The Problem of the Trolley
“A trolley is hurtling down a track towards ten people. You are
on a bridge, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in
front of it. As it happens, there is a very large man next to you;
your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge
and onto the track. Should you proceed?”
And can you be so sure when his widow cat-rubs your shins beneath the table at the great banquet in your honor that sex hasn’t changed in some serious way as it does every eight popes? The problem is your organs fit so well into the broken bodies of others who need them. Do you have the stupid heart to give your good years away to a person who may or may not be your cousin? Before the bomb goes off, will you jump hugging it out of the plane? Can you give a daughter to the arms of a foul-tempered crowd? Should a man named Kenneth poison his tennis instructor? After the ship is finished going under, should Mary refuse the old people in the water bopping like stones against her boat? Isn’t it nice to live in a world where swimming or not swimming is the only concern? To throw all your ill-gotten gains into the sea? To let the quicksand rise above your neighbor’s temple? When you realize each blessing is mixed, what will you give, to be blessed above all? To give away the sorry world, dark though it is, the deep traumas we’re all entitled, the years that spun like ghosts of figure skaters let loose in a child’s idea of winter, the darkness, as always, a hound. How it gets real close, and lays down with us, and licks us while we dream.
Jeff Whitney is the author of The Tree With Lights in it, available from Thrush Press, while Radio Silence (Black Lawrence Press) and Smoke Tones (Phantom Books) were co-written with Philip Schaefer. Other poems can be found in Adroit, Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Colorado Review, Narrative, Poetry Northwest, and Verse Daily. He lives in Portland, where he teaches English.