The Four Horsemen

by Ed Shacklee

Guzzling the cheap wine of blood,
the wolf-headed man on a horse
bolts by. His heart a boom of drums,
the laughter of War is coarse.
Oiled to slip the fiercest grip
of wisdom, pity or remorse,
his friend is fire, his foe a dove;
his paramour is Love.

Riding on ship rats and swamp air,
Plague spoils what he cannot destroy:
his kingdom is microscopic,
minutiae his favorite ploy.
His train is a swarm of flies;
his bow is the littlest toy
and he kills with the smallest arrow
aimed at blood, flesh or marrow.

Divinely thin, inviting all,
Famine’s feast is always late,
delayed by avarice, drought or flood:
Promises lie on the empty plate.
She hunts for nothing on a steed
of winter at the slowest gait,
and binds us like sticks with rope
twined from the guts of hope.

The mother and child of them all —
always slightly to the back —
Death rides an omnivorous steed
down an unmarked precipitous track.
Though hucksters sell various maps,
the way is lost. The reins are slack.
Sudden or slow but always last,
Death always comes too fast.

With no particular ill-will,
the Four are careless where they tread:
They ride on, deaf to every prayer
and mindless of the countless dead,
as all will fall beneath their hooves,
and none can take the other's stead,
for they weren’t sent from heaven, or hell —
they are on a carousel.



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