Variations on a Theme from Folklore

Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882-1916), 1910; graphite on paper. Bequest of Lydia Winston Malbin, 1989. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The traveler came to a meeting of roads.
Each was marked with prophesy,
marked with loss.

The traveler chose the middle road.

First road: you will give up from hunger and cold.
Second road: your horse will die, but you will survive.
Third road: you will die, but your horse will survive.
What is kindness, what is sacrifice, what does the world ask of us.

You will face loss, but you will survive.
In the general, no revelation.
In the specific, your life.

The whicker, the nuzzle,
the soft lips on a sugar cube.

As I rode, 
a gray wolf came out of the woods
and bit my horse in two.

The traveler continued on foot, exhausted and numb.
Through the valley of the shadow of death, the traveler continued.
That is the end of the story.

Then the gray wolf returned.

I have eaten your good horse, so now I will serve you faithfully and well.
Get on my back and hold on tight.

A magical wolf can do much to improve your life.
You may be weak,
lacking in morals.
Where you give up, your wolf will persist.
Where you fail, your wolf will succeed.

Many years later. 
The traveler has returned, married.
He has a horse with a golden bridle.
He has a firebird in a golden cage.

These are your decisions.
This is your life.

Will you forgive me, little spark?

Sarah Cohen lives in Seattle. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Paris Review, Threepenny Review, and Pool Poetry.
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