In Spring, this is the fate that princes face:
Proclaim the way the tree of state shall grow,
Then hold that course, till autumn’s lost leaves show
That other branches led to less disgrace.
And when the pox blot’s Summer’s crop with blood,
The royal eye must pick the stems to prune;
Then watch, as past the cuts the poisons flood
While other, healthy twigs are trimmed too soon.
Leaves fall. The branch is bare; the year is done
And Winter claims a plan still incomplete.
Frozen, still thin, it cracks beneath new feet:
The state’s elect, replacement, younger son.
But rare’s the step that treads on something strange.
Four seasons hence, the forest’s barely changed.
The future is a sheet of writhing light.
An image wider than the eye can grasp,
Stretched sky to sky and onwards beyond sight.
An orbit’s edge, in circuits fine and vast.
Upon a thumbnail, we write a chip:
A million words, alive in lightning’s strife.
A million Earths in this new sky could fit.
A pin-prick, puncture more than that mere life.
Dream of a question, and the answer’s there,
Inside the mind that drinks Apollo dry.
Ask — search a thousand lives — and find despair,
Still baffled at the gate you entered by.
So leave? And from the shadowed edge, look up.
An ocean asks you why you fled the cup.
“The lamp will overheat unless turned off,”
A dimmed projection screen proclaims. Beneath
A slide announces “Conference of The Wise.”
The seats are empty; new, beneath the dust.
Outside, upon the grass, two tables stand.
The first holds urns of tea and coffee — cold;
The second cups, and plates in plastic wrap
(A turned-up corner leaks a whiff of rot).
A wall of weathered posters rings the yard.
One heading asks, “Mortality: a Choice?”
While elsewhere, “Fate and “Haste” alone hold out.
The rest is bleached-off ink and tattered chaff.
A fallen fragment twitches in the breeze.
“Beware,” it reads, “the minds that think of these.”
These are the oaths a paladin would keep:
To do with honour what can thus be done;
To shield the threatened, comfort those who weep,
And then move on, once pain its course has run.
To neither scorn, nor be a slave to laws,
But do what’s right, then give the law its due.
To fight — but only in a holy cause,
And once a plea for peace has been refused.
To be a beacon, shining coast to coast:
A force for change that none need ever fear;
A friend to lost souls when they need it most,
Who does not need to say what deeds make clear.
To be a soldier with no martial heirs,
Who leaves, to souls of peace, a world that’s theirs.
A force of love feared she was incomplete,
And sought, and caught a soul in tight embrace;
Lifted her darling from his mortal feet
And laid him gently in a web of lace.
The web was torn, and brighter than the Sun
Her eyes were lit with rage and righteous pain.
She sought the forts where slavery had begun
And taught their tyrants terror — but in vain.
Her sweetheart was not taken as a slave.
He had been mortal, and he had grown old;
Had seen her love would stretch him past the grave,
And chose to face a fate that he controlled.
Upon this secret, spend no further breath.
We dare not let her think to challenge death.
What’s sad? What’s wrong? What’s broken in the world?
Whisper these questions, and the people cry:
“No shoe without a leak, no wing not furled!
The rain has come, and nothing is left dry.”
A salty rain, that slakes no thirsts, nor fields?
From whence the wind that blows so cursed a cloud?
“From lands still further East,” the East Wind yields,
“In distant seas, my weather-fields are ploughed.”
These ancient atolls grow the Earth’s own wool,
Spun from the foam of seas that should be sweet.
But west-bound tides, the briny currents pull
From shores beyond the East, where two paths meet:
West-flowing rivers drain the flood of tears,
Which sea and sky return to haunt our years.
It is the fate of paladins to fall —
Or else to stumble on, far from the Light,
Left lonely when their cause demanded all
And friends retreated for another fight.
Having no other beacons, they must shine
In lands left black and trackless — stars of hope
That leave behind belief in Dawn’s pink line
When they are snuffed beneath Night’s cloudy cloak.
The wards they leave are hot and iron-hard,
But even these are ashes in the end:
Strewn through dead fields by winds that leave stone scarred;
Consumed by rising depths that reap and rend.
When echoes end, the tallest walls are felled,
But grass sprouts green where Light’s last stands were held.