Genesis 4:6–7

Poems are enigmatic by nature, always carrying more than the poet knows. Whether surface-level poesy or resolutely constructed language, doors open into dimly-known, evocative space. Poems can start with observation but push through it and deep enough into a wilderness beyond to return with a more profound reflection than a rapid response.

Incense and dejection flicker across Cain’s face at being bested. [It would be intriguing to have a description of Abel’s face. How do you, as a reader, think Abel projected his reception of favor?]

These recognized responses become the start of the poem in these verses. Where do Cain’s anger and collapse come from? An impossible question for even the most introspective. It might as well be asked which place of watery chaos welling up through the soil provided the conditions for the shaping of an ’adam? There will never be a memorial built there.

Though addressed to Cain, this poem is also for Abel, Seth, and every reader to the present. Whether you offer well or not, there is a serpent built into every setting—every choice. Like it or not, to choose is risky and to not choose even riskier.

The presence of mistake and sin is as ubiquitous as this whole strange scene of unasked for sacrificial worship covering over sibling testing and rivalry.

Neither innocence nor an internalized sense of good and not-good exempts from a provocative question or dare. This is a perennial state of affairs, no matter whatever the moral system lived within.

Even so, there is a word of hope that whether one is caught by a temptation or not, there is no such trap that holds ultimate sway.

Even this declaration contains a risk because poems—in general, and especially this particular one—are notoriously difficult to understand, much less translate into a current economic model or idolatry.

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