The Ancient Modern

Cain /  Joshua Alan Sturgill

O Cain, Cain! You built your city upon your crime. You built
a grand machine of culture and technology. You astounded the angels. 
You named your city Eternal, and promised your children it would last forever.

But, you are old. And on your bed, within your house,
inside the citadel you build surrounded by the city walls
your soul is anxious and your dreams distressed.

Tonight, when all your servants—bankers, merchants
craftsmen—are asleep, your thoughts unbidden take you
out by the secret door you made beneath the city walls

the narrow tunnel hidden by your private well—a door
designed to appear as a paving stone. Soon you will be driven
by your dreams to leave the city while the city sleeps.

You'll go East, and farther East than ever since the fateful
moment of your crime.You'll return to the fields
to the meadows of your youth: your root, your Home.

(Your city, ponderous and thriving, has never been a home.)
Trust your feet. As you go, they will recall the mountain paths,
the orchards, the unbound gardens with the flowers 

Adam planted there in imitation of the Paradise.
He planted them for you when you were born—a child
of promise—and they'll remember you when you arrive.

O Cain! Cain! Up there in the mountains of the East, 
in the verdant wildness of your first joy, you know
there is yet a dark and awful place you never stayed to see:

the grave of Able calls to you tonight. And this is why
you fear to leave the comfort of the city—all its music,
sensuality and art. These are not, for you, displays of power

but layers of protection from your grief. Yet in the quiet night
you hear the calling of Abel's blood. The deepest terror
is that his voice is not an accusation, but a longing cry

to have you, his brother, near to him again.
He is calling wordlessly for you to leave your city, leave
its wealth, its towers, its commerce and economy.

Leave its prideful mastery of nature (which you know is really
nature's care for you). Leave your schooling and philosophy. 
Leave your high theology, which was only your silencing

the gentle Voice of God. Leave it all tonight! And with the stars
to guide you (in every hemisphere, they rise in the East), leave
your city to your children. As for you, you are ready to return.

O Cain! Cain! You are staid and grown accustomed to busyness
and servants, strong food and stronger wine. It may be that return
will be your death. You must leave everything, even your life, behind.

But as you suffer toward the East, and as your body fails,
it will lose its wants. Your spirit will grow young again, and when
the city noises fade away, you hear again the Voice of God.

The Voice that spoke to you when you were a child
and spoke again to ask about your brother. But this time,
you will say I am my brother's keeper, but I failed.

I murdered him, and the stone that crushed him crushed my soul as well;
I am also dead. And God will hear you, and will lead you
to weep and beg forgiveness by your brother's grave.

O Cain! Cain! If you leave your city and go back to the East,
God will take your hand and stand with you, and He will call 
your brother's name and raise you both from the dead.

It will be your brother's joy forever to forgive you; and yours
will be to serve him; and in this, you will know the truth 
of the Eternal: every wound and every evil gloriously undone!

All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2019 by Joshua Alan Sturgill

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