Leah Remembers Stars and Mandrakes

by Qian Xi Teng

“Go and catch a falling star;

Get with child a mandrake root”

–Song (Go and catch a falling star), John Donne


He spends his days working in the fields,

sweating in the wheat’s pale gold.

When I go to the well

or call the children from their play,

I see his back dipping and falling

in a steady unstoppable rhythm.

But my eyesight is bad;

now, I don’t miss what I had


never wanted. When he first came

I was spinning futures from the stars,

and barely noticed the new kid, son of the aunt

who married some foreigner. My sister

is the one with time to smile at visitors.

His eyes slipped over me like oil from water

to settle on her face, covering flesh with gold

for seven years. But it was me they sold


in those years. It was me they veiled,

pushed against him, my fists clutching

only darkness. His blind hands

roamed my flat silent body,

happy until morning

unmasked my fae. His I couldn’t see;

the records make it very clear:

he loved Rachel more than Leah.


He did his duty during the years

of forever. Most nights I spent alone

with the children. Sometimes

I lay outside, fractured vision

melting the known stars

flickering on other eyes, other places.

I wanted them to flare my distress

signals, a silver SOS


to lives beyond one line on one page:

Leah’s eyes were weak

but Rachel was beautiful and lovely

and traded two mandrakes for a night of love.

On the day she pointed out

their usual tree. I waited

curled against the amber evening chill.

He gave no greeting and no smile; still


I said, You must come into me;

for I have hired you for my son’s mandrakes,

the words falling from my mouth

as if into oil – extinguished, ineffectual.

Before he woke I slipped beneath his arm,

stumbling across a plain of stones,

quartz stars dying in the sun.

One more artless morning had begun.