First Person Plural

First Person Plural is a series of long narrative poems which retell Biblical stories from the perspective of one of their protagonists. The first in the series is I Am Cain, but there are several more in active development. Watch this space…!

I Am Cain

I am Cain, the firstborn son of man,
Inheritor of all my parents grew:
The seed they planted as the world began,
By what they plucked and ate and chose to do.
Cast, cursed from Eden, they had cast away
That part of heaven which had been my due;
Swapped garden’s evening rest, for toil by day,
To dig the earth and sow and tend and reap;
I raised my harvest from a lesser clay.

My little brother Abel sat by sheep:
He let them wander, gambol, bleat and graze,
Then slaughtered them to earn his bloody keep.

“Now come, my brother, let us offer praise
To Him who cast us out, and let us see
If sacrifice of labour gives us ways
To fathom His forgiveness and be free;
So give of yours, and I shall give of mine
Together we’ll reverse his curse-decree.”

I took to tending root and crop and vine,
I ground the corn to turn it into bread,
I crushed the fruit to turn it into wine,
I raised my harvest to a mighty spread
Of every plant He put for food on Earth,
A feast which would be fit to turn His head.
I raised my voice to Him who cursed my birth,
To honour all the labour on display,
To grant my work was of sufficient worth
To win his favour back, or somehow pay
For birthright that belonged to me and that
My parents had so rashly cast away.

Then Abel came before the Lord and sat.
He let a prayer of praise to heaven rise,
Then killed a lamb, and offered meat and fat.

A voice of heaven’s thunder split the skies,
To bless my brother’s offering and prayer,
But no word came in answer to my cries,
No fair exchange to match my offered fare.
I’d hoped that I would gain my reckoning,
But disregard was all that I found there.

For God said only this: “Your offering,
Is weighed, my son, and it has fallen short.
The fault lies not with what you chose to bring,
But in the way in which your gift was brought:
And in your angry heart and mind which sought
To force the hand of God, to bend my will,
To give you that which only leads to ill.
But Abel gave his gift with open hand,
Returning that to Him by whom it grew,
So I shall bless his life, his line, his land.
And if you bring your offering anew,
With humble heart, I’ll do the same for you,
Or simply do what’s right and that will be
A sacrifice acceptable to me.”

The words of God fell silent like the grain,
Which scatters lifeless onto barren ground:
As I returned to tend my fields again
My mind reverberated with one sound:
“You’ve fallen short; your gift is not enough.”
These words within me echoed round and round,
“You’ve fallen short; your gift is not enough.”
My brother stole my blessing with blood shed,
“You’ve fallen short; your gift is not enough.”
The way back into Eden’s stained with red,
“You’ve fallen short; your gift is not enough.”
For God exchanges love for precious dead,
“You’ve fallen short; your gift is not enough.”
I brought my best, but He would only say,
“You’ve fallen short; your gift is not enough.”
And so with precious Abel’s blood I’ll pay,
With Abel’s blood, with Abel’s precious blood,
I’ll make a sacrifice to stain the way,
With Abel’s blood, with Abel’s precious blood,
And make Him speak the words I long to hear:
“This is enough,” with Abel’s precious blood.

“Now come, my brother, let’s again draw near
To offer up the best of you and me:
If we might be more humble, more sincere,
He’ll give consideration to our plea,
He’ll open Eden’s gate to us again:
And from our parent’s curse grant clemency.”

The fields were heavy with the harvest grain,
Each stalk stood silent by and bowed its head,
The light and heat of day began to wane:
Long shadows stretched behind us as I led
My brother to the place of sacrifice.
And still I was consumed by what He’d said:
“Your gift is not enough to pay the price,”
So as my brother bent his head to pray,
I struck him dead to earn my paradise.

And when I close my eyes I see the way
He knelt so innocent and unaware,
And smell the bitterness of bloody spray;
I nightly hear his cry which split the air,
And still can scarcely raise my heavy hand,
For phantom rock which it won’t cease to bear.

The night drew in but I could only stand,
For I was chilled beyond the midnight cold:
The instant that I’d struck as I had planned,
The madness in my mind had loosed its hold.
The land was drained of colour by the gloom,
Which hid the red of blood on harvest-gold,
And in the dark, I made my limbs resume
Their work, despite my guilt-numbed heart and mind.
I dug a pit to be his unmarked tomb,
Where only death and worms and rot would find;
I buried crops, the rock, the dirt and all
His blood had stained, and left them far behind.
I stole away, and hoped fate would forestall
The reckoning I knew could not be fled.
But evening came before I heard His call,
The voice of heaven’s thunder overhead.
I heard him call for Abel, and again,
And thrice He called my brother’s name, then said:

“I cannot find where Abel’s resting, Cain,
It’s time his flocks were gathered for the night,
But they are scattered all across the plain,
I’ve sought him in the deep and on the height;
And somehow he has wandered from my sight.
If he’s asleep it’s time for him to rise:
But I can’t find the place your brother lies.”

I said, “I’m sure you’ll find him with his sheep.
But why am I to know where he’d be found?
My brother’s life is not for me to keep.”

But He said, “I can hear a dreadful sound:
A hollow voice which cries, ‘My brother’s hand’;
It’s Abel’s blood which calls from underground,
A curse on you and all who work the land.
I hear it still, but scarcely understand.
I cannot bear this awful truth, my son.
Oh Cain, what have you done? What have you done?
For even now your brother’s blood runs deep,
And poisons every part of Earth below:
There are no harvests, now, for you to reap,
For nothing more than strangled weeds will grow,
No matter how you toil, till and sow.
Instead, your fruit forevermore shall be
To bear your sin and wander ceaselessly.”

At this, I threw myself upon my face,
And pleaded that the curse might turn away,
Unworthily, I begged for unearned grace,
And promised ever hence that I’d obey,
And humbly work my land and livelihood,
From then until my final resting day.
For I had heard His words and understood
That just as in my madness I’d believed
By sacrifice of Abel’s blood I could
Have purged my parent’s sin and be received
To dwell in Eden as my father’s heir,
So other minds may likewise be deceived
That ending me may also end despair.

“My God, although I know my sin’s severe,
This punishment is more than I can bear.
I only sought to feel your presence near,
So do not cast me further from your side.
For if you turn your face from me, I fear
That my destruction’s close at hand,” I cried,
And fell once more to weeping on the floor,
Devoid of hope, until the Lord replied:

“The deed is done, the sin was yours alone,
The punishment shall be as I have said.
But Abel’s fate shall not become your own,
For I shall place my mark upon your head,
So all will know that if they strike you dead,
Then they shall bear my vengeance sevenfold,
And neither be forgiven, nor consoled.”

At that the skies fell silent and I knew
That never more I’d hear the voice of God;
I left my barren fields where nothing grew,
And built a city in the land of Nod.
Where I have lived beyond my years to see,
How others use religion as a rod,
To harm the ones with whom they disagree
To try to win a share of heaven’s joy,
Repeating all the evil born in me.

It lives in every heart which would destroy
Another’s life to save them from their sin;
In every king who chooses to deploy
Their holy troops in holy lands to win
By sword and fire the souls of conquered foes,
And all the other wealth which lies within;
In each who claims life’s sacred, and who shows
It burning agents and facilities,
Who do the things they think God must oppose;
In each who’d rather set civilities,
Above the needs of those who need defence
From evil’s violent hostilities;
In every judge who chooses to dispense
The justice of an eye exchanged for eye;
In each who say it’s simply commonsense
Another human being has to die;
In each who thinks theirs is God’s favoured race,
And seeks to purge and cleanse and purify;
In all who put another far from grace;
In each crusade; in every terror cell:
In every one of these I see my face.

I wear the likeness of my parents well:
The heir of both my father and my mother,
I found and paved a highway into hell.

For I am Cain and I have killed my brother:
The firstborn damned of all who kills another.