Jan/Feb 2016 Salon

Just Like Cain

by Stanley Jenkins

Artwork by Karen Fox Tarlton

Artwork by Karen Fox Tarlton

It's hard to know if the times you are living in are particularly fucked up or that you are just now, in the times you are living, noticing what has always been the case. We cannot pull ourselves up by our boot straps because that is like climbing a ladder to bite yourself on the forehead.

Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav told a tale. It seems the entire harvest of a kingdom had become infected by a malignant toxin. All who ate of the crop became insane. The king and his vizier, alone, refrained from the eating of the bread of the flour made from the tainted harvest.

It soon became clear, however, that the distance between the king and his subjects, between sanity and insanity, kept the king from effective rule.

The king called his vizier and proposed to him a solution. They would both eat of the tainted crop and descend into madness—that they might relate and rule. But, the king proposed that a mark should be made on the forehead of both the king and vizier—thereby, when they would look upon each other, they would remember that they were insane.

And so it goes.

We are living in the time of the plague. It is not particularly novel—we have all been raving for years—except to one who has bitten his own forehead by climbing a ladder.

Meanwhile, it's official, word's come down from the CDC, Deranged White People Syndrome has gone viral.

Given half the chance, in these times of froth and spittle, in which we live, these days of damnation and disease, cowardice and cupidity—in this particular America—I would abandon each and every responsibility. And yet, standing in my high pulpit each and every sabbath morn—a city on a hill cannot be hid—I inevitably, compulsively, search each and every forehead for some sign, some way back home, some Hail-Mary reminder.

That we are effing insane.

And me in the mirror of that high pulpit, bite marks on my forehead, still believing in sanity, two steps to the door ahead of judgement, one step ahead of the tar and feathers—without privilege nor alibi—am forever a prisoner of grace.


Read a re-contextualized version of this piece, which includes new writing and incorporates previously published pieces from the Salon from a few years ago and a piece recently published in Concis.


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