David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
Cain

     {from Gnosis}

  

 CAIN (((((((((((((     first movement

 CAIN (((((((((((((     first movement

 

 

i

 

 

Dark night.  Firelight flickers.  Eve shifts

Squat on her hams and stirs thick broth.

  Night cries shudder even Cain, the eldest.

  The father tears absently at a carcass, eats,

  Licks his fingers, rubs his matted hair.

  Monstrous shadows cast on stone.  Abel prays.

At last they eat, all four, dipping hands,

Cradling broth, tearing at death and beast.

  We hear only teeth, lips, tongue, appetite.

  Then the cry of an animal, sharp shriek,

  Enough to give pause.  All bend at prayer.

  At times such as this there is silence

Greater than isolation, larger than grief,

More absolute than pain, this first shelter.

 

 

ii

 

 

Summer twilight.  The cave face greets

The setting sun.  That distant sky burns

      Indigo, scarlet.  Closer in perspective,

      Dense vegetation, a stretch of arid waste.

      Closer, vegetation, deep emerald, blue.

      At the base of the slope, a tall stand

Of graceful herbs swaying, just touched

By wind, lulling, warm to Cain's torso,

      Bare, smooth, tanned by the melting sun.

      Later the fear will come.  Bliss melts

      Toward approaching dark.  Soon the cries,

      Night-shriek, Abel fearing for his lambs.

And yet here is a taste of justification,

Even joy.  Cain smiles and takes his pipe.

 

 

iii

 

 

A hawk cradles north.  Abel's shudder.

And yet to see it skip on the wind, coil

      Like smoke, plunge, and suddenly now,

      To be the hawk, now suddenly the prey,

      To be the wind and the emerald earth,

      Just now for an instant, inhalation

And scent, and the world rim glistening

On fire, melting fire tonguing night.

      Cain.  First son of Adam passing the pipe.

      Such sudden sweet bitterness—even Eve,

      His mother had had it, had had hawkness,

      Scentness, smokeness, suchness, tathata.

Cain rubs his belly to feel that tremor,

That last sweet warmth fading into lapse.

 

 

iv

 

 

Cain works the grain, weeds at a slender stand.

Sweat feel glistening, almond hue, sweat scent.

  Coffee shoulders, face, blond shag hair.

  He works the weeds with his fingers, intent,

  Melting tired, pauses to rest on his haunches.

  Through a break in stunted trees Adam appears,

Ripple in sweat, cradling cadaver, a dead boar,

Eyes blank, bleeding, the stone tipped spear

  Slicked, crimson.  Adam is blood man, strength,

  Carnage.  Raises the boar tremulous, exultant,

  Smiles strong teeth for tearing, rapt ingestion.

  Too late.  Cain is tilling soil, life, harvest.

Close at hand, a measure of safety, his spear

Has never tested flesh.  Tastes only Adam's kill.

 

 

v

 

 

The day of fire, when all summer is anguish

And total heat, hand heat and hand sweat,

  Cain leaves his toil to lie in naked light,

  Prone in a clearing, sun's hand on groin

  And whimper, melting, melting appetite,

  Belly down naked on the earth, earth's hand

And tongue, tickle of soil, sharper grass,

When all time shudders, nearly stops, boils

  Mad fever, twitch, before he lets it stop,

  Before his shudder lets it stop, the earth,

  Its heated hand, its woman groin and scent,

  Its wriggle.  Yet he must never deceive her,

Sweat damp, sperm and quiver, his mother,

No never his mother, as if his mother's God.

 

 

vi

 

 

So hard when things went dead in autumn.

Even that scream of color seemed lament.

      And watching his brother with the lambs

      Or braving the waste beyond the forest,

      The distant further growth, a rim of sky

      Receding, always receding, as if to think

That even sky was death, the ghost of it,

A death of breath that came in haze

      In a final bitter fall with Abel praying.

      And trying hard not to pray, to pray it

      All away, the birds' flight south, haze

      Of his breath a wrinkle in their flight

When the dark came sudden and the night.

These days even the white bird shrieked.

 

 

vii

 

 

In cruel winter when even animals die to lend

Them skins, Cain sits in the flickering shadow,

  Drawing colors with his brain.  Image quivers,

  Melts into bleeding hues.  Traces serpent

  In flight, massing demons, withering shapes

  No hand has ever caught.  Urine from a cup,

His father's.  Adam lies with his own visions,

Sipping the broth of life.  This old man's old,

  Perhaps two hundred winters, sipping the broth

  Of life.  Even Eve the wife.  Abel chanting.

  That first paradise was color incarnate, bled

  Toward form, absent insect, welter of hosanna.

They seek ten hours of Eden, more than mind

Can bear, Eden entrapped in the urine stench.

 

 

viii

 

 

Dazzling winter.  Primordial four sit inward

Toward fire.  Adam casts the first twig,

  Glazed in rain—"In the beginning was world,

  Form, fire.  In the beginning was desire."

  Abel casts the second, glazed in ice—

  "In the beginning was the beginning, form

On deep.  Adam woke from painless sleep."

Eve casts the third, glazed in urine—

  "In the beginning was form, food, seed.

  Eve emerged from Adam, partner to his need."

  Cain casts the fourth, glazed in blood—

  "In the beginning, knowledge, pain from God."

The broth of life engenders endless praise.

The silence is unbroken, suffered seven days.

 

 

 

 CAIN (((((((((((((     second movement

 CAIN (((((((((((((     second movement

 

 

i

 

 

Spring chant, voice of first blossoms,

Green surge, loins of the shuddering earth,

Spring voice, plant and tree,

Bird shout, emerald clamor—

 

Cain sings to the far woods

In search of branches, tears the high grass

To wed them into structure,

Weds limbs and grass

 

That God might melt his winter pain

Perhaps forever,

There on the north slope, bare as bone

To take his sacrifice,

 

Chanting, dancing, filled with the lungs of spring,

Blood warmth, bronze shoulders,

First-born Cain, vegetation,

Tremor of the flesh,

 

Shouting to the distant foliage,

Back arched, body tensed,

Axe and spear to the rise

That spring might never pass, might last,

 

Lifting his grain to God Jehovah

There beside his brother's blood-black stone,

Now Abel's, Abel's lamb,

Daring to bathe again his God with blood.

 

 

ii

 

 

Abel so proud of his first-born lamb,

Feminine Abel fierce as death,

Flicker of firelight in the wayward shelter,

Waiting for the night,

 

Anticipation, glory of the lull,

Morning brilliance on a high hill,

Rapture of ascent,

But here the dark-haired brother fondling,

 

Cooing to his lamb,

The innocent, first-blood of his flock,

As if last summer's grain were caught,

Were poisoned sustenance.

 

Cain sits bitter with his pipe.

Perhaps the God will grin,

Will estimate the awful sin of slaughter,

Will weigh the difference.

 

Eve kneeling at the broth,

Adam knotting the morning's cape,

The mewing of the first-born lamb,

And Abel's chant, that awful pious rant,

 

Scream of his scream, the innocent,

That God might bathe his teeth in pious flesh

And flicker toward lament.

Cain draws inward in his torment.

 

 

iii

 

 

In early slant of sun, Cain climbs.

Woven branches creak, strain

With his morning weight.

Cain climbs, cradling his precious grain.

 

Birds creak, shrill in morning light.

It was so soon, the dark

Released from grip of night.

Cain climbs, dizzy from the height.

 

Birds shriek.  Below, his brother

Straddles bleeding stone,

Wrestles beast toward blade, sharp bone.

Creation must atone.

 

In early light Cain settles

At the top his sacrifice, climbs giddy down.

Afraid to view the base,

He drops, seemingly without grace.

 

The father stands in woven cape,

Lamb's wool, soft, formidable.

He is past two hundred, young as Cain

In body, appetite, manly in its drape.

 

At last they're kneeling,

Even Jehovah, first-man, Adam.  Eve chants.

Silence.  Silence breaks.

The word reveals.  It is seldom healing.

 

                                                               

 

iv

 

 

Above, vast above, the sky in shadow,

Dark, the sun rimmed in black,

Rose light on the arid hill,

On Abel's sacrifice, blood light,

 

And through the swirling dust

The wind of voice, sullen, hoarse,

As if Creator speaks from agitation,

Weighing urgency, choice,

 

As if offended, taxed,

Hoarse with the wind on dust and blood,

On Cain's offending limbs and grass,

Gusts at the structure,

 

Scattering grain in flakes,

A whirl of light and sound, annoyance

Voicing with the cancelled sun,

Wind-shriek, devastation held

 

In curt abeyance, just at the teeth

Of fear, Cain groveling,

Adam struck, wilting in his cape,

Eve chanting monosyllabic bosom, awesome,

 

Abel grinning, mastering exultation,

Rubbing his brain,

Fingering trace of face, his mask,

To witness Cain the eldest in disgrace.

 

 

v

 

 

In a clearing Cain lies against Abel,

Brotherly touch, serpent taste.

Male warmth and scent

Against the younger brother, serpent kiss.

 

The hand of earth is upon them,

Soil skin and blade,

Abel's bone blade smooth in Cain's fingers.

Touch burns, heats, lingers,

 

Smooth touch and ache.

Time shudders in their youth, flesh feel,

Urgency, tremor, a trial in bliss

And pain.  So easy to take

 

The bone and press it to his throat,

Quick twist and shudder,

Abel's twitch, spasm on his length,

For Cain has the greater strength.

 

Ultimate sacrifice!

Will God Jehovah bless this act?

Abel bleeds Cain's needs, an aching touch,

Down, ever down toward fact.

 

So sure is Cain of blessing,

Melting, melting into sacrifice, a taste

Of heated, sweet scent blood.

Licking at death, and death is finally God.

 

 

 CAIN (((((((((((((     third movement

 CAIN (((((((((((((     third movement

 

 

i

 

 

When the hand of night is on the earth

He approaches the cave face unseen.

He shudders in his fear for what the shudders mean.

If God exists he has given God birth

In a bone blade, in a spear.

Even God must fear

His spear.  Cain climbs unnoticed to the rise

And Abel's sacrifice.  If God is wise

His tears are ice.  There is winter in this spring,

Autumn.  If God is wise his tears are suffering.

The weight of the dead lamb on his shoulder.

If God is wise he'll die tonight,

Rather than disrupt this lamb in flight,

This terror.  For Cain is 20 billion winters older.

 

 

ii

 

 

He will range wide, search for the land of Nod.

It is often said

That Lord Jehovah God

In Nod is dead.  The red

Strangers coming in the night

To share their beast and bread, red

Like Adam, filling his sons with fright,

Sharing the mother, sharing Eve in firelight, red dread,

When Abel fled, fled to his flock and cried,

And even part of Cain died,

The red men strangers often boasted God is dead

In Nod, no God in sun or moon or starlight, brain,

That if God lives he lives in pain.

In Nod the son of Cain to Cain will bow his head.

 

 

iii

 

 

Far away, in the land of leaking rivers,

In the land of gray sky and starlight,

Where hope was a curse Cain scorned

That tears might wither,

There by the clay houses, he prevailed

To lift his Enoch to a private God,

God in the forge that fashioned bronze,

God in the thighs that yielded to his seed,

A God in need, Jehovah God indeed,

To cast small eye on blood or urine stench

But cherish feasts that God himself invented,

A grace of form, two yielding mouths,

An appetite and lust for fruits that ripened to the touch

And sickened in the heart when touching was too much.

 

 

iv

 

 

In time Enoch becomes Enoch, a city.

Cain lives on, touched by blood.

No prayer can heal blood's welt

If prayer could try.  He fondles manly strength,

Enoch safe, unfelt,

Yearns for Abel.  Abel is lover, memory,

Whimper, prayer.  He could find God there,

Bone blade whetted on his skin.

That God is death is Abel's parting sin,

Lamb that wedded neck to knife,

Primordial strife, surrender.  Could it end there?

Could murder wait?  Must action state, determine?

From slaughter there is daughter,

Child of his yield.  The wound of rage is seldom healed.

 

 

v

 

 

Far past nine hundred winters,

As best this world could measure primal Cain,

His travels inward took him toward a measure

Of resolve and found him on a plain

Some months of hardship distant,

Bent, repentant,

Searching for a legendary past,

As if all past could last,

Prevail.  And stood and viewed a distant rise

Vaguely familiar to his failing eyes,

And climbed and found dead Abel's stone,

And knelt in primal fear that fear might not atone

For Enoch, Irad, Lamech, Jubal, Tubal-cain,

Eve's anguish, human slaughter, pain.

 

 

vi

 

 

Altered.  Human could not reach

In half a day the further edge of devastation.

And yet the blood-black stone.

Trees felled as if by catastrophic heat,

The heat of vengeance, rage, a rot of limbs

And scattered beast—all life had ceased.

And yet the blood-black stone.

Charred earth, the scent of burning flesh,

Tongue, hair, appetite,

There in the noon-day night—and yet the stone.

Fresh blood upon the stone.

The crimson slick, scented to his taste and touch,

To quench his thirst, his thirst was such,

And shuddering sky convulsed to see him drink.

 

 

vii

 

 

Blood beast and fire.  Atonement?

For 40 billion years the world would ache

Cain's vision in a blinding flash,

Kneeling to lick the lamb at Abel's throat,

And held against that waste

The lambs bone blade would kill in haste

Or heat or pain,

Straining to live and not to strain,

10 thousand from his loins to die alone,

10 billion from Jehovah's throne,

Dark scarlet blood, tormented leak,

A vault of crimson juice in earth and waste,

The spill of humankind's desire

And Cain's contrition.  Was such Jehovah God's ambition?

 

 

viii

 

 

Cain touches time, time's grip

In tongue and lip.

That which is born is meant to perish.

We eat the option that we cherish.

Cain touches fact, fact's chill

In blade and kill.

That which is born is known to slaughter

All things, son, brother, daughter.

Cain touches love, love's touch as such.

That which is born may still atone,

For lasting peace reclaim black stone.

Cain touches pity, pity's tears in all his fears.

That which is born is known to live

In joy, bliss, torment, but is known to live.

 

                                              1981