The Plains of Shinar

Haku, Anna Hiltner

oh, but cain, i was never going to be what they 

prophesied i would become. this mud hardened 

into brick too soon and now columns lie prone 

in the sun where we left them because they cracked from 

corinthian curl to base before they ever left the quarry.


you hated that the earth loved me, that i planted 

an olive grove and it grew. so you hunted and ate 

fallow deer and sacred ibis and the people scorned you for it. 

cain, i still feel your jawbone against mine 

and the weight of the dust you piled over me. 


now, nothing grows where you left me. 

mother still lays lilac and salvia divinorum 

at my grave every spring. but even the false prophets

have already forgotten me. and you, 

you built your city where the ground never knew me. 


we are already history, cain. 

whoever we were, we aren’t anymore 

and nobody even remembers

that we were the first—you, the first to kill,

i, the first to die. 


you built a city of stone on the plains of shinar 

and already it’s been reduced to debris, eroded 

and carried by the wind to a desert far away 

along with the remains of countless other cities 

built by former kings far greater than you ever were.


and still, there you are, on your knees 

in the dunes, scooping sand into a sieve, collecting 

the bits of glass and bone and column fragments of 

what you used to call yours. and i’m here,

where everything beautiful is far away. 


don’t you remember when we talked of building a city

together? when we went to the quarry every day to press

mud into bricks? cain, do you remember when we were

children and you lifted me onto your shoulders so i could 

reach the spring blossoms on the highest branch? 


while you crushed their petals into perfume, 

i placed a stray flower behind your ear. you snatched

it from your hair with a hand still stained red with 

the blood of a slaughtered oryx and threw it 

under your grinding stone with the rest. 



About the Author

Jacob Dimpsey · Susquehanna University 

Jacob Dimpsey is a recent graduate of Susquehanna University where he earned his BA in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in Flock Literary Journal and this poem was previously published in Susquehanna University’s undergraduate literary journal, RiverCraft.

About the Artist

Anna Hiltner · Princeton University

Anna Hiltner ’23 is a sophomore at Princeton University. After taking a gap year in Bolivia, she is studying sociology, Latin American studies, and journalism. Her piece “Haku”, or “let’s go” in Quechua, was taken in Cochabamba, Bolivia on the Día de los Peatones. The Día de los Peatones, or “day of the pedestrians” is a national holiday when no cars are allowed, leaving pedestrians and bicyclists to take over the streets. This piece first appeared in The Nassau Literary Review

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