A Student Spells “Abel” as “Able”

Poem by Jo Angela Edwins

And I cannot help myself, I must
imagine poor Abel as able
to defend himself, perhaps to whip
Cain with the cane we mostly come to
lean on in time, beating backward
not only the murderer within us but also
our gradual growth toward death, our succumbing
to the putrefaction of original sin — 
the strength in evil, the weakness in good, twin
objects of our wildest loathings.

Old preachers in their manly self-righteousness
would love for us to believe Eve’s craving
for tart fruits doomed us all, but truth be told,
those sad brothers were the first tipsy domino.
Abel’s blood spills into desert sand,
and it trickles through millennia to robber barons,
dope runners, cock fighters, husbands
and wives, and children in close school desks
who cheat without thinking twice.
This is what it comes to, poor Abel, your blood:
a girl stealing paperbacks from dime stores,
a boy throwing stones at dirty windows.

Ask Jesus, your sad-faced descendant:
the only worse thing than dying to save them
is dying to make them in need of a savior.
As if you had a choice in the matter.
As if none of us know the real culprit in it all,
his head resting in clouds he called into being,
his bodiless body stretched out on a bed
softer than forgiveness, as wide as the land
where the rock in your brother’s hand fell.

JO ANGELA EDWINS grew up on the border of Georgia and South Carolina, and currently teaches creative writing, composition, and literature 150 miles away in Florence, South Carolina. She has published a chapbook and several poems in various journals and anthologies.