by David Bergman

about the author: David Bergman is the author of many books of poetry (which would sometimes put us off at the Review). David Bergman's work though was always a pleasure to read and add them to our pages. He has been poetry editor for The Gay & Lesbian Review for many years. -gcb (2011, updated) (P.S. I don't know HTML code well enough to create "standard" paragraph indents. This poem is intended to have every other line indented, which I've represented here with the underscore; sorry.)


Abel's Story

__It was no garden of mine,
but theirs before there was a time before.
__All I ever learned of it
were the shadows its impregnable wall
__cast over the wide valley
and the sorrow it brought to my mother
__who each day knelt at the gate
pleading with the angel to let her steal
__a look through the bars, or step
within again just once before she died.

__Sometimes the angel would sneer
at her, other times he'd laugh, but mostly
__he paid her no mind - her voice
lost in the flapping of his wings, her form
__erased by his brightness. I
came to resent Eden with an ardor
__reserved for the things we are
supposed to love, but sap our love instead:
__nothing I could ever do
would recompense my parents for its loss

__or make my brother and me
other than poor and painful substitutes.
__Still, I built her a garden
of her own, where fruits insinuated
__themselves into her closed hand,
and where the spectrum of the visible
__made harmonies of color
sweeter than the birdsong that splashed the air
__or the rich bouquet of scent
that brought all seasons into her compass.

__She was amused for awhile
by strolling through the serpentining walks
__or gaining some high prospect
of our unencumbered land. Wild creatures
__who learned they didn't need to fly
at her approach would nuzzle their soft brows
__against her wizened body.
But soon, soon, she returned to her vigil
__at the gate as though only
pleasures lost were worthy of pursuing.

__Soon after my brother learned
to hunt. He'd be gone for days, then return
__with a deer or speckled
partridge. His clothes smelled of brake and garlic
__and the blood of recent kills,
and though we had all we needed to eat
__without his contributions,
we devoured what he brought and sent him
__away to find us still more.
Our fires blazed with the fat of dying,

__but we saw in Mother's face
what we had never seen before - delight -
__for here were pleasures she had
not known in Paradise and were, therefore,
__undimmed by comparison.
I came to love my brother then much more
__than I had ever loved him.
When he was gone I'd wait for his return
__as the sleepless wait for dawn -
to set them free from their failure to sleep

__and give them reason to rise.
If tired, he would let me lift from his back
__the limp carcass of a calf
taking his deadly weight upon myself.
__I watched with wonder and not
a little fear the changes taking place
__within his body: the arms
grown inch by inch more sinewy and thick,
__the chest firmed and broadened by
hauling prey and scaling mountain scarp.

__Before he began to hunt,
we maintained a distance from the dying
__when they fell across uor paths,
avoiding such places till the bodies
__sank in the forgiving earth.
But seeing him grow large with their embrace
__we also began to take
our strength from the consumption of the dead
__and I saw how he became
more dangerous and dear because of it.

__We were neither innocent.
I helped at the sacrifice, stoked the fire
__What you need to imagine
is a man m ore beautiful than ever
__there has been or is to be
rising before you from a field washed
__with grass golden in the last
gleamings of the day, a man approaching
with the inexorable
power of a god. This is what you need

__to understand why I lay
my head against his shoulder and drew him
__close as his shadow at noon
when it fears its extinction by the sun.
__For a moment I forgot
we hate most what we don't permit ourselves
__to love, and with pitiless
rage defile what we would elsewhere homage.
__He struck me down like a poor
creature that had been injured in his trap

__and could not survive if freed
and yet was unworthy to take back home
__and set upon the table.
He struck and struck again as if there was
__some further ground to fall to,
and then he stopped and knelt down, and gently
__stroked my hair, and then he looked
like that burning angel at Eden's gate
__guarding that country we know
forever as someone else's sorrow.