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I Imagine a Lion

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Written in 1999
Published 2006 by The Ecstatic Exchange

Fable of the Flies


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A king had a legion of trained flies
    probably from China, twenty-five to
thirty at their max, capable of the

most amazing feats. Late in the
throne room, in the golden glow of giant tapers
(i.e.: candles, not those
slow shy four-footed creatures from Brazil)

the king would watch his trained flies perform for hours,
often until the sky clicked lighter at the
horizon out his hexagonal throne room window and the peach sky of
dawn came on.

There was a miniature city on a giant table, an exact replica of the
city below his castle, same roads and ramparts,
same mosques and markets, fruit trees, orchards,
moats and drawbridges, and in this

meticulous metropolis the flies would do their flittery tricks,
one would zoom in upside-down and
    buzz the central square, turning half-sideways at the
edge and land abruptly on a municipal dome.
Another would pull a wagon with a canon mounted on it
while another jerked a tiny cord that
detonated a smattering of powder that shot a small ball that
bounced harmlessly off the stone wall that
surrounded the city, while another

led a parade of flies in close file down the
main thoroughfare in triumph, ten flies holding a
crimson banner in their mandibles, ten others behind
flipping in the air, doing headstands, wiggling their
        abdomens in rhythm.

It was a pastime the king never tired of,
and now and then he’d introduce a
fly with a new trick into the
population who would demonstrate a whole
series of cutting-edge techniques perfected in Mongolia or
some other remote area of the human map where
secret ancient practices facilitated the
      very arduous but rewarding

training of flies.

One day the king’s head servant brought in an ivory box with
      slits in it and
set it before his noble monarch. “A

gift from the Ambassador from Madagascar, Sire,”
said the servant in his thick outlandish
     accent. He opened the

lid, and the king’s eyes grew round and
starry. A large and fat black fly

looped out of the box and flew three times round the
swiveling head of state, looped three more

times in front of his nose, alighted on
each royal button down his
royal embroidered shirt, hopped along the

long golden arm of the throne and
somersaulted at last into the model city where the
flies were in their cubicles awaiting the
king’s pleasure, and there the fat black fly stood
perfectly still, washing his
hands and face and feet the
way flies do.

The king leaned forward, a smile so broad his
gold fillings shimmered, increasing the light in the
throne room by the power of about ten. He

reached across and pulled the single lever that
opened the tiny grates of each fly’s private
apartment and each fly immediately

flew with unaccustomed haste to the
center of the miniature metropolis to
meet and challenge the
new fly to a duel to the death or at least to a

daredeviltry unmatched in the
entire annals of acrobatic flydom.


But I myself have to admit
     total ignorance about what comes next.
Is the fat black fly a robotic espionage
agent with a cyanide tooth capsule,
is he a kind of insect savior about to lead his
fellow flies to a far-off fly Utopia, is he a
con artist, pull the wool over all the
other fly eyes, trick us all then
    fly off to some
empty lot littered with old tires, solvent
       cans and dried dog poo?

I haven’t a notion. I started out in my
usual fashion, full of high hopes and
faith in a coherent outcome, or in fact in
any outcome, coherent or not, which is often
all you can really hope for once you’ve waded in
over your head and fuzzy shapes and half-lights are
shimmering around you, you’ve given yourself up to the
serendipitous cavalcade of images projected by
    angelic agents, yourself an open
receptacle, hoping to
        close on a

high note.

Whereas the tough present situation is extremely
“iffy.” Our fat black fly is

hunkered down, as flies often are after their
toilette, face scrubbed, eyes clear of particles,
legs and wings squeegeed and ready to go,

he sets his “jaw,” and turns to meet the
other flies now forming battalions around him.
Then a really strange thing happens: our

fly begins to vibrate all over, his gossamer
wings tremble at an amazing rate, it’s like one of those
NASA pictures of astronauts in training modules going at
       astronomical speeds, their faces all
wrenched to one side, their mouths become
twice their size. He’s shuddering at
supersonic speeds. Then suddenly he

flips over, his six legs straight up in the air, like a
fly freshly swatted, inert as a stone, gone to meet its

The other flies express as much astonishment as
possible for someone with a permanent
     gas mask face, and each one takes a
few steps forward to have a closer look. They’re all just about
two or three steps away, surrounding our
muscidae Captain Crunch, when

whoosh! He rights himself in a
blur and zooms off in an astonishing
coil of flight, zaps the city with four
     crisscross formations, then does a kind of
symphonic variation, touching domes and
roof corners with his wing in passing just enough to
emit little pings of sound, so that the
entire city sounds like a carillon of tiny bells and
flatter fwaps of wing on wood as percussive
      counterpoint, sometimes making a
pregnant pause in the sound by an
elaborate flight formation in mid-air,
      coils he then proceeds to
fly right through the center of, zigzags resolved in
graceful loops, upside-down and sideways
Fred Astaire finesses, almost
tipping a top hat and tapping his
     heel-clicks niftily on a
building edge. Everyone is

speechless, of course, the king especially, having been
totally fooled by the fly’s death rattle spectacle, and now
totally amazed by his spectacular
    Evel Knievel performance here, so much so that he
wants to reward the fly with some
royal order, a little satin
    sash and medallion he’d like to
put over his neck to hang on his
thorax forever as a
royal recognition for his exceptional
       accomplishments. Now I’m

wondering how to resolve this, whether to have him
lionized as a hero, a kind of
fly Elvis, or have him

spiritually exceptional and fly out the
throne room window, leaving the party, as they say,
at its height, no chit-chat, no

congratulations, “how did you do that?” “Who
taught you?” “will you sign a million dollar

It may be the best course after all. A
visitation, just when the king and his
trained flies thought they’d about reached the
apogee of existence, a fly comes among them to show them
a dimension they’d never even
     dreamed existed. Leaves them

breathless, enlightened, full of hope, the
insides of their heads and hearts filled with childlike
awe and wonder. The universe

transformed, from hum-drum to its actual
extraordinary state, renewed down to the
tiniest piping, the whole sky the fly actually

disappears into now a chorus of gold
shimmerings and cymbal crashes of utter

magnificence bathed in
godliest meaning. The commonest

items of their daily reality now imbued with a kind of
dazzle of specialness. So that each fly goes
happily to his cubicle for the night with a
smile on its face, or whatever

passes for a smile on that
rigid apparatus of a fly face, and the

king himself suffers an attack of
kingly benevolence, and pours

money from his coffers on the poor, builds a
school, frees political
prisoners, makes
treaties with his neighbors, and even

goes into his wives and engenders, in
one night of kingly joy, a whole new
generation of royal offspring.

As for the fly, fat and black and
enigmatic, perhaps he goes on to another
kingdom, another gift from the
Ambassador to Madagascar, and a

breath of fresh air to all.


“Is that the end of the story,” says a
little fly pupa to its
mother. “No, child, this tale goes

on and on wherever we flies happen to fly.
Your father can tell you that,” and she
winks, if flies can wink, out the

window at the
shadow of a fat black fly that
just flew past and out of sight
on his daily workout, a sympathetic

vibration shuddering through the
next generation of flies.
“Your father can
tell you that,” and she

sweetly lowers the two
round globes of
her multifaceted eyes.


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