Cast: Sister, an authoritative woman, is pacing the paving stones and chain-smoking. A Child is at the top of a ladder with a shotgun, protecting the peach orchard from crows. She is wearing a plain school uniform. Abraham, a workman, is on the roof with a hammer, pounding at something or another. Perhaps he is fixing it.
Props: A ladder, a hammer, a shotgun, a peach orchard, a pouch of tobacco.
Sister (with reverence): In the beginning God created the owls and the bees, and he saw the world brought out of darkness.
Abraham: Then he created roads to carry the footsteps of men beyond the curve of the earth.
Child: And with their footsteps men shattered stones paving the roads into dust. Then God created the goats. (Long pause while the child surveys the orchard, her shotgun raised.) And goats created poison ivy to eat, and the Sahara, unexploded ordnance lining the roadsides, and crows in the orchard. (Child aims at a crow in a nearby peach tree, fires.) Yo, sis! I bagged another one.
Abraham: Then men created hammers to break the world into ruin and piece it back together again. Next, hemmed in by the paths the roads took through each minefield, men invented death.
Sister (again with reverence): And God saw the world and knew that it was good.
Sister (rolling another cigarette, lighting it, then taking a long drag before beginning to speak): In the beginning God created the brown bear and the tree of flame, each identical above ground as below.
Child: Then he made the honey locust tree and the fire pit, the mirror shrouded in a dark house, and the ceiling blackened with soot, and (sarcastically) wrote his name in the corner like graffiti gouged in a school desk.
Abraham: Widows took from the locust its thorn as needle and its twisted fibers as thread, and they used these things to mend clothes torn in mourning or by the claws of an animal.
Child: Then God created the broken sapling, the overturned cooking pot, the domesticated guinea hens scattered from their pen and squawking in alarm. He created the volcano, then footsteps left by an animal in its rain of ash. Eventually the archeologist, much later. (She takes aim at another crow.)
Abraham: From their rent clothes widows sewed shrouds to veil the mirrors, or flew them like flags above the mouths of untended wells sunk back into the earth.
Child: Then the volcano created the carrion-eaters and the circular winds upon which they flew.
Sister: And God saw the world and knew that it was good.
Sister: In the beginning God created the flicker of each match as it is struck, each pupa in its chrysalis, pollen and potsherds, the bones of animals lacing the long, ash-covered roads to the sea—
Child (interjecting with eye-rolling, would-you-believe): Then God created the burial rite and the cairn of stones, the seventeen-year cicada—
Sister: And the southern hemisphere that lay beyond the sea.
Abraham: It was humans who created the ID card, forged steel, and fingerprints. Pigment, then ink.
Child: And where they didn’t discover forged steel, bamboo worked just as well. (Knowingly) The shape of progress was maintained though its materials varied.
Abraham: And humans wove cages from each new material they discovered, and struck out through the wild tangle of the world into thickets darkness had not yet lifted from, and they brought back two of each creature they encountered, and kept them in cages.
Child: And in each cage they placed another human, or an animal, or a cricket and a piece of lettuce, and paraded it through the ash-covered roads, or kept it in a well-guarded cavern, and let it see only enough light to know that light still remained.
Abraham: The captives in their caverns built small cities in the murk, tiny towers looming over the moss-floored marshes.
Child: It was hella dirty; I seen those cages a couple times before, when I was younger.
Abraham: And they carved miniature shackles for each mouse and beetle they saw, and in hunger each fed on each.
Child: And the captives made prayers for each new moment that passed, so they might mark it, and make it holy. It was in this way, long ago, that humans created God.
Sister: And they saw the world, and knew that it was good.
An excerpt from the chapbook All night in the new country, published by Sixteen Rivers Press.
Miriam Bird Greenberg is the author of two chapbooks: All night in the new country and Pact-Blood, Fever Grass. She's held fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Poetry Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. She lives in Berkeley and teaches ESL, though she's also crossed the continent on bicycle and by freight train, deckhanded aboard sailboats, and hitchhiked on four continents.