October 24, 2019

“Variations on the Trolly Problem” and Other Poems by JP Mayer

“Variations on the Trolly Problem” and Other Poems by JP Mayer
de rerum natura

and I realized I was the pieces 
I was picking up, all scattered 
across the floor, 
                  all technicolor 
fragments of static jettisons from 
far away; 
I am a farmer in Kansas. I am a 
doctor in Nairobi. I am a prisoner 
in Beijing and a pilot in Lahore and 
a fisherman off the coast of Jeju 
Island; 
the saltwater pulls at them with its 
        ebb tide 
                but all the same the  
      lines on my hands  
are not ones that can be washed away  

**

love in lost time 
 
I shot Proust dead in an alleyway on 
         my way home from work. It was something 
             he said it was  
                     love is a reciprocal torture 
 
his body hit the pavement with a thud. It started  
        raining on my walk home and I told the man  
                I loved that I wanted to move to Iceland when I  
                       stepped through the door. He wasn’t really there 
 
though so point for Proust I guess, although it won’t do 
        him much good. In another life I imagine 
              I wake up on the shore someplace beautiful like 
                     Reykjavik and my love pulls me to my feet 
 
but that’s not this life is some conjured up  
         nonsense that we all share, together and always, 
                              where it rains.  

**

devotions 
 
as the weathered breath of ocean’s 
        scraping bow, icy fingers 
               darting minnows places no soul 
 
would set their foot but to 
sink // my love pulls me down through 
         rush and stream, weaving me through 
         tides and reeds, look quick 
         she has two eyes // one the moon, 
 
the other is reflected in the sea. 
 
This is no ritual, my drowning. 
There is no altar, no stained-glass 
reverie. 
                         This is a duet.  

**

the world in a steamboat seems 
unfair down here, she said 
 
this technicolor hell, this twostep  
dance where every sway, every thought  
is wrung out and wrung dry and  
left wrinkled and damp like a 
rag sizzling away on the old radiator 
 
so I say I say I say this world 
is scribbled up, left to stain in a 
pool of its chapped prophetic ink 
 
          --portrait of a pen beside a pot of tea  

**

Variations on the Trolley Problem: 
 
1. A trolley is approaching a fork in the tracks. If you do nothing, five people tied down to the track in front of the
trolley will die. If you pull the lever in front of you, the trolley will change tracks, and only one person, who is
tied down to the other track, will die. What do you do? 
 
2. A trolley is approaching a fork in the tracks. If you do nothing, five people tied down to the track in front of the
trolley will die. If you pull the lever in front of you, the trolley will change tracks, and your brother, who is 
tied down to the other track, will die. What do you do? 
 
3. A trolley is approaching a fork in the tracks, and you are walking around town with your brother. He’s telling you
about some tv show on Netflix that he says you have to watch, but you know you’re never going to watch it. You have a 
splitting headache and he won’t stop talking, and you think about throwing him onto the tracks beside you as the trolley
approaches. You do nothing. 
 
4. A trolley is approaching a fork in the tracks. If you do nothing, five people tied down to the track in front of the
trolley will die. If you pull the lever in front of you and change the trolley’s course, you will be condemned to 
live in a world where advocates of peace and compassion—people like Martin Luther King Jr., Viola Liuzzo, Robert 
Kennedy, John Lennon, and Jesus Christ—are murdered in cold blood for their devotion to empathy and kindness. 
 
5. Looking closely, you see that the five people tied down to the track in front of the trolley are: Martin Luther King 
Jr., Viola Liuzzo, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon, and Jesus Christ. 
 
6. You are driving a trolley toward a fork in the tracks. If you do nothing, your very sense of self and identity
will disappear, and you will become a hollow shell of who you are—who you once were—as you spend empty eternities rolling
across the countryside in your trolley. Your brother is somewhere up ahead, waiting by a lever beside the tracks. If you 
signal for him to pull the lever, he will derail the trolley, and you will die. What do you do? 
 
7. A trolley is approaching a fork in the tracks. In thirty years’ time, climate change will have made the earth
uninhabitable. 
 
8. You think about throwing yourself onto the tracks. You think about how many plastic straws that would save from the 
lungs of sea turtles or whatever. A conglomerate of billionaires owns the trolley. 
 
9. You are lying on the tracks where, in about a minute, a trolley will run you over and kill you. 
 
10. You think about your life. You think about how, objectively, everything is completely fine. A-OK. And yet, at the same
time, some part of you never thought that you would make it this far—that you wouldn’t live to see twenty-one—and all you
want to do is cut off all your hair and scream and throw yourself into the ocean. There was a spark in you that you lost 
somewhere along the way, and you know you’ll spend the rest of your life looking for it, even if it kills you. Or maybe 
you won’t look for it—that’s what you’re afraid of most. The not looking. You wonder if that spark is under 
the trolley. You know it’s not. 
 
11. The world has gone to absolute hell. In thirty seconds, the trolley will run you over.  
 
12. You know that pessimism in the face of evil is complicity.  
 
13. There is no fork in the tracks. 
 
14. What do you do? 
  

***

JP Mayer is an emerging writer and a current senior at Brown University, where he studies classics and literary arts. JP works as an editor for the Brown Classical Journal, a student-run publication based at Brown University, and he has also worked as a writing tutor for high school students. His poems “eros” and “retrospect” were both published this past September in The Blue Nib and Better Than Starbucks Magazine respectively. He is from Boston, Massachusetts. This is his first time in Fictional Cafe.

#life#people#poetry#trolley
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