"Before Abel" by Maia Carlson
I was born at the crossing of two bones,
which is like the crossing of
two words, who have to break
just to fit.
Words like shatterglass and thunderkite,
cinderglass and bitterbite.
I was born at the crossing of two bones:
Two beasts met with irreconcilable differences, I suppose.
Isn’t that just the way of things?
With an ashdown snow
and a bleakblown wind,
an old woman with pebbles
for eyes and stretched hide
for a face
saw fangbone and jawbone locked,
cuddled in the ashdown snow.
I’ve seen Irish Elk, with their antlers thus enmeshed,
snugged up tight like lovers
with their hands in each other’s ribcages.
Is a religion ever born
of anything less?
I was born at the crossing of two bones
as an Ice-age woman picked up two bare-boned skulls
and saw me
in four glaring eye-sockets.
My flesh-coat gone but a bone-house was enough,
enough for her to see
whatever makes mankind
I breathed in belief through twin bleached nasal passages.
I’ve been born a thousand times before.
From the first real sin—
of one brother crossing another
unto death; vengeance is messy
to the raising of the jawbone of an ass
to the divinity an old woman saw in kissing skulls,
to wars that stretched across nations.
Alexander was Great—
great for a breakbone, crushstone god like me.
I’ve never been born so alive as in the battle-
fields he sowed me in.
Immortal doesn’t mean living forever, perhaps.
Perhaps it means being reborn again
every time someone has a bone to pick with another.
You remember Cain
but I remember Abel.
Because Cain kept on breathing
the smokesweet air
of another God, didn’t he?
But Abel got to pray to me.