Son of Cain

During the past seven months since I finished writing a poem every day for a year, I have not used this site much. In truth my own writing has been inconsistent. I’ve been jumping from project to project with long breaks in between writing or editing sessions. In fairness my life has been full of many good things including reading! Right now I am half-way through John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Near where I left off there’s an extended discussion on the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.

“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul…Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul—the secret, rejected, guilty soul. Mr. Trask, you said you did not kill your brother and then you remembered something. I don’t want to know what it was, but was it very far apart from Cain and Abel?”

I look forward to seeing how this imagery will unfold in the rest of the novel. So far Steinbek has proved himself a master of probing Biblical images like a wound to amplify the harsh elements of his story, which in turn serves as a commentary on both the biblical narrative and the human condition.

This discussion also reminded me of one of the poems that I wrote in 2016 before I started my Year of Poems project. This poem was my own wrestling with the story of Cain and Abel and God’s rejection of Cain. As Samuel Hamilton points out in East of Eden, it is Cain and not Abel who has children. Children, who if you read on in the biblical narrative go on to build the first cities, work with bronze, make music, and even write some of the first recorded rhymes. In other words, it is Cain who is “the fathers of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” (Gen 4:21)

Son of Cain

I thought I was Abel,
the good son, persecuted for doing right,
but I love gardening.
When I work hard I expect recognition,
not loud parades or accolades,
but the quiet nod, the pat on the back.
I thrive on quiet, proud, humility.

That silence would kill me.

Quiet disapproval for sins I couldn’t see.
My brother basking in warmth hidden from me,
my younger brother.

I hope I wouldn’t act as Cain.
But Cain, no doubt, doubted he would act as Cain.

If you do well, will you not be accepted?
Herders, craftsmen, musicians are all born of Cain
and haunted, like their father, by those words.
Lyres and pipes, smithies and cities,
all are children of Cain,
ever searching, ever questing to atone.
Poets too are children of Cain.

Do well and you will be accepted.
Do well – simple words.
But what if like Cain my fruit, my children, my music, even my words are not enough to wash away the blood.
The blood He seemed to see before it ever washed those rocks.
The bloody taint on all the fruit Cain offered the same day Abel brought his spotless lambs.
Do well and you too will be Abel.
It’s greater than I can bear.

I cannot be an able son.
My fruit is tainted like the father of gardeners, musicians, and poets.
There’s very little hope for Cain,
but Cain needed hope most of all.
I hope he hoped when Seth was born,
for the son of Seth was born for men like Cain,
and all his sons,
I hope

On Writing Poems Daily for a Year

It has been over a month since I finished writing a poem every day for a year. Once every 24 hours for 365 days I sat down to write a new poem from scratch. I have enjoyed the break this last month from late nights writing poetry by LCD screen. I will admit that I have not spent the entirety of the last month thinking of more poems, editing my overflowing supply of poems, or even contemplating the benefits of writing a poem every day for a year. But it was a unique experience, and I learned a great deal in the process about poetry, writing, and habits. Here are a few of those lessons.

  1. Creativity comes in waves.

There were streaks of time when everything I wrote felt flat to me. Sometimes for a week or more at a time the poems would feel rote and if there was a spark to them I couldn’t see them. The poems that I loved also came in waves. There were days when I felt like I was sinking three pointers shot after shot. It felt great, and I don’t even like basketball.

  1. Keep writing through every mood.

Writing every day, I frequently found myself writing despite my mood, inspiration, or interest. I’ve had poems that I really like come out of boredom, regret, dissatisfaction, as well as their opposites. Honest exploration or at least acceptance of my emotional state helped me produce writing that I liked more often than the days I “lied”.

  1. Most of what I write disappoints me to some degree.

I’m not proud of a lot of the poems I wrote this year and that’s fine. I’ve known I wanted to write since I was ten years old. I remember the second I announced my ambition to my Mom, yet I’ve usually shied away from finishing writing projects for over a decade – in large part due to a fear of producing something so bad that it was clear I had no business writing. The truth is Frank Herbert is right, “fear is the mind killer.” Many bad poems and novels must be written before stumbling on a couple good ones. And in the end I found that I was not writing to produce those few good poems. I was writing because I loved writing, rhymes, and words, producing a few good poems was an added blessing.

  1. Every piece of writing needs editing.

One of the downsides of posting poems the same day I wrote them was that I only had time to do a quick pass for spelling, grammar, and other minor improvements before posting them. I now have a 370-page document of poems that I plan on sorting through and editing during the coming year, and I’m sure I will find something to edit on every single poem. My sincere thanks and appreciation to my friends and followers who read all these first drafts. If you have a poem or two you especially liked, please let me know. Feedback is helpful as I begin to dig into editing.

  1. Any task can become a part of your routine.

I was surprised how quickly writing became part of my routine. I even started resenting it the same way I resent other habits I’ve established. “It’s 11pm, I’m in bed, and I forgot to brush my teeth” easily became “It’s 11pm, I’m in bed, and I have to write my poem. But it also became something that I needed to do in the same way that I need to brush my teeth or shower to feel prepared in the morning.

  1. Any task can stop being in your routine.

This can be both good and bad. During the last year I cut different things out of my day when necessary because I was prioritizing writing. However, the other side is that the habit of writing that I took a year to cultivate, took only a week to disappear.

  1. Inspiration can come from anywhere

This is what excites me still about writing a poem every day. There is poetry everywhere waiting to be recognized and pointed out. I saw a man walking in plaid sweatpants, a sunhat, and a plunger (Day 121), a church sign I disagree with (Day 275), a father holding his son (Day 217), LaLa Land (Day 56), traffic jams (Day 13), and a field on a cold day (Day 49). I walked with eyes a little more open since starting this project last year, and I hope you will too.