The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 13 no. 1


D. Nurkse

Margins of the Law


The Emperor liberates prisoners.

Each beggar is given an obol
with the Imperial face (its worth
is incalculable), every widow
receives a villa with marble pillars
overlooking the sea—the neighborhood
is called Survivor’s Bluff—

In another province
the Emperor sets the wheat on fire
and diverts the mighty rivers
to erase the capital.

At twilight, finding no enemy,
he massacres crows and sparrows
and chains a lamb to the artillery target.

How can one man
swerve in motive so deliberately,
methodical as a feather in the breeze?

It is written in spit
in the margin of the Law—
there was never an Emperor
(the coins are blank),

just the tenacity of passing clouds,
the desire of a stone to fall,
a child’s rage at waking
confined in a crib, spellbound
by a mobile that turns on screams.