As Dante wanders the trackless forest
of rocks and crags, the heat wrings sweat
and diverts his mind with thoughts
of Beatrice near the Arno River.
Might he find her amidst this gloom?
Then he hears calls of ravens
seeding the infected winds.
He’s stopped by a loathsome shock,
a wanderer dressed in loin cloth rags
his staff stabbing at ravens
which swoop and nip his hair
a matted nest, red as the roseate flares
that bloom the far horizon.
The traveler speaks, his voice forlorn
“I am Cain, the wanderer.
It seems we share this futile path.”
Cain leans against his staff and stares.
“I track eternity under sentence of God.
You, Pilgrim, chase a dream in your head.
You will not find your fancied love here.
As I will not find a place to rest.”
Dante seeks escape in the fiery
crags as clouds wink red and rumble,
a rebuke of thunder.
He decides to risk a query:
“Why did you slay your brother?
What force of envy
drove you to such murder?”
The ravens scream, resume attack
and Cain wields his staff against them,
crazed maestro conducting
a symphony of crows.
“My brother stole God’s love from me
like Florence stole your home
by banishing you.”
Dante watches, appalled at the sight
of red tufts in the claws of the ravens.
“God gave me Beatrice to rouse my verse.
Her blood flows as ink from my pen.
Your brother’s blood stains the soil he tilled
and nothing you sow will grow again!”
Dante pushes past the wanderer,
flees the ravens’ raucous rants
and the swoosh of a staff in air.
According to the Bible, Cain and his brother Abel brought offerings to God. Cain brought of the first-fruits and Abel, a shepherd, a firstling of his flock. Without giving reason, God accepted only the offering of Abel. Angered, Cain killed his brother, for which he was subjected to a double curse: the ground would no longer yield to him its wealth, and he was condemned to be a “fugitive and a vagabond” on the earth for the rest of his life.