FREE WILL

Mark Kostabi (b. 1960), “Marcel Duchamp en Passant Mark Kostabi”
Courtesy Flickr

Perhaps someday a drug will be
Which taken will give mastery
Of gaming on the master level
By injection or by capsule

Altering our neural links
Converting chess into instincts,
Check and mate as hawk the dove
Dives and takes it from above

Bishops, rooks become a pill
Knight and rook detached from skill
Sense the advantageous square
Instinctively, and settle there

If a drug can teach me games
What of reasoning remains?
But if it is impossible
What lesson teaches of free will?


 

UNWISE MAGI

Mabel Royds (1874–1941), “Angels Appearing to the Shepherds”
Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland

Three travelers who came from time
Found themselves among the sheep
And shepherds on a scrubby plain,
The hills around them stony-steep

Looked up to see amazing lights
And heard a chorus silver-clear
Praising with profound delight
An infant glorious and dear

Shared their tight hypotheses:
Life-forms from another star
Hallucinations sent by these
In orbit although not too far

Beyond the asteroids that swing
Beyond the planets—could they sing?
Quantum generators used
Supposedly—they were confused

They told their shepherd-specimens:
We are the Magi—three wise men—
And as those angels harmonized
They disbelieved their ears and eyes


 

THE OTHER DAY

Tom Birkner (b. 1966), “Fast and Easy”
Courtesy Tom Birkner

Watch the icy rain come down
The silence of the frozen streets
At speechless corners where they meet

This is how a people looks
When all the life inside it dies:
Advertising, silent lies

Bogus stiff hilarity
Brotherhood and sisterhood
Though all for none is understood

Everywhere I go these days
Television on the wall
A busy public toilet stall

The other day I heard the sound
Of renaissance, a dancing flute
A drum and bells, a song and lute

Ice inside me melted and
The poisoned frost around me ran


 

THINK SMALL

Georg Redžek (b. 1965), “The Seven Deadly Sins” (detail)
Courtesy Saatchi Art

The rich are dressed in rags
See for yourself:
The great scenes of the world
Are cut into random strips
And sewn together to make their jackets and trousers

A successful gambler can live forever
Says one:
If the rules are adjusted so I can always win
Logic says I will never lose
And this is the game of life without end

I’ve told the Lord of Death to wake me
When I fall asleep
But he says: Be patient, I am busy
For my dreams are lucrative and deep


 

FALLOUT

Two of them sitting at the table
After dinner, over vodka
One is Stas, one is Volodya

Volodya says: “Remember the prisoner
Who pleaded with us: Let me die
And I answered: Why should I?

“You’ll die when we want you to”
He drank to Stas and smiled at him
But Stas hunched over and seemed grim

Retribution, was it not?
A few weeks later, three AM
Chest pain and the medics came

Agony—they tried to save
Volodya—tumbling toward his grave—
Did he think: Please let me die?

Power, morbid destiny
Spreading outward, floating free
Like fallout that you cannot see

All must die, but like this one—
That it be a sentence sent
To be a rhyming chastisement?


 

TRAVELER

Looking Glass Falls, NC; photo by Sarah Zucca
Courtesy RootsRated

Not cold enough to freeze, the waterfall still flows
A lip of water white as cream
Into the sepia shallow with an ivory rim

Downstream of the pool the water is a road
Driftwood islands in it
Sands of ice

A road of ice is what we living walk on
Light and energy are His
Compressed between His fingers

Compressed to make them slow and dense
Light compressed to ice
Compressed, a diamond twice

Down the solid road they walk on ways of ice
Hunched in cold
Until they grow old

Dark robins stay the winter long
Rummage in the stiffened beech leaves
Rise when troubled

Rise when troubled
By the passing of an ivory traveler
Into heaven’s lowest branches


 

THEN IT WILL BE TIME TO SAY

Jean-François Millet (1814–1875),” The Gust of Wind”
Courtesy National Museum Wales

A walk in Greenlawn Cemetery
A gust of wind so strong,
It blew a tombstone clean away
And hammered me headlong

Where that wind had blown from
Too stunned I was to tell,
A corner of the compass dial
And cold enough for hell

Or from the Alleghenies
That circle around this vale,
Stronger than a hurricane
A wild unearthly gale

It knocked me down but I got up
As all the stubborn must,
Why should my walking interrupt?
Brushed death away like dust

When all the tombstones blow away
Like pebbles or like paper,
Then it will be time to say:
We are a cold day’s vapor


 

THE WORD OF AN ANGEL

Andrei Nikolayevich Mironov (b. 1975), “Cain and Abel”
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Did God the breeder
Transfer an angel word
To the womb of Eve?

That’s how the farmers here
Improve their stock
And breed a sturdier line

One result is Abel
And the other one is Cain
Half-traitor, half-divine

Each trait would half express
Depending on the circumstances
More or less

We feel it in ourselves
One urge runs round and round
The other up and down

Good and evil both—
Each take a turn
To one we swear an oath

“We will be yours until
An angel brings to us
The contrary voluptuous”

A moral breeding stock
God’s dominoes
His wayward flock