Jacob Dreams the Ladder and the Angels by Colleen Kimsey

Her opiod receptors are blown. There is only so much relief a body is built to take, her doctor tells her. As she fills out the hospice forms, she makes a mental list of things she would’ve rather allotted her life’s pleasures to: afternoons spent eating cherries and brownie batter, the encyclopedia of textures of skins of the world that she never got to touch. Are there equations in this? Could she have traded the gardens of heirloom tomatoes she grew every summer for forty years for the ability to walk on her cancer softened hips? please god please god please god, i’ll trade you the four nights when i was nineteen i couldn’t sleep for laughing, the pair of red soled shoes i had when i was thirty and… Judah realizes she doesn’t have anything else in her life that she could trade with god. She wishes for two pain free months, three weeks, a hundred minutes. She wishes she had had a daughter. She wishes the cancer hadn’t metastized. She doesn’t know a god who would give her any of this.

She wishes she had told her story any kind of different way; loneliness, divorce, and isolation have been done to death. But it’s too late for self revision. It’s almost the end of all her stories, the angel is about to cap her pen.

1. Call to Worship

The first night she dreams of herself, of the translation that went out of print sixty odd years ago.

-Washing the dishes at the sink in her first apartment, she reminds herself of a very young racehorse, sinewy and nervous. The bones of her hands peek through the skin; she is far too skinny. The lines of her ankles and calves are tidy and minimalist, but her body has never managed to get traction, healthwise. Her dreamself watches the veins in her neck flex each time she jerks her head at a sudden noise and thinks this here is someone who could use nurturing. She always attracted people who wanted to fill up the holes in her with macadam and tar and liquor when what she really needed was a pan of mac and cheese. Judah has learned in her time to recognize those who are only walking holes and wonders how she missed seeing the absence in her own self

At this point in her life, she remembers that she was spending most of her afternoons (and nights and three in the mornings) building towers of Babel out of matches and dead Queen Anne’s lace on the floor of her kitchen, little Zions instead of sleeping. She called these failures art. She tried not to sleep. When she was finally pinned down by exhaustion, she dreamed of blue pinfeathers and her eight foster homes.

A body is a city, which in the Bible means a thing to be protected.

She (the eighty nine year old one, the one who loved the Book of Job, who did therapy until she stopped crying uncontrollably on a certain Saturday in April) looks at her younger self and wishes someone had protected that. Out of the corner of her aging eyes, she catches a flash of gold and blue just behind a cracked door.

2. Call to Prayer

Nowadays, the ending takes so much time. In the Pentuarchal before, you burned out in chariots, you walked with man no more. Now there’s paperwork. Judah can’t decide if she wants to outlast Methuselah or just take the Seconal and get it over with. All the drugs have blown her capacity for pleasure and she misses grace, the feeling of a tongue on her clit, almost feeling pure. There is no glorious ascension nowadays.

She sleeps a lot these days. She closes her eyes and dreams of blood.

3. Call to Confession

Unfortunately, what stays with you is mostly fragments. Half drowned soldiers. Her fathers perfume (she thinks its from the cedars they cut down in Lebanon). A robe of beaten gold. The sword that burns, from the beginning. She dreams the sword is buried under the foundation of her childhood home and the fumes rise like radon and that’s why her family turned out so sick.

Judah supposes the dreams and prophecies are a side effect of the medication. She does not tell her doctor.


She lies awake, dreaming eulogies.

She was a good woman.

(There was a cave filled with bones in the desert.)

Nobody had such lovely, small hands as her.

(When the wandering Israelites- and at that point they weren’t called the Israelites, they were called the People as all people are- went into the cave, they saw the bones)

She never complained. Judah was a woman who did not want to burden others.

(They called what they saw in the cave a disaster. They decided they saw the bones of people who died in a disaster, and they knew it was a disaster sent from The Thing That Moves The Wind)

She never let a sad word slip about her lack of children.

(When the People came out from the cave, they took the story with them. The story itself becomes the disaster.)

Her childhood was warm and loving.

(The story becomes a metaphor for the things you shouldn’t let yourself have. The Israelites told each a story about desire, and faith and sex and power, and really, what else is there to talk about?)

She never regretted her two short marriages. She said that marrying a farmer taught her about life and that marrying a tax auditor taught her about death.

(The cave became a city, two cities. The people in the desert are angels. In the story, their wings are white, not blue. This is another fabrication. The cities were never called Sodom, let alone Gomorrah.)

She spoke often of fond memories of growing up in the church.

(The consequences become not just dust, but brimstone. The moral is rendered in fire and Judah is left as a pillar of salt.)

4. A Reading of Scripture

A short list of words she has forgotten so far











Words that have stayed with her, regardless









5. The Gospel Readings


-Encyclopedia Britannica


Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

-Psalm 23

My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!

-Jesus of Nazareth


Dreams are lies.

-Judah, age nine`

8. The Blessing

The nurses have stopped telling her not to give away her books and gardening trowels. She takes this as a sign that the end is near, but she doesn’t know if she believes it. Where is the denouement? Even Ezekiel ended all his stories with a lament, as a sign to his listener that this here was the bitter end.

Besides, her dreams have so much movement in them. In these endtimes, she lays in bed grasping at images of (she can picture them, the small downy feathers that coat a bird with warmth, but she can’t think of the word. the doctor says that’s a symptom too) rivers in the desert clotted with blood or boiling with bright fish, or rippling with a kind of light filled glory. Or of frogs’ fat legs across the threshold of houses. Or the arc of a seed as it is tossed onto barren soil. The tawny curve of a lion’s neck as it lays down by the lamb. Water that is also life (she remembered that it tasted like the air on her wedding day, and also the wine she drank alone in celebration after the divorce). Salt glinting like the morning star as it poured through her fingers. A tossed crown, that meant nothing. The muscular rustle of a dove’s wings as it took flight into the newly blue sky. A light that knew no darkness.

And above all, a sense of ascension, a pair of wings.

9. The Charge

Judah’s kidneys are shutting down. Her blood insulin levels are poor. Most of the time, her toes and fingers are icy cold and she keeps forgetting whether she was eight or nine the first time he took her from choir rehearsal behind the church organ and raped her and her heart is slowing down and this must be what the end feels like. She thinks there are no angels in defeat but all the same, she’s lonely.

10. The Sending

Her god is the sense of togetherness, but she guesses that dying is one of those things that you do by yourself. The Filipino nurse has settled down for the night in the armchair by her bed, but she might as well be across the Jordan river. It is late May. It is evening. The window is open.

Her body is the Macabbees, it is the Hittites, and the Aramaens and the Phillistines, all those peoples made to be defeated. Dying is a battle. She is tired. Judah closes her eyes.

-The final secret is this. Once you have wrestled your angel, that’s it. The match might have taken nine years or a quarter century or a lifetime, but when that’s it, that’s it.

Judah circles the angel. She is a lioness, young and sinewy. Both of them are slick with sweat, a deep scratch bleeds sluggishly on the angel’s forehead. Judah can barely summon up the energy to keep her fists up. The angel surges forward to kick Judah’s feet out from under her and dropped her to the ground, not carelessly, but with the great love and smugness of a lover who has been fighting you for a very, very long time. They have always known you were wrong, but all the same, they have always loved you.

Judah opens her eyes, and the angel has her pinned to the riverbank. The angel’s blue wings are a feathery summer sky above her head, though it is night, though she can feel the hoarfrost melting under her cheek. For the first time in her entire life, she feels shelthered. The angel lets her wrists go and helps her up.

Where before there was only a murky landscape of darkness and hills, now there is green metal stepladder as big as creation, stretching up to the velvety night sky. The angel takes her hand, and they begin to climb, together.-