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Charlotte Mandel


The Garden of Abel and Cain


A partly mowed field, stubble. A tree trunk bent nearly horizontal 

skims a row of bayonet knives planted to aim at the sky.  

A white-haired man walking out of the east, a youth walking out of the west stumble, 

face to face. The older speaks first.


It’s you.


Who are you?  Your face slips off like an image

          on water — clear and then eyeless.

          How old are you?


You are seventeen.


Of course, but you? 


Seventy-seven, Abel.  



          Give me my stolen life years!


Years exhausted 

          running from the image of your 


Innocence !


Show me your innocence, charmer.  

          Where do you keep it safe?


What is the sign on your forehead?    leaf?  hand?


Your halo.  Why

          die of one blow?  The word Death 

          came to life in your body. 


And Murder —

          Slaughter    Massacre    Butchery    Carnage


Others, Abel, others, I did not invent War. 


We used to wrestle, even on rocky ground

          I never made you bleed. 


Abel, you stank of animal blood,

          swinging fresh kill in my face.

          I smell it on you now!


Meat, brother, not Man.  You were willing to eat

          from my knives.


And you devoured my bread.  I invented 

          the plough, set millstone to the falls.

          Creating a garden for our parents—  

          real—not the fantasy they dreamed about.


I’d watch them shed tears in their sleep.

          They’d wake to smile at me in the doorway.


And if I had been the Loved Favorite?


Cain, you were!

          Ever miracle of their first-born!


Did you hate me for that? 


No, but alone was always best.  I loved

          the pasture’s sibilant hums,

          animal calls without the strangling knots

          of voices arguing, worse than crows.    

          I came home singing.


We could sing more easily than speak 



Cain sings a lyrical theme without words, 

Abel harmonizes, they stop. 

Cain goes on speaking:


          but only you had musician’s fingers —

          I invented the lyre for you.


Drowned out by your chainsaw—

          this twisted tree 

          is all you left growing for me.


Is this our garden, Abel?  destroyed field?

          He reaches, breaks off a hollow stalk,

          tries to whistle with it, and fails. 

          I had carved a flute 


Abel takes it to his lips and whistles.


Yes.  Cain, do you remember the names 

          of those pieces?  we called them

          sound-poems, names like 


“Piss Steaming on Pebbles!”


They laugh.


Cain, why didn’t Mother and Father sing?

          Were they tone deaf?


Too nervous.   

          Their ears were listening for disasters.  

          Afraid for happiness overheard.




Brother, are you still so innocent? 

          The one to whom we burned

          tithes of appeasement.


Not my fault that

          grain burns thinner smoke than flesh. 

          Why attack me?  


We were instruments: 

          You his trumpet, I his drum.


And the world to come?


History’s harmonic equation:


        Love multiplied by Envy


       the square root of Eden


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