Apr 11, 2020 | Featured Poems

The Post-Modern Problem with Trolleys and Footbridges



For Doctor Williams

so much depended

         on a red barrow,

         rain-glazed and split with

         precision. Also

         adjacent chickens.


A runaway train,                                                                                                                 A runaway train,

         five people tied to                                                                                                              five people tied to

a railway track, one                                                                                                           a railway track, one

person a spur line,                                                                                                             fat man leaning over

a point switch saves five,                                                                                                 a footbridge, push him,

kills one.                                                                                                                              save five.


Can this be

the architecture

of a moral choice?

Does so much depend

on so few details?

Would a faulty switch,


an imposed diet,

make a difference

to a moral life?

But what colours were

the point switch, the fat

man’s clothes, the bridge paint?



The Trolley and Footbridge problems were developed by Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson, respectively, to illustrate moral choices.  Certain phrases are taken or adapted from by William Carlos Williams’ ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’..

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