by Tom Laichas
At the Edge of Air
When the newborn inhales the Breath, flesh and clay still comingle.
Between earth and this new animal, there’s no hard edge.
The infant wonders where skin ends, where world begins. Loess infuses a fingertip.
A breeze caresses stray bone.
The child thinks: I am not so far from this earth.
New to the world, the animals listen for every fresh sound. Sap seeps from trunk to crown. Tidal salt crusts the crisp reeds. Grassland soil swells in the sunshine.
From such music, each beast fashions a name as long as the day and as long as the night, chanted in rhythm with all living things.
Then the boy appears. He points his stub of a finger, renaming the creatures with grunts, glottal stops, and guttural growls. All living things are now at his mercy.
The first songs silenced, the Voice revises the verse:
In the beginning, there was prose.
Other-man, also kneaded from clay,
walks by himself
full grown and awake.
Hair as thick as a bear’s, brows heavy,
eyes brown, large as two moons
better to see in the dark.
He knows no names, but he knows the creatures,
their ways and their hungers:
by pawprint and piss he knows them.
If he wants their company, they walk with him willingly.
He has a creaturely walk, light and lively.
They lick his hand; he tickles their ears.
As for the boy, he’s furtive, hiding himself
behind trees, behind boulders.
He’s hiding from Other-man.
He thinks himself clever, the boy.
But other-man knows the boy’s breathing,
his odors, his footfalls as loud as a shadow’s.
One day the boy calls the creatures by name.
Who can resist? They lope and they slither.
He recites their names, chaining them to him.
Other-man watches the boy claim dominion
over creatures who moments before
had told their own stories free from this magic.
On the Garden’s last day, the animals follow the boy
away from the flames and into the world,
beyond Other-man’s knowing.
Belonging to no one,
alone in the wasteland. Other-man runs
this way and that, lost in the wreckage.
The Garden burns hot, hot as a furnace.
Other-man’s bones crack, his marrow boils.
His skull splits, his brain pan sizzles.
Or else he escapes, running wild with grief
to the edge of a field.
He is Cain’s first kill. Some say that, too.
About the Author:
Tom Laichas lives in Venice, California. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in High Window, Lummox, Underfoot, Panoply, Eclectica and elsewhere. Follow him at Left, Write and Centaur (https://leftwritecentaur.com).