Page 40 - WTP VOl. IX #1
P. 40

Like Never Before (continued from preceding page)
must have had to search for, a little stage on which to play the human tragedy. Let the wind and rain con- tinue sculpting us. Let every path lead to a precipice. We care nothing for your puny awe.
The book says I am flint but I know nothing of that. As far as I am concerned that book is far in the future; besides, I don’t need a description of myself. I am not only dead, I have always been dead. I was the first
to welcome Abel to Sheol, as the book calls it. His blood is upon me, quite literally. Still, I cannot be held responsible. I am only a broken piece of the former world. I can enkindle but I do not burn. I don’t care what they say Richard, William, Cain—and you, yes, you—I am not you. Nor could I ever wish to be. Now for Ables’ sake, who is my brother now, no longer yours—get these words off of me!
I will find my way to the very center of the earth. It calls to me, would drink me. Until I find my way there, it is decreed I cannot rest. All my lineage, through which I would have otherwise flowed, cry out from the ground. 1
3. Marked
In the biblical account, God places a mark on Cain to defend him from the wrath of others, but who these others are is unexplained: until this moment there have been no other people in the narrative, no one outside its frame. Cain seems violently twisted, seen in flight from the disrupted order, from the half fin- ished grave, from the rest of his family. Some accounts have God putting a curse on Cain after his attempt to hide, so that forever after he is marked as one with
a different fate, one who is easily seen to be “other,” perhaps by the haunted look in his eyes, by the evi- dence of trauma he carries with him.
The body hides nothing from the bodies of others, even if we have learned, of necessity or politeness or fear, not to acknowledge what our bodies perceive.
From one perspective it is the body that is ageless, deathless, reconstituted generation after generation, an uninterrupted generative eternity, while the self
1. The writer Steven Huff tells me he has read this story in the original when he was studying Hebrew, and he told me that the word blood is plural in the text. Bloods. Talmudic scholars read “your broth- er’s bloods cry out from the ground” as the cries of all Abel’s children and grandchildren and so on, his entire lineage, which reminds us of course that we are descendants of Cain.
is a contingent and grievously temporary complex of language and experience and circumstance.
A self must learn. The body is. The body knows. A self learns to act as if it is real, and learns to ignore what the body knows. The body transcends the self and not, as religions have it, the other way round; even when they posit a stand-in for the self called the soul, the idea is that a personal transcendence is possible and ought to be sought after. Begin with that orien- tation to the divine, and one can talk all one wants about charity, generosity, brotherhood — it’s every man for himself. Even before there were religions there was religious war.
Cain’s turn is away from all that existed before his rage overtook him. But what is it exactly that he flees, that he turns from so violently? Those flames are driving him from the anguish of his mother, wheel- ing him away from the sudden sense of himself as monstrous, an understanding he derives from his father’s horrified countenance. Everything that will ever be will be after this flight. Cain is also banished from the pale and compensating paradise of famil- iarity, forever comfortless. Perhaps his anxiety, his discontent, his jittery manner, his bitten nails, his occasional outbursts of defiant anger are the marks by which he will be known, a warning to others that before engaging with him it is necessary to grasp that he inhabits a nightmare.
It is a nightmare for which he believes he is solely responsible. But is he? In the story, the smoke from his sacrifice turns downward. It must have stung his eyes, burned his throat, set him coughing before it left him feeling rejected, disfavored, and abused. His subsequent confrontation with his brother marks, then, the further unfolding of a story that the Lord of the garden could only have written in a vindictive rage of his own. And it is the further expression of that vengeful and fiery animosity that he flees now, fully believing himself a monster.

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