My friend Becca is visiting us here at Casa Hernandooney. As Carlos and I were putting the final touches on our savory apple pie (bacon, onion, thyme, smoked cheddar), she was wandering our apartment, surveying it as a patroness of a very goofy museum.
Hearing her laugh out loud, I trotted out of the kitchen to see what’d she gotten into.
She’d found my Gene Wolfe shelf.
Gene Wolfe is the reason that Becca and Carlos and I are friends. Gene was my writing mentor since I was 18. Becca is Gene’s granddaughter.
The three of us met as adults about a year after Gene passed away, right as Becca was moving away from New York with a freshly minted PhD. We all hit it off immediately as fast friends/adopted cousins/long-lost siblings.
And, well, here we are.
As I spied on her, Becca began a close inspection of all my Gene Wolfe books. She read each of his personal inscriptions and dedications, making loving noises over his dear handwriting.
Eventually, she started reading aloud from some of his poems in For Rosemary. I told her my favorite used to be “Old People Die Like Toads” and “For the Strawberry Girl,” which he’d written for his wife Rosemary.
Then we came upon the poem “The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps,” which I knew he’d won the Rhysling Award for in ’78. Plopping down on the couch, we asked Carlos read to it aloud, so we could all discuss it.
Then… AND THEN…!!! Carlos had THE BEST IDEA EVER.
“We could put some of these images into Midjourney,” said he.
“We could MAKE A WHOLE MAJOR ARCANA DECK according to Gene’s poem!” I shouted.
Becca, who’d never see AI-generated art, scooted in close to watch the first few incredible iterations based on the first verse, “Trump 21: The Universe.”
We decided that moment to text Gene’s daughter Teri (Becca’s auntie, my other informally adopted sister, and Gene’s executor) right away and propose the project, because we were VERY BUBBLY about it.
She gave us her blessing to reprint the poem on our website with the AI-generated illustrations, and here, my friends, we are! At work, and having a most ludic and loving evening.
I have typed out the poem as it appears in my copy of For Rosemary. After each verse, we added Becca’s favorite selection from the images that Carlos and Midjourney generated after feeding Gene’s verses in.
I think Gene would be totally tickled by the idea of a computer iterating the greater trumps, based entirely on his poem “The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps.”
Interestingly, we had to do some censoring of the poem when entering Gene’s verses into Midjourney, which does not allow words like “naked” or “breast” or “bare” or “bleed.” We were timed out of Midjourney for a whole four minutes before we quite realized why.
We also chose not to use any words for prompts that would now be considered racial slurs. When inputting the text from Trump (6), we used “Romani” instead of the original text, and put the word “Romani” in brackets for this reprint.
The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps
Poem by Gene Wolfe
Art by Midjourney
(With input from Carlos Hernandez, Rebecca Spizzirri, and C. S. E. Cooney)
DIMENSIONS Trumps (21)
Do 1969 I = 1, 22
N = 22 – I
The Universe includes by definition all,
That Man has seen since his great fall.
God’s calling card this, upon our silver Disch,
On what table? In what house? In what hall?
The 666th Judgement, and my screed betrays
Unlearnt foreknowledge of those coming days.
The angels come to smite the sea and land,
The anti-Christ for us—and slays.
The Sun the dancing children love,
Casts down his radiance from above.
Fusion, fission, no remission;
So small a house, so large a stove.
The Moon, stillborn sister of our Earth,
Pale-faced observes the living birth.
Soon, soon, the sister’s children come,
To plow and plant that stony turf.
The Star, sky-ruler by default,
Pours out two waters: fresh and salt.
Naked, bare-breasted girl, and (whisper)
Magna Mater of the Old Cult.
The Falling Tower, smote by God,
Thunders in ruins to the sod.
Master, it needs no wit to read this card.
Master, you must wait his rod.
The Devil straddles his searing throne,
With power in his hands alone!
We have been shown; we have been shown; we have been
Death in this deck’s no gibb’ring shade,
But naked peasant with a blade;
Think on that, thou unfought people! And
Remember whence these cards were made.
The Hanged Man hangs by his feet,
Knew you that? His face, so sweet,
Almost a boy’s.
He hangs to bleed. Who waits to eat?
The Wheel of Fortune; cause and effect;
God will save his own elect;
The wheel turns until it stops—
The bitch within runs till she drops.
Sworded Justice weighs us men,
Then, sordid, weighs us up again.
Weren’t not more justice just to slay?
Slaying sans guilt to slay again?
Fortitude with hands like laws,
Clamps shut the writhing lion’s jaws;
Ignoring his beseeching eyes,
Ignoring his imploring paws.
Taking two hands in the Tarot game,
Temperance, with Time her other name.
Pouring light into a golden cup.
Watering our wine. Drowning our fame.
The Hermit with his lamp and staff,
Treads all alone his lonely path.
He who hath no one,
Know you who he hath?
The Lovers mean birth as well as lust,
Read ye that riddle as ye must;
Men from semen, O ye people!
Dust from dust from dust from dust.
The Chariot’s a [Romani] car,
And we the happy drivers are,
With whip and reins and endless pains,
So far, so far, so far.
The Emperor for worldly power,
To shake and scream a fleeting hour;
To this a bribe, to that a bullet—
Remember, Master, the Falling Tower?
The Hierophant, the Pope, the Priest;
Today we fast, tomorrow, feast.
The bridegroom was with us yesterday;
The Hierophant remains, at least.
The Lady Hierophant, good Pope Joan,
Who will not let the truth alone;
A scholar killed her yestereve,
Today she’s sidling toward the throne.
The Empress, Nature, loving and cruel,
Grim mistress of the one hard school,
Mistress of microbes,
Breaking each tool.
The Juggler points both drawn down and up, in mastery of
First in all the deck stands he, creator of illusion.
Sword, coin and cup before him lie,
And on his face, derision.