me from the dirt. "Sweet one, come here," she said, her smile like sunshine. She set me on her knee and bounced me there, humming a rhythm that wiped away my tears. Then my mother appeared. Sarah choked on song, scowled, set me roughly on the ground, and left me there wondering why. POSSESSION Sarah owns my mother and me, a truth I'd run away from if I could. Sometimes I think if the camp were under attack, or our tent ablaze, we are the possessions Sarah would choose to lose.

THREE TENTS Three tents: His, hers, ours, goatskin fortresses separated by severed promises, cultural circumstance, and yards of useless pride. Even so, we are joined together by one invisible thread: Blood red. MISTAKE

I could hate her and some days, I do, this other mother who planned my birth, then wished me away. It troubles me to know I was her idea. Is it my fault my birth mother got pregnant in a day, then paraded her swollen belly past Sarah, morning, noon, and night? Sarah shares the blame: it was she who burned for a baby, she who wrote my mother into this story, she who gave father permission to bring me into this world. And now that I am here, it is Sarah who lashes me with every stare, purses her lips when I pass, and spits out her secret name for me: Regret. GOD OF MY FATHER

Lord Jehovah, this evening Mother's eyes followed Father as he strolled alongside Sarah. I watched Mother rock, holding herself in the absence of other arms. God of my father, Most Merciful, look down on my mother. Burn her loneliness to ash and scatter it with the wind of your breath.

ABRAHAM I joined the servants herding sheep today, my face half hidden by my shepherd's hood. I blended quietly into their brotherhood and heard them laugh behind my father's back. "He calls himself Abraham now," they said, snickering. "'Father of a multitude.' Hah! A multitude of one!"

How dare they make fun of him! Of us! I wadded up all my anger and spat. What do they know? I heard the words God spoke to my mother, the words she handed down like family treasure: "I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude," God said. I fed on every syllable with mother's milk. God's words are what I'm made of. Do I believe? We'll see who has the last laugh.

MEETING PLACE One morning, in Father's ninety-ninth year, I followed him to a favorite place of prayer, beneath an olive tree. There, he lifted his arms, pale against dawn's purple curtain, and cried out his petition. Then he let God have His say. I confess, I heard only a rush of wind. Still, I sensed a presence heavier than air. Jehovah hovered there. I trembled until the moment passed, then watched Father stacking stones- rocks of remembrance to mark yet another site where God answered Father out loud.

THE COVENANT Father summoned every male in camp, slave and free, gathered us around the fire, face flush from his latest visit with God. He explained the Covenant, and I took from it what I could. It was all about promises. God's promise to be present, His promise to make of us kings and nations, to grow our family till our numbers beat the stars. Promises to give us Canaan. Promises to be our God forever. And it was all about signs, the signs in our flesh, one generation following another, signs that would say "We are God's," signs that would say "We believe."

THE MARK I. This God of ours always wants something new: Leave your home, change your life. Build this altar, possess that land. Give me burnt offerings. Wait on me. Believe. Believe. Believe. This time, it's our foreskin, a bit of man-flesh. I'm all for showing loyalty to God, and I am man enough to shed tears and shed blood for the cause. Only, tell me, why is pain required?

II. Last night, I saw no sleep. My waking dreams were filled with heat, and blood, and screams, familiar as the sound of my own voice. I rise and shovel my fear into the fire. Eyes half closed, I creep toward the tent where hot blades wait. My hands travel south of their own accord. I shield my jewels one final time, then duck inside the tent and disappear.

III. We are truly joined, my father and I. This mark of God connects us for all eternity. Nothing now can separate my father from me. ACCEPTANCE Mother says Sarah's given up the dream of her body's own son. She's decided I'm the one who bears the promise of future princes through Father's line. "Mark my words," says Mother, "Sarah is ready to make her peace with you now." TEMPORARY LOVE Sarah's invitation came as a surprise. "Dine with us, Ishmael," she said. "I don't see enough of you these days." And so, I dared accept. I stepped into Father's tent, half again as big as ours, its goatskin walls busy with shadows born in the glow of oil lamps. At the center of the tent a low table was spread with baskets of flatbread, a bowl of dates, bunches of grapes, carrots, cucumber, and dill, and too many dishes to number. A dizzying mix of cumin, onion, garlic, and pepper rose from a circle of tempting sauces to dip our bread into. Then, there was that special treat: roasted calf's meat. More festive than the vegetable stews I'm used to. The meal made me ponder whether I was cause for celebration. I sat cross-legged and tentative, wondering at the strangely friendly woman seated across from me. "I baked fig cakes for you," she said. "Hagar tells me they're your favorite." The dishes before me were a fragrant offering my father's smile encouraged me to receive. So I lifted a fig cake to my lips and settled in for an evening's pleasure. TRAVELERS

The midday heat boils me as if this goatskin tent were a cooking pot. Desperate for a blessed breeze, I stand at the entrance. And there, beneath a stand of trees is where I find them: three strangers, faces bright as sunshine, traveling toward the cities of the Plain. Father runs to greet them as if they're expected. Distant cousins, perhaps? On their way to visit Lot and other cousins I have yet to meet? Of the few blood relations we have scattered abroad, I've never seen Father bow to any as he's bowing now. Who are these men my father deigns to honor? I strain, but cannot hear what words pass between them. Suddenly, hunger blots out my curiosity and I duck back inside my tent in search of bread. Later, as darkness gathers, I find Father dining with the travelers, his ear attentive to proclamations I cannot hear. Something in me shudders, hoping time will explain the mystery of these three, of the hushed conversation, of the laughter pealing from Sarah's tent.

RENEWED PROMISE Angels my father called them, the three men whose visit marked the moment Sarah took her love for me and rolled it like a threadbare carpet ready for the heap. No angels of mine, those three! "God keeps his promises," they told my father. Soon, Sarah's shriveled body would bear a son. Sarah laughed, but my mother cursed, worried that the joke would be on me. SMOKE The faint smell of smoke wafts into my tent at dawn. The cooking fires have long been doused, so I rise to investigate. My nose leads me beyond the familiar oaks, where I meet Father trudging back to camp, upwind of Sodom and Gomorrah. Even in morning's dim light, his is clearly not the face of one who's just been promised a second son. He clamps a heavy hand upon my shoulder, wet and weary eyes staring into mine, and intones: "The cities of the Plain have been destroyed. They and all within them have been eaten by the angry fires of the Lord." The hard slap of Father's words brings tears to my eyes, where the names of kith and kin swim to the surface. "But what of Cousin-" "Lot has been spared. He and his family." I let out a sigh. "All, save his wife." Again, I feel a catch in my throat, but Father waves away further questions. For now. "Come," he says. "We will strike camp and move on.

PUZZLE I. Some day, I will puzzle out the tie between those angels and these tidings: One promised son, and two lost cities. For now, I lay my questions on the mat beside me. II. Sleep is no friend of mine this night. I close my eyes and sink into a quicksand of gruesome thoughts: the rage of flame, the stink of singed flesh, the smoke-smothered screams of a boy. I shake myself awake, trembling before my God, whose judgments can be irrevocable.

III. And what are his judgments concerning me? Is Mother right? Is a second son someone to be feared? After Sodom and Gomorrah, this much is clear: for good or ill, Jehovah keeps his word. IV. A second son will come. Does that bode good or ill for me? We will see.

NOMAD We wave good-bye to the ancient oaks of Mamre and head for Gerar, away from the smoldering ashes of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are a roving city of hooves and feet- sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and sorry souls already anxious to pitch tent again. Where is Father leading us? How deep into the Promised Land must we travel? I stick to what I know: I load the donkeys with waterskins and cooking pots. Strap tents and sleeping mats in place. I grab a donkey's reins and fall in with the caravan. MISADVENTURE I never asked where Sarah was our first weeks in Gerar. Her absence was something I could get used to. But you, father! The part you played in this! Why? I wish I could forget your lie, but it is whispered through the camp and everybody knows it now: how, for fear of your life, you watched the king of Gerar carry Sarah off to his harem, having told him she was your sister. Even I know Sarah deserves better. Why did you let her suffer the worry of landing in another's bed, forced into adultery? Had God not troubled King Abimelech in a dream, Sarah would still be there. You say you care, but what kind of man risks his wife to spare his own life? Where was your faith then, coward? such words will never pass my lips, of course, nor will I press you for an answer.... But the question itself cuts me more than you know. THE LIGHT OF DAY The rising sun brings me no warmth, only a cold reminder of the ugly secret I learned yesterday. I dress quickly, rejecting the smile I usually wear for my father, "What is wrong, son?" Mother asks repeatedly until I surrender. I spew the disappointing tale, note mother's lack of surprise, and cringe, sensing there must be even more to know. But do I want to?


Excerpted from Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes Copyright © 2007 by Nikki Grimes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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