John Q. Adams’ Apples

John Q. Adams’ Apples  

After John Q. Adams served
His term as president
He walked back to Braintree

Braintree, he explained to me,
Is named for Braintree, England
But brain tree’s a corruption
of branca tree, like blanca tree,
A white, snow-coated grey one

The brain tree, and the brain stem

The two lobes of the brain, two trees
Winding, serpentining, like the labyrinth
Within which walks the Minotaur
The tormentor — the mentor
mentions Braintree once more
The labyrinth, he says, and taps his head
The brain tree’s two
The brain of life
And what’s it on the other side?
Not knowledge of evil and good
But dogma, custom, convention,
the Nomos, phenomenon
The tree of life’s the opposite,
That’s obvious,
the noumena — Physis — by god!
The Nomos from nemein
Land capture, for pasture
Imperial capture as well
That’s the rule
But there’s an exception
That everyone forgets
From Asclepius, via Hygieia, to Salus

But Braintree, Massachusetts, right?
The two trees: life, or Physis
And knowledge, the Nomos, the nomeus
The shepherd, the pharaoh, the king
The empire, the car tire
Clearing the forests, killing the fish
The Nomos
And then there’s Physis —
Though they can aid the Nomos, too
The instrumental healer
The prison physician —
Semblance and the true exception
Some would like to speak of Hippolytus
Theseus’ son
Raised from death, by Asclepius —
Theseus only survived, you know,
Because of Ariadne, snake priestess of Crete
The snake in a ball — unrolls and rolls
And vanishes silently under the snow
The immanent serpent
About a bough
Or round a rod

Up in the tree, the pharmakon!
Two laws:
Of ease and disease
The maxim, decisions, incisions, and cuts
The notable birth of Asclepius
Atropos, Morta
Her scissors emblazoned on plate glass
In neon gas, and lead
The chemistry of politics
The labyrinth, food, cause and effect
The skull, the nut
Whose kernel’s called: the nucleus
Oh Theseus
Did Moses ever show you that trick
With the stick
Turning it into a snake?
The law of ease
That’s how you leave

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at and on twitter @elliot_sperber