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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner




    One dusk, autumn, 1936.
    The sun sails through a clearing sky,
    the clouds part as she passes by.
    A snail slithers across a dewy leaf,
    his trail glistening like light against a reef.
    Storms are gone now.  It seems so serene,
    but the boon of the immediate
    postwar years has not returned.
    That bubble burst; the Great Depression
    sat down like an old friend in the parlor
    of the Midwest, or like Grandmother's corpse
    resting in bed, awaiting the return
    of the undertaker from vacation
    the way that the above-mentioned shore
    waits for a blast of the rolling surf
    to cleanse it, to prepare it for more
    microbial assaults by drowning
    the present generation of germs,
    `lest all kill the beach the way the men
    now gripping at, now ripping up the soil
    to get out all of Smallville's rich oil,
    are uprooting once productive acres,
    displacing once complacent peoples,
    who would mobilize, had not their wills
    been sapped of late by the winds, the wiles,
    of an adverse fate.  Storms are gone now, yes:
    two years later and all is calm, all is... Still.
    But the Kent farm's fallen victim to the plot.
    It was bought out by city slickers in felt
    hats and shiny shoes, with cash but no souls.
    There was compensation.  Mortgages were
    paid by the buyer: relief from the debt
    Eben acquired, and a chance to start again
    as tenants in the house their blood built
    and as wage earners, Sarah a seamstress
    and Clark a clerk in the general store.
    It's not the same.  The healthy stress --
    rising at sunup to work up a sweat
    that yields fruit of one's own labor to eat --
    is absent, replaced by wars on boredom,
    trying to stem the tedium (repeat:
    trying  to  stem    the    tedium) that beats
    down on the brows of workers for hire,
    and to follow the shopkeeper's orders.
    These run like a stream tonight --

          Sweep the floor!  Dust the shelves
          and counter-top and lay out
          poison to kill the termites
          and occasional vermin!  But, keep it
          away from the stock, the cans of coffee
          carefully stacked for display, tins of tea
          to be drunk our run-of-the-mill way ("We,"
          says the poet, "sipped through sugar cubes
          in the old country"), with soda crackers that
          cringe now in barrels lined up in the corner.

    A barrage, it seems, bearable only
    since he works for Lana's father
    and has duties to perform by him.
    Mr. Lang keeps listing them,
    one per stubby, callused finger:

    --    Close up the store.
          Then come back in the morning, 'round four,
          meet the meat wagon from the slaughterer
          and pay him what I owe him.  We'll end that
          contract and look elsewhere.  Seen my hat,
          Clark?  I thought I left it on the counter.

          --    It's under the register,
                sir, in the drawer.
                (And the clerk points in answer.)

    --    Yes, right there.  You've a good eye, son.

          --    Yes, thank you, sir.  Good night.

    And... exit the proprietor, stage right,
    the bell on the door jingling behind him.
    Ma's supper awaits (she makes Clark eat),
    and super speed's not indiscrete after dark,
    so he cleans and inventories (SNAP!) like that,
    then starts for home.  Locking the front,
    he hears a cry.  "Help!"  Ma will have to wait.

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