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From . . .Sarah By PHILIP APPLEMAN

March 17, 1991| This fragment of the haggling between Abraham and God (over how many righteous men had to be found to save the city of Sodom from destruction) is an excerpt from the longer poem "Sarah," in "Let There Be Light" (HarperCollins: $21.95). 1991 by Philip Appleman.

When I dare to look,

they're still nose to nose,

my poor Abe quaking like a weed in a windstorm,

but firm in his nephew's cause,

and God, gone white as a thunderhead, but so far

not losing His temper the way He always did

down in Egypt, blazing away

at everything that moved.

Pretty soon He nods a bit,

like a camel trader who's just been outwitted,

and mutters, "All right, Abraham,

you find me fifty diamonds

in that dirt, and I'll back off."

He turns to go, and finally,

I can breathe again. But then

Abraham calls out,

"God! Yahweh! Listen! I'm a nothing,

I'm the dirt under your sandals,

I'm the ashes from your campfire,

I'm a pest, forgive me for asking,

I shouldn't mention it--but suppose,

just suppose I come up short by five, just five short,

what then, would you burn the place for five?"

God is a little quicker this time--

you know how it is, once you have

a deal cooking, things go easier--

and He says, gritting His teeth a little,

"All right, Abraham, Patriarch,

Father of My Nation, for forty-five

I'll save the slimy place."

But before I can relax,

Abe blurts out, not even pretending

to grovel, "How about forty?"

God comes right back,

"OK, forty,

forty's OK,"

and turns on His heel.

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