Esau By Roger Barbee

*Featured Image: Foofoo, 2016 (Oil, yarn and pushpins on paper
51 x 35.5 inches)By Norton Pease


By Roger Barbee

Had I not helped to rob Esau, he would be approaching his forty-sixth year on earth now, and who knows what he would have been, what he would have accomplished, or how he would have lived.

He had no name until years after he came into my life, I named him Esau.

Since the fall of 1970 he has been with me. Not physically, but a presence that is like my shadow. He follows me, but does not get in front of me. Like a shadow he is not real now, but for a short time he was. Before I agreed to a selfish decision. I was young, but that is no excuse. I never considered his side of the decision. He did not give anything away like Esau, but like Esau he had something taken from him.

So often when adults talk with children about making good decisions, they give the impression that the consequences occur in a short time of a decision. While that is often true, some consequences of a decision arrive years later, unannounced. In the novel “Homecoming,” a five-year-old girl named Abena is crying because, despite her efforts, the family plants died. Seeing her tears, her father says, “There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?” Wise words I think for most choices, but not all.

As I look back over those forty plus years to the fall of 1970, I try to see the young man I was. I recall many things, such as the sign marking Permission Tree Road as I drove twice under it going to and from my apartment to get the money required on that fall day. I recall the excitement of being young with a long and wide future waiting for me. I still feel the presence of three intimate friends. I wonder at the false sense of freedom and maturity that I thought I processed then. I lower my head at my arrogance. I own my decision and its consequences– all the way to my 70th year.

"Beyond Petroleum" 2017 By Norton Pease, Oil and enamel on paper 36 x 45 inches
“Beyond Petroleum” 2017 By Norton Pease, Oil and enamel on paper 36 x 45 inches

Had I not helped to rob Esau, he would be approaching his forty-sixth year on earth now, and who knows what he would have been, what he would have accomplished, or how he would have lived. Instead, like his Old Testament namesake, he was robbed—robbed of the chance to live, to breathe air, to learn, to work, to walk barefoot on spring grass, to watch a sunset. To hold a child’s hand.

In his short story Hills Like White Elephants, written in 1927, Hemingway describes it as “They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.” Air then, saline in the fall of 1970. Before my decision, Esau was comfortable in her womb, growing, getting prepared for life out here with us. But my part in the decision shattered his brief life, and I own the fact that he must have felt pain and surprise at the sudden ejection caused by the saline. And none of it was natural. All that Esau got, when it was all over, was the doctor telling me in a sterile hospital hallway, “It was a boy.” Then she and I left for her to rest and recover at a friend’s apartment, and we managed to keep the pregnancy and its sorry end a secret from her parents. She and I later married, shared thirty years and several children, but we never spoke of our first boy child. However, as I aged Esau returned. Why? Because he had never truly left, I had just managed to put him aside, out of the way like a piece of discarded paper. Esau was mine, and I his.

Had I known Abena’s father’s words in that fall, I would have realized that I was not acting with clarity or certainty, but with the arrogance that comes with a false sense of freedom. I allowed desire to rule my decision, just as I had allowed desire to rule Esau’s creation. Then I shared in a decision that was not mine to make, and I carry that sorrow.


Roger Barbee is a retired English teacher and school administrator who lives on Lake Norman in North Carolina with his wife Mary Ann, five cats, and three dogs. He enjoys reading, especially non-fiction, working in his wood shop, gardening, and has a small collection of first editions.


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By way of background, I received my MFA in painting from Washington University, St. Louis in 1999, and have worked with numerous artists including Nancy Rubins, James Nares, and Frank Stella through preparatory work as well as being a consultant. Currently, I am a Professor of Art and Graphic Design as well as the Chair of the College of Education, Arts & Sciences, and Nursing at Montana State University-Northern.
I have included several images that reflect the theme of "human transformation or interaction with their environment or emotional landscape."
Artist Statement:
My work encompasses figurative portrayals that synthesize different traditions and genres while playing with perceptions of identity and social order. The paintings are an accumulation of various stylistic influences, which I use to address political and social issues. I'm currently engaged in both current events and day-to-day life; the work roots itself in life experiences and my understanding through illustrative means. In the past, I have used vintage children's books as source material, which takes on new meaning through contemporary context. However, my work is evolving from that imagery as I'm finding it to be limited and creatively confining. However, the paintings still begin with an idea, the image that I want to convey. Of course, there are always discoveries by way of accidents through the process of creation, but the underlying concept still resonates.
These artworks are a compilation of images and literal layers of paint, only to be sanded down and refined through the addition of more layers. This process allows for early traces to co-exist with visual additions--an essential aspect of the overall concept. The method of adding and removing layers is not just about surface which, in the end, is smooth yet visually tactile--it's about rediscovery and the overall imagery. The surfaces relate to sensory memory, correlating with moments in time. In small areas throughout the work, all of the layers become visible, showing traces of a previous painting, created before being covered with a new image.
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