The Epic Poem [home] [contents] [comments] [discussion] [shop]
       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner



Several Grand Entrances

    The scene is the frame of the frame
    of the scene.  All that we see or seem
    is that famed dream within a dream.
    This dream is Metropolitan:

    New Year's Eve of '39 finds
    Jim Olsen walking, alone, by a snow-
    swept lake Metropolis.  His friends
    had wanted him to go with them
    to a party, but work was fine
    for Jim.  He turned thirteen today,
    chose not to be called "Jimmy"
    anymore, and got called a fool
    for deciding to quit school
    and work for the paper full time.
    "Give me a chance, Mr. White,"
    he had pled.  "You know I can write!
    You've seen the kind of pictures
    I can take!  O, please don't make me
    stay a copy boy all my life!"
    The gruff editor had kept his head
    in his work -- never looked up -- and said,
    "Boy, if you didn't remind me
    of me at your age, I'd save you
    some trouble -- put you out on the streets
    right now, tail first!  There's a crime wave on;
    I need experienced reporters,
    not some dropout 'wants to wet his feet
    at my expense.  I've seen your work, sure;
    but what I've seen so far is nothing.
    Get me a scoop!  Prove you've got the stuff
    and maybe I won't fire you!
    Might even let you write something."

    Not the kind of talk would inspire
    a lad.  Jim skulked out of the office
    close to midnight and took his walk
    by frozen Metro Lake.
    If he wants work badly enough,
    an idea will dawn on him for a story,
    will point him in bold new directions.
    He looks down at the moon's reflection,
    cloudy on the ice.  It's so cold out
    he can see his breath in the air,
    feel the frost on his hot red hair
    as he turns his gaze toward the stars.
    They are about to bequeath him
    greater gifts than he can wish for,
    than those for which he has wished (like
    a battle sword, a fleet of cars) --
    They will bequeath him... Adventures
    beyond the wildest dreams of youth,
    and glimpses at the Heart of Truth
    itself.  You readers, however, will
    have a better vantage.

    Point your sight
    from the other edge of the stars
    my friends, from beyond those points of light
    as they glisten in the bitter night,
    point them from ...
    ... a million-billion miles away ...
    ... from Argos, singular asteroid
    resting so firmly in the void.
    Kara Zor-El makes sacrifice there
    over Hyra-Khan's priestly corpse;
    this the method of her witness.
    Her eyes are ours, friends.  Stare
    as a viewer.

    Kara skewers the Wu-ba
    with a sacred wire.  Blue
    mists rise therefrom.  We see Lyla
    Lerrol, Kara's agent, therethrough
    as she makes the leap of faith
    off the Land of Zon's highest cliff
    and into the world between worlds.
    Kara takes great comfort at this,
    but not at the scene that follows.
    It only adds
    to her present sorrows --


      And it is like no other water
      Lyla's ever swum through, or bathed in,
      before.  It is gelatinous, it is porous,
      it breathes in and out
      like a living thing, and she can breathe
      the whole way through its slick depths,
      falling until she is not falling
      but climbing, until something pulls her
      forward -- up, up, and away -- rushing
      like no current she's ever been in
      before.  Sojourn in limbo -- pushing
      oneself through it is so liberating,
      like the first moments of breathing,
      like being born all over again.
      The layers of her environment suit
      peel off as she passes through it;
      she can see her destination, a light
      overhead, even as she senses
      that it will bring her people freedom
      from the fear and want of dark, cold space.
      Rising fast now, rising grand, she puts
      a touch on her own ankle, for she feels
      a drag thence, the tug of some dead weight.
      It is a hand, a hand on her heel,
      the hairy hand of an evil man.
      It is he.  It is Zod.  Not so good.
      He must not reach the dry land.
      She tries to turn herself around --
      better that neither reach that light
      than that he should bask therein --
      but he has his claws in her heel,
      then he has his jaws on that heel
      and his firm fingers clutch her calves,
      clawing their way up while she falls
      through this medium clear, this stew
      of limbo.  'Must keep Zod from Earth,'
      she thinks as she tries to shake him,
      but the strength of the bad is great:
      she cannot its fury abate,
      nor keep him from scratching at her
      the way cats paw their way up trees.
      His face reaches her knees,
      his hands her thighs.
      She tries to pry them off
      and he pinches her, pulls her down
      to ladder himself up higher
      and be the first out the tunnel
      when its swiftly flowing fluid
      spits the pair into the dry air.

    Yes, the wind blows dry and cold
    this eve in old Metropolis,
    wintry eve in the breezy town
    where Ness met his destiny
    by kicking doors down
    and the warlord Capone,
    who'd thought himself immune
    to his country's laws,
    heard taps played, his own
    lusty greed the cause.

      ("This is a great city,"
        two minds think at one time --
        Zod's as he surveys it
        in close proximity,
        and Kara's from afar --
      "Though not without its flaws.")

      He has her by the hair
      as they draw near
      the portal, the city
      growing, power surging
      in him from the hidden sun.
      Yellow sun!  Low gravity!
      He will be able to fly!
      He knows, somehow, instantly,
      that, in the Earth's atmosphere,
      he can wage war without armies,
      do all the killing with bare hands!
      He swears to seize this place as his
      from the moment he first sees it.

      Lyla has too much else in mind
      even to notice the setting.
      She feels their impact on the ice,
      feels Metro Lake's surface break
      like plastic under bullet's thrust,
      and she too feels the power burst
      in her breast, fill her with purpose
      as she debuts on earth.
      She fights for others' freedom,
      he for his own license.
      Who can doubt the outcome
      as they emerge into the air
      (so dry!) like marbles being spat
      into the neighborhood circle
      by the fat kid's beefy digits;
      like a water spout, a geyser
      Krypto-sapien, as they lift
      themselves, propelled from the cold lake
      to soar, grappling like gods reborn?

    Jimmy Olsen, watching from the shore
    can't be so sure.  The 'wrestlers' --
    is it a human cannon-ball
    act like he's seen at the State Fair? --
    are locked in a queer embrace,
    one tearing the other's long blonde hair
    while the other tries to shield his face.
    Are they trying to crush each other?
    Why didn't he hear a cannon roar?
    Jim thinks he's found his story
    and tries to figure where they'll fall.

      Lyla pummels at Zod's back,
      trying to make the bones crack,
      trying to drive her steely nails
      into his neck, to strangle him
      or scratch him until the skin breaks
      and his blood spurts; but he is thick
      like leather: Though bleeding, he slows
      not, but butts her head with his own
      and she is out cold.  He hugs her
      limp form.  Their flight becomes a dance
      in the dry air, a perverse dance
      of conquest and pure happenstance
      in which the luck of timing won.

    The luck of timing always wins.
    Timing is everything.

      Zod kisses her bruised brow
      and drops her.  Lyla's chin
      whiplashes on his foot
      on the way down; and he laughs,
      laughs, laughs, cackles echoing down
      over Lake Metropolis, and out...

      ... Over the trackless reaches of space
      to Kara Zor-El, High Priestess
      of the last Kryptonians,
      in that sanctified place
      where Hyra-Khan lies in state.

      The Wu-ba mists dissipate.
      The timing is unfortunate:
      Kara won't ever see
      Jimmy Olsen snatch victory
      from defeat's iron jaws
      by reviving Lyla
      and so furthering her cause.
      Kara closes the crypt,
      not knowing whether
      to kiss it or spit.
      If she does either,
      guilt will gnaw (as always!)
      inside of her gut.
      To honor her father
      is to betray her mentor,
      and vice versa.  Still, the rut
      of mourning she must circumvent
      as useless and assume her place.
      She must stand in the stead of both
      father lost, the civil leader
      who led the faithful here in chains
      only to die himself in chains
      (all so proud, not one a pleader);
      and the High Priest who bound them,
      all of the survivors,
      together as in one body,
      and whose extraordinary pains
      took with a prisoner's daughter
      ensured she could replace him;
      but, she will take both their places.
      She turns from the crypt and faces
      the gathering democracy,
      still near-prostrate in reverence.
      She thinks of the Great Uniter,
      Hyra-Khan, her predecessor,
      and wishes he could have lived forever.
      Argonauts are a nation
      of scholars and priests again
      because of his work,
      but, is she up to it?
      She looks at her slender hands.
      Church and state are one in these hands,
      she thinks, and finally stands
      before her constituency.
      No great uniter, no Lincoln
      or Octavian, no Bismarck
      nor Bessyrabian Khan,
      can live on and lead forever.
      The reins are in her hands
      and those hands must push the mass further
      than any people's ever gone before.
      Hundreds put their knees to the floor
      as she speaks.

                  KARA'S ADMONITION

      --    The Priest of Rao is dead!  Worship
            before his crypt the lord he served
            and his anointed successor.
            Hyra-Khan is dead!  Lives the Khan
            by his office!  Whilst' home he slips
            to collect his wages ....

      ('His adopted daughter
      takes his place on the holy altar,'
      she thinks but dares not say.
      If they find her out a woman,
      should mask slip or her voice falter,
      what hell to pay?  None can say.)

      --    The rest of us will bend the bars
            of our captivity-cages!
            Bend steel faith with our bare hands
            we must, my friends, to escape
            this exile for pastures fertile,
            for fields afar, blessed by Rao's grace.

      (It would be utterly futile
      to warn them of Brainiac's
      approach, against which, in truth,
      they will all be racing
      in the project she announces.)

      --    Jor-El's 'space-arks' will be built
            to accomplish this purpose,
            following the schedule
            proposed by the Council
            earlier this week.
            We are all in this great work
            together, my Argonauts.
            If any dissent, speak now
            or hold your peace forever.

      Only the silence echoes.
      Kara smiles behind the mask
      of office; a wave of relief
      drops from her shoulders to her toes.

      Yet, even as they all kneel
      and pledge their honor for to go,
      the being in whose name they pray
      embraces who will be
      their next-most ardent foe.

      And not a one of them can know!
      Brainiac feels this irony
      tingling in his dry electrodes!
      First, through his view-screen, Brainiac saw
      the Argonauts, all genuflecting.
      Then, sitting in the Captain's seat,
      steepling fingers to chin,
      seething with a soulless hate
      for the prayers of sentient meat,
      his robot mind did contemplate
      the new prize he'd found to win.
      He turned a knob, rewound the tape,
      froze a frame and magnified it 'til
      he could see through the drape of Wu-ba
      vapors and into the city bright.
      Metropolis by night, its skyline
      all a'glittering:  What a sight!
      And one he can take without a fight:
      The earthlings have no defenses!
      He must to this helpless planet
      be his ship a'quickly getting!
      His instruments find the setting
      of Zod and Lyla's recent "match,"
      then to Lake Metropolis
      he tunes in, just in time to watch...


        On a billowing cloudbank, Zod lounges,
        basking in his victory, and planning
        Occasionally, he cackles
        and rolls like a dog in the snow.
        During one roll, a light crackles,
        another cloud, nearby, glows
        with a line of it, which looks
        like it will soon break open.
        It does, and out of it steps
        a tall man draped in black leather
        with two bolts of lightning
        on a patch on his shoulder
        and a military cap
        and sharp, pointed, steel-toed boots.
        Rolling over, righting self, Zod asks:

        --    Are there, then, others?
              Others whose disdain for wealth
              of mere gold births the impulse
              to crush their weaker brothers?
              Are there humans who fly,
              who feel, and worship, the power
              of this sun in their firm bosoms?
              Are you one of those others?

        The figure answers:

              --    I am not of the mortals.
                    And, we have met before.

        The figure's voice is so loud
        even mighty Zod covers
        his ears and cringes in fear
        as the figure grows until its head
        is the size of the clouds
        and its breath of torrential
        force.  In its open mouth, Zod
        can see the Sodium Cove
        of Krypton myth, where Raoman
        himself once sat, with harem
        first, then with his one true love.
        A melting warmth overcomes
        the general.  He has seen
        the face of his fathers' god.
        "Come into me, Zod," it says.
        "Of course, my Lord," and Zod goes limp,
        "Of course, my Rao," and Zod whimpers
        as Rao breathes in the clouds and him.
        The face inhales; Zod is absorbed.
        Lightning flashes; clouds are disgorged
        as the head folds into the streak
        of light and disappears completely.

        All this, Brainiac sees,
        but not the Argonauts.
        The machine laughs ironically
        and plots in a course for the Earth.

      Other witnesses watch with less mirth.
      Jimmy Olsen, who took notes throughout
      stands as still as midnight's emptiness.
      Red, blue and yellow clad, a woman,
      a blonde with a red 'S' on her shirt,
      lies, unconscious at the lad's cold feet.
      He lifts her -- it is no simple task
      -- off of the frozen, crackling grass
      and walks with her, pencil in his mouth,
      toward the sound of revellers, southward
      into the city and the New Year,
      1939.  'Perry White's ear,
      and his resolve to keep me in school,
      will bend for this,' Jim thinks.  'He's no fool.'
      A clock tolls the witching hour
      and the new year.  'Round town, corks pop,
      as, footsteps slow, as if in trance,
      Jim reaches the wide entrance
      of the Daily Planet Tower.
      The revolving door almost clips
      her head, but Jim is very careful.
      Parting sparkling green marble walls,
      an elevator opens.  It frames
      the young man and his charge very well,
      closing with a grind and a clap full
      of finality.  It will open
      sometime in Part Two of this. 
      Poet-powers, then,
      will pry them apart to make
      new scenes to edify, mystify,
      and entertain you.

      And those scenes, readers dear,
      my very best of friends,
      are but frames of the frames of scenes.
      All you see or seem is, in the end,
      but a dream within a dream.  Pretend
      personages will sleep now, or seem
      to.  They will neither dream nor feel.
      Dreams and dreaming are for the real.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46
47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 

NEXT CANTO <font size=-1>NEXT CANTO</font>

Superman The American Way Cap!
The Epic Poem


Powered by