Hagar in the Wilderness

By Jane Yolen

Compared to the wilderness of the house,

the old woman screaming at my baby,

the one she wanted and did not want.

The old man making those side glances

when he thought she wasn’t looking.

And me on my knees cleaning the carpet

where once again the child had spit up dinner.

Compared to the wilderness of the garden

where the old woman pulled up my flowers

with the ruthlessness of a king, kept the fig tree

for herself, planted useless flowers between the rows.

Where  the greens were parcelled out three-quarters

to them and none of the goat’s milk was kept

for the baby and me.

Compared to that, the wilderness they sent me to

was Eden, and the serpent’s patient voice

with the baby, and his name she spoke in sibilants,

the way she let him play with her coils,

made living there a home, the first real one

I was to have, and the last.


While Jane Yolen has hundreds of poems in print–both for children and adults–she is better known for her 379 books, which range from children’s to adults, from picture books and novels, short story collections, graphic novels, a novel in verse, nonfiction books, two cookbooks, ten music books, etc. She has won two Nebulas, three World Fantasy awards, two-and-a-half Golden Kite awards, and is a Grandmaster of three organizations (Science Fiction Writers of America, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, and World Fantasy Association). A few of her stories made it into the Years Best Horror Anthology. She has six honorary doctorates for her body of work. One of her awards set her good coat on fire.