Abraham’s Paradise Paradox

They thus beat stained, sinful swords
unto penitent plowshares,
wanting to live in peaceful accords
and promising in prayers
to share the bounty of their Lord
with kin and friend and neighbor
as milk-and-honey freely poured
as blood from a saber
so long as plow cut not too deep
the lands they sought to sow
that golden crop they wished to reap
to expose the bones below.
But however they tried to plant a grain
in the Promised Land’s womb
they harvested only the crop of Cain—
a crimson, bleeding bloom.

Freak Accident

“There is no such thing,” he said, his tone pedantic and smug. “To say they are ‘freakish’ is to say they are abnormal, not to be expected, but Probability dictates that all potentialities are destined to happen, and therefore expected in an infinitude of universes.”
The pen in his hand circled a sentence in the newspaper spread in front of him on the diner table, and scratched out this or that word. He adjusted his spectacles on his aquiline nose, their round lenses gleaming with the glare of the diner’s fluorescent lights, lending to his rounded, chinless features the expression of a barn owl having spotted prey. Another word in the newspaper was destroyed in a cloud of inky violence.
“As for the rapidity and proximity of these ‘freak’ accidents,” he said, “that, too, can be explained by the laws of Probability. There is nothing supernatural about them. In fact, they are routinely natural. In some other universe these accidents are not happening, or are happening with different outcomes, or happening to different individuals. The possibilities are endless when the universes are endless.”
He paused as the waitress poured more coffee into his cup.
“May I have more sugar?” he asked her. The young twenty-something nodded and went to fetch his sugar. He blew on his coffee in the meantime, his hand still dragging the pen across the newspaper column. The coffee steam whipped sideways in billowy waves before rising upward once again in their wispy tendril. The diner window fogged over, briefly, blurring his reflection into a vague specter lost amidst the falling snow and early morning dark and passing Chicago sidewalk crowd.
“As for your column,” he continued, “while you obviously misunderstood Quantum Theory and its real-world implications within the context of these ostensibly colorful deaths, I think it is salvageable as a teachable moment for the public at large. That is why I contacted you, of course. Rarely does a Chaotician interact with journalists, but it seemed incumbent upon me that I set the record straight before more bastardized ideas are propagated in the woefully misled consciousness of America.” He scratched out another sentence in the newspaper column, his thin mouth twisting to the left with distaste. “And, I must confess, I have a book coming out soon and could benefit from the exposure. ‘The Ordinariness Of The Unexpected: Chaos As Order’. Naturally, I will thank you in the acknowledgments, as well as reference this misadventure in journalism for the chapter ‘Dynamic People, Dynamic Systems’.”
The waitress brought the Chaotician another packet of sugar, which he took and gingerly tore open, sprinkling it into his coffee— white crystals dissolving into black, hot chaos. “We are none of us significant,” he said, taking a sip of the coffee and nodding to himself. Whether he was nodding in agreement to his assertion or to the flavoring of his coffee was unknowable. “Even these deaths are not meaningful, however garish they happen to be. True, they offer alluring headlines and are quite exotic for the uneducated masses. Yet, for someone familiar with the rabbit hole of Quantum Physics and Dynamic Systems such as myself these occurrences offer no more titillation than the hourly chime of a clock. It is all insignificance. When everything can happen, nothing is particularly meaningful, however exotic or unexpected it seems in our finite experience. If the clock should suddenly grow legs and crawl away, then we should accept it in due course. Mathematically it seems remote, but that is because we confine our mathematics, again, to our finite experience. True, it may seem especially unexpected for parents to lose their son to a falling meteorite, such as this case you reference— the Mattingly’s— but it is not.” He circled another sentence in the column, jotting down tiny notes along the margins. “Nor was the old woman’s death at the zoo really all that strange. There are thousands of zoos on this planet alone, and an infinitude in other universes, so death by a large anteater had to happen eventually. In fact, every person on earth presently has a parallel self killed in the exact same manner, and of varying degrees of deviation. So, no, not special or unexpected.”
Three men came into the bright white light of the diner, the early morning dark and noisy behind them. They took the booth directly beside the Chaotician’s. They were all laughing and eyeing the waitress as she came to take their orders. One of them flirted with her, though the flirtation was one-sided. She kept her mouth tightly lipped, and his mouth moved rapidly, flashing his coffee-toothed grin within his sandy beard, exploding in inclusive laughter like dynamite charges in a hillside.  The Chaotician ignored their ruckus. He raised his voice and continued his diatribe.
“And it’s not as if I am unaware of how much the public craves personable anecdotes, especially those concerning tragedy. I am even contemplating using events from my personal life to illustrate the principles I will be discussing in my book. The cold, logical mathematician is never a good narrator when it comes to the masses and their predilections. But it has its advantages, even when dealing with those disinclined toward its usefulness.  In fact, I like to believe that I can use my expertise in dynamic systems to benefit my sales. After all, my work is not merely theoretical. It is practical, too. For instance, only the other day I…”
The Chaotician was interrupted by the bearded construction worker slapping the waitress’s buttocks as she walked past their booth. She was so startled that she gasped and dropped the tray of food she was carrying. The scrambled eggs, grits, and sausages all crashed to the floor in a mixture of sharp clatter and wet splatter.  Embarrassed and humiliated, the young woman fled into the kitchen, crying as she went. The construction workers’ coworkers berated him in hushed, hissing tones.
“I didn’t mean nothing by it,” the bearded man said.
The diner cook appeared, then, demanding that all three of the men leave. The bearded man hesitated, taking umbrage at the cook’s tone, but his two coworkers took him by the arms and dragged him out. The cook—a large, solid man with a balding pate—hunched down, grumbling as he picked up the food and piled it on the battered tray.
“People want to feel humanity in the things they read,” the Chaotician said, having lost track of his previous thoughts. “Even in Mathematics. Personally, I rather enjoy Mathematics because it is so deeply logical and impersonal. After all, that is how the universe is. Simply observe the snow outside and witness how indifferent the universe is to us in its many mechanisms. Cold snow burying Chicago beneath its indifference, enumerating its apathies with every snowflake. That is the world we live in, no matter how much we attempt to deny it with religion and philosophy and ethics.”
Grunting, the cook threw the food in the garbage, then fetched a mop and bucket. He mopped the black-and-white chequered tile quickly and efficiently, setting a wet floor sign on either side of the slick spot. The Chaotician adjusted his spectacles once again, and made a few final corrections to the newspaper spread before him. He took another sip of coffee, then handed the newspaper across the table.
“But back to your next column,” he said. “Make certain you quote me accurately in your amending column. I will be reading it with meticulous attention and will insist on redactions for any inaccuracies in my attributions.” He stood up, donning his overcoat and leaving a tip on the table. “Details, as you should know, are crucial to my field of expertise. Calculating reality depends upon them. Unlike journalists, we cannot afford miscalculations. We do not approximate reality with factoids and anecdotes. We factor reality. We trace the mundane numbers that compose the world, and use them in our equations to make very precise predictions, which is why nothing is unpredictable or unexpected to us.”
He turned to leave, stepping past the wet floor sign and onto the glistening floor tiles. His loafer slipped forward as he flailed his arms, twisting sideways and trying to catch himself on the nearby table. His other foot kicked wildly in tap-dancing desperation. He issued a shrill shriek and his hands flew down to the table, followed instantly by his head, striking its edge hard at an angle before he collapsed to the floor, sputtering blood from the pen that had somehow lodged itself in his neck.
Sadly, the journalist was too astounded by the accident to ask the Chaotician whether his parallel selves in other universes would think this specific outcome especially significant or unexpected in the overall scheme of things.

Echoes Of Betrayal

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A sultan lived in a lavish palace
with a throne room vast and wide
and everyday he quaffed from his chalice,
his mind reeling with wine and pride.
One day he addressed his sycophantic court
and his words returned to him as if from the garret,
repeating above him, in petulant retort,
as though spoken by an irreverent parrot.
The sultan doffed his turban to better look
at its silk-and-jewel wrapped crest,
thinking a talking bird somehow mistook
its expanse for a roost or perch or nest.
When he found no stowaway bird
he scratched his head, feeling perplexed,
but soon a faint cough could be heard
from his court, and he became vexed.
“Think you safe?” he suddenly cried
at the meek members of his court;
“For that jest I shall have your neck tied
in a noose for morrow’s sport!”
And he pointed toward his vizier
whose misfortune was to be engaged
with the fool, blanching with fear,
and promptly taken and caged.
The sultan was a man of pride
and so he always kept his word—
if he said something then woe betide
anyone whom he thereby censured.
Upon the morrow the sage was hung
in the center of the public square,
and all because he had a phlegmy lung
with want of a little clearer air.

Later that day the sultan spoke again
to the great crowd gathered in his hall,
hoping to find among his many men
a new vizier to help him rule them all.
Yet, as he announced his intent
he heard his own words repeat again
and, furious, he searched for the miscreant
who had dared to commit such sin.
“Who said that?!” he demanded.
“Who dares this mockery now?”
No one came forth, but his eye landed
upon a man with a furrowed brow.
“You, there!” the sultan said with a roar,
pointing at his own captain of the guard.
“You insolent son of a whore!
Flog him through the streets! Flog him hard!”
The mamluk was thereupon taken
by his own men and immediately stripped
down to his dark skin, the whole court shaken
as he was bound and beaten and whipped.
The man’s body was a bloody mass of welts
and he could not stand—faint of breath,
his skin like the crimson inlay of pelts
until his croaking surrender to death.

The sultan’s wrath ebbed and flowed
as with the wines of his chalice
and everyday his own voice would goad
him toward greater paranoia and malice.
Soon his vast throne room was emptied
of all loyalists, guards, and servants,
yet still he heard someone in need
of punishment for their irreverence.
The hall now empty of all people except him,
the sultan heard mockery still, the taunts
making him think it was a ghost whose whim
was to make his palace into its favored haunts,
so he sent for the most revered imam
that lived in his large sultanate
requesting his service to grant him salam
and rid his palace of the reprobate.
The imam arrived and listened for the spirit,
hearing nothing except the sultan’s heavy breathing,
but nonetheless blessed the hall, and all near it,
to please his master and calm his seething.
Yet, as the imam uttered a very poetic prayer
the sultan heard the prayer thereupon repeated
and, losing his temper, grabbed the imam by his hair
and yanked him about, his rage overheated.
“You useless, rambling, imbecilic dotard!”
the Sultan exclaimed with a lion’s roar.
“You are no holy man! You are a goatherd
and I will not be led astray by the horns anymore!”
He ordered the imam bound in heavy chains,
his tongue cut out, and his minaret torn down,
and the imam was taken across the Central Asian plains
to be sold to a khan as a mute circus clown.

The sultan then looked upon his vast hall
and, seeing it empty, was nonetheless incensed
at the mocking reply of his earnest call
that his palace be at once and wholly silenced.
The ghost remained, or so it seemed,
and to purge it from his extravagant palace
was only something thereof dreamed
as he drained to dregs another chalice.
“By the power of Allah!” he suddenly cried,
“I curse you, wraith, with ridicule and laughter
so that wherever you go, wherever you hide,
you will be a famous, friendless fool forever after!”
Allah heard the sultan’s furious pleas
and answered his hasty invocation,
sending thereto a legion of djinnis
to chase the sultan from his nation.
“By Allah, I see them now!” the sultan moaned,
fleeing from the seat of his rule;
“The demons of the fiery pits,” he groaned,
“and I am but a lost, unworthy fool!”
And so it came to pass that the sultan fled
from Turkey to Palestine and even to Israel,
fleeing forever the curse put upon his own head
because he had mistaken his own echoes for betrayal.

The Duke

The Duke
The Conqueror, John Wayne,
fought in every American war
with scripts and champagne,
but never shot anything more
than flashy hollow blanks
from his silver-screen guns.
Yet, he still somehow ranks
a hero for many generations.
He was a Genghis Khan
who stole the glories
of other men, getting to don
their heroic stories
without taking the chances
they risked day to day,
his Western Romances
having a fraction of the hazard, tenfold the pay.
The Duke supported the Vietnam War
because he would not die
on another man’s shore,
beneath another country’s sky.
He supported taking the land
from the Natives who lived here,
saying they were selfish, out of hand,
and Whites deserved to commandeer
the land, via Manifest Destiny,
so the United States might grow
from the resources, lest any
one else try to upstage our show.
He was a propaganda toy
put under glass,
the American golden boy
given every wartime pass.
The screen made him larger than life
as he spoke to the world on a stage
far from the wartime strife
he read on every scripted page.
Scripted, but not conscripted,
John had the spotlight
of propaganda, a special cryptid
specimen of the Right.
On the world stage he was
a myth that had outgrown the man,
attracting other myths, through buzz,
such as Hirohito of Japan.
Golden boy of the Golden Age,
wherever John went
he was star of the show, center stage,
highly appraised and heavensent.
He would prance and prattle
for the war machine,
fight and die in battle
on the silver screen.
Little Mary, how ironic it is
that screen tests should kill you;
not tests by “show biz”,
but by the Military who
you supported every year
by being an actor
and an activist, your career
dependent on “THE MAN’s man” factor.
You played at being
something you were not,
like a Golden Turkey make-believing
itself an Eagle; the Upshot
is that you glowed during your screening
for cancer, the Golden Boy
playing a true drama at last, meaning
you had a real reason not to be deployed.
And it is good that you declined
of stomach cancer because it
proved that you had guts, of some kind,
even if you had no True Grit.
Your epitaph reads “ugly, strong,
and dignified” in Spanish,
which I can’t help think wrong;
a mistranslated wish.
What you were is what you hated:
a pretty boy of Hollywood, a “weak queer”
and you will always be fated
to play the part you loved your whole career.
You were so fearless in the parts
you played; it seemed you never knew
what true fear was, in your heart of hearts,
because you never went to a real war, did you?