Maria Hummel

Letter to Cain

I could say certain things and you’d know what I mean: ground that does not sink to the boot––
although it is green, although rain falls continuously on it––cold limbs battering the air, and no
ice yet.


You’d know what I mean if I said we are between. Between seasons, yes, but also between
the moment when you swallow and the meat hits your gut, when you cut skin and the blood
wells up.


You’d know to find me here, hanging my arms over the edge of a fence, stirring the
grass with my boot to see exactly where the earth still froze.


We have that hardness in us, and it is not just bone.


Our flesh has long resisted melting as the soil will not unclench for the plow, not yet, not
now when we want it to but when we’ve gone past desire and necessity to the place where
you cut your brother’s heart out just to warm your hands.


Tell me about that place. I think I have seen it, stained at the edges of the field, in the jaw of
a dog after he tore a sheep to bits. I reached into his mouth and pulled out the shame that
was missing from his eyes.


You’d know what I mean if I said the earth must be torn, if I said some wounds open before
the knife even touches the skin.

Maria Hummel
Letter to Cain was first published in Alligator Juniper.
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Camille Dungy
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2004, From the Fishouse