Princip

Princip was sitting disconsolately at a café, nursing an espresso and a grudge, when the motorcade rolled to a stop in front of him. He couldn’t believe his luck; they’d all gone to ground after the failure of the bombing, written the day off as a loss, and yet here the occupiers were, almost on a platter in front of him, blocked in by traffic at one end of the street and their own motorcade at the other, the top of their convertible open to the sky. Fate, perhaps; what else could one think?

He walked across the street and shot them both, as casually as that, one in the belly, the other in the neck, bang bang done.

Too young to hang, they chained him to a wall and gave him tuberculosis, cut him down when he tried to hang himself, made him talk to a psychiatrist to try to reconcile him to their view of his actions. “He refuses to accept responsibility for his actions,” they write, as though he couldn’t feel his lungs being eaten away, as though they hadn’t amputated the arm that had held the gun, as though he weren’t in exile.

Of the 20 years on his sentence, he served only 3; tuberculosis and malnourishment took longer than a noose but were no less certain. The empire survived him by just six months.

A Spectre

They did everything right and it wasn’t enough; justice was on their side and it wasn’t enough. The eyes of the world were upon them and it wasn’t enough. God was on their side, and it wasn’t enough.

In the aftermath, when the screaming had trailed off and the fires had burned out, the bombs kept falling, guns kept firing. They were lined up and shot, maimed, mutilated, hauled off to prison, slavery, extermination; their children taken from them and scattered among their enemies to be raised. Their mother tongue was outlawed, their culture destroyed, the record of their existence erased. Three generations on, their survivors would be mocked as a new weakness, the decadence of a fallen culture, unknown in their grandparents’ time; even the future fact of survivors seems a sick hope amidst the rubble and the ruin.

They fought and it wasn’t enough; both within and without the system and it wasn’t enough; violently and nonviolently and it wasn’t enough. They seized the means of production, united as a class, rose up together and it wasn’t enough. The revolution has come, but not theirs. The end of history is come round to the beginning again.

Havens’ Folly

The trees are lovely, but they’re tremendous fire hazards.

When the earthquake shattered the region, a wave of refugees tumbled across the bay, looking for steadier ground, higher ground. They spread up into the hills like goats, cropping the native forests down to the bare earth, asphalt, concrete, quickboard housing; the earth shuddered in its new nudity.

Recognizing this, the government offered funding to reforest the hills, to regrow the shade that is the earliest and most durable sign of wealth in a city, to stabilize the ground, to purify the air. An arboreal gold rush resulted. Rather than replanting the oaks and pines native to the region, speculators imported eucalyptus from the other side of the world — quick-growing, fragrant, easy to harvest — figuring on a quick, sustainable cash crop financed by state money.

Didn’t pan out; the wood was worthless, even for railroad ties. Harvested, it warped and rotted quickly, but left alone, the leaves and bark shed by the still-growing trees resisted decay, lingering and drying, choking out undergrowth, colonizing the hills. The trees themselves are an arsonist’s dream, exuding a volatile sap that explodes in a fire, throwing flaming shrapnel into the undecaying litter below.

Fire has swept through these hills, and will again; a living powder keg, a triumph of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Wildfire Smoke

From nothing comes nothing.
But nothing is powerful, they have learned this.
The empty space that defines where something is.

Defined by negatives, they nevertheless know themselves.
Less strong, less clever, less brave, less loud,
Less rational, less learned, less daring, less wealthy.
The inheritors of every vice, exiles from every virtue.

They live in the waste spaces, the margins:
Alleyways, warehouses, basement bars,
Empty hair salons, unlit street corners,
Power stations, wastewater treatment plants,
The far corners of an arboretum.

Power comes on a crepuscular schedule.
Bleeds through in the grey light of dawn, of dusk
When boundaries blur and multiply, figure becomes ground
Shadows become objects, objects shadows
And all cats are grey.

Pomegranate Flowers

The bones of the story are achingly familiar: a wastrel prince, sent to the army, returns home in glory to his father the emperor, falls in love with a slave, is exiled rather than give her up, leads an army in revolt against the empire, is caught and sentenced to death until the slave surrenders and dies in his place; the emperor softens slightly at the last and sends her into an anonymous exile instead and his son resigns himself to ruling. Curtain falls, audience applauds, you’ve heard all this before.

It’s the momentary flourishes that stick in your memory: the moody monologues by the Hindustan landmass, the prince writing poetry on the blade of his sword while bleeding, entering the court on a carpet of pearls, making love in a snowbank of flowers, the dancers whirling in the ommatidia of an enormous diamond. The slave singing mournfully in the prison and dancing defiantly in front of the emperor; the love note sent sailing down the length of the court’s internal river, attached to a toy boat; the prince, lonely against the sky in front of the cannon while the remnants of his defeated army sing in praise of love, of faith, of the revolutions that burn down palaces.