Erin Elkins Radcliffe, “Three Stelae of a Creation Myth”

A sightless god,
a first woman and first man,
and a child in a crows’ nest, atop an extinct pine tree:

The old god was blind and made of mud—
and balked even as he made the first people,
flinging clay from his stubby hands
as he bellowed from a hollow mouth.

Some would call him Earth;
some would call him Entropy or Father.
He fashioned his own eyes
from a sliver of rock and a dry pine needle,
gently setting them into the sockets
where only a blur could answer him.

The clay the old god flung into the ocean
settled onto its floor in the shape
of the first woman and first man,
who reached inside each other’s mouths

and discovered hunger.  The first woman—
her black hair rising up like a kesa behind her—
draped an eel around the first man’s neck
and sunk her teeth into its living belly.

The eel’s blood ribboned, and the man
and woman drank in the current, blood,
and salt and made the first children,
who soon outnumbered the coral and all the fish.

Their children marched from the ocean
onto beaches, into forests, and up mountains,
past the old god and his failing eyes.
The people learned how to heave ore into swords:

they made kings and walls, songs,
and names for children and tea cups.
In time, they dreamed up gods who wore antlers
or wobbled atop the legs of cranes.

Their kings made the gods invent toil—
a garbled story about a messenger crow
mistaking a bag of weeds for a bag of rice—
so that the people spent their lives calf-deep in paddy water.

Their heroes rose and fell: on the beach they all emerged from,
a monk on his way to war once hung his robes
from the limbs of a single pine tree
so that, on his return, the robe’s hem and sleeves
would be scented with pine and not stained with blood.

The tree burned and was replanted,
was chopped down and then replanted—
until the air from the beach warmed and soured
and the pine trees finally went extinct.

But made-up gods—no matter how feral or complicit—
dim and dissipate, like the sun dropping into the ocean
as we heave boats from our sinew onto the rushing tide.

In Tokyo, the crow’s children
make nests from the wire coat hangers
they steal from balconies and bend into bowls
that perch on top of branchless utility poles.

The egg teeth of their blue-eyed chicks
slice through sky-blue shells

so that in this tangle of hanger and electric line,
every crow emerges beak-first and laughing.




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