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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    Polish the table?  No trouble,
    but chopping wood may prove
    a burdensome chore.
    Eben Kent isn't
    a young man anymore.

    His hands perspire -- pick: tighten grip,
    or let the blade slip?;
    he squeezes harder -- as he lifts
    the axe, swings it, and splits
    the log.  Each splint
    falls to a side of the stump
    as he takes another off the pile
    and repeats the sequence.  In one style
    for the entire store -- raise, drop,
    choose the next and then chop --
    he cuts, keeping time with the sea's roar,
    the crashing of waves against a shore,
    that tune, like the soothing pulsation
    of divine respiration,
    that underlies the Cosmic Score,
    those songs which in him too resound --
    just that, now, they're a bit too loud.
    His temples pound (pain!) and his breast
    aches -- pick again: get some rest,
    or break a bone? -- so he sits
    to consider his half-cord.
    It's a good morning's work,
    he thinks, as the tremor hits
    and jerks him toward
    a sinking, grassy floor.

    (What's this?  Shifting plates?
    An earthquake in Kansas?
    Nature's retaliation
    for humanity's offenses?
    Presently this interpretation
    is erroneous.  My plan
    is merely to lead us
    to a happy occasion:
    the reconciliation,
    before this canto's done,
    of a prostrate old man
    and his space-born pseudo-son.)

    Eben perceives a green horizon
    of blades that scratch his eyes and chin.
    His forearm intercedes, defends
    his nose and throat from dirt
    falling into the dew,
    and, though the dust blocks his view,
    Eben rises and steps
    in the direction of his task.
    Then the ground stops and he tumbles down
    and passes out in a crater,
    a feature just added to his estate.
    Moments later, warm hands cradle
    Eben's dazed form. Hazy lips ladle
    air into his lungs, focus,
    then become those of the boy flung
    earthward on a dovish ship
    whose shiny tip
    protrudes now, putting Clark's profile
    in stark relief.
    The son's been self-apprenticed,
    this morning's trial
    having been a brief introduction
    to a tutorless instruction
    which will bring him much grief.
    Skills uniquely Clark's possession
    (he's practiced landing methods
    and learned resuscitation)
    he must develop on his own,
    acquiring facility
    in secret until he's grown.
    At contemplation of this
    tears well up in weary little eyes.
    Pa sits up, gulps bile of fear,
    and dutifully hears
    his son's confession.

    "Father," quoth Clark, his jaw quivering,
    "I fell, I... I... flew."  Shivering
    within, but outwardly steadfast,
    the elder Kent holds the younger
    in supportive silence, nodding
    subtle approval 'til the sniffling
    desists and, without prodding,
    Clark proclaims his fondest wish:
    "I want to be human, Pa."
    Then Eben, awkwardly, swallowing
    habitual stoicism:
    "Son, you are human."
    "People don't fly," Clark protests.
    "But, we all cry," Pa insists,
    making warm his countenance
    as he loosens the hug.
    "In His Garden, son," he says:

    --    God carved a life-array so vast
          that no creature save the last
          could he invest with a variety
          of emotions to display.
          The strife of youthful days
          signals the start of much commotion,
          but proves that you're a part
          of the grandeur of Creation,
          one, in fact, with its culmination.
          You qualify...

    (from under Clark's eye
     he lifts a tear and lets it lie
     on his fingertip, balanced
     between them in the air -- )

    "...And this," he says of it, "is why."

    Clark chuckles.  Droplets dry
    on his cheeks, dampening
    Pa's neck as he rocks the boy
    and looks around, his face cramping
    at a scene as bleak as the moon.
    He reads it as a sign:
    days of want are coming soon.
    "I want this hole filled, son," he says,
    his former bluntness returning.
    "It'll be done, sir," Clark pledges,
    "before this afternoon."
    They climb out of the pit
    and, taking care to omit
    any upsetting details,
    Clark tells Pa of his flight,
    and of why Ma might be mad.
    Eben listens, but is assailed
    by other concerns.  ("Shattered,"
    he observes, stepping around scattered,
    silt-covered kindling, wondering
    whence next winter's warmth will come.)
    They pass the woodshed.  Clark turns
    and glances overhead, relieved
    at not having been followed.
    His sigh is premature.
    Eben goes in ahead of him
    and so misses this absurd scene:
    a flying dog descends with a SWOOSH!,
    hovers over the Kents' covered porch,
    then speaks in stentorian tones
    that would ill befit
    an ordinary pooch.
    "How long has it been?" it asks.
    "Two years.  I am ten," says Clark,
    keeping his composure as it issues him


    --    You are a man, then, by our standards,
          and capable of choice; yet, you ran
          (most culpable!) at the sound of our voice.
          You may betray us, if you can,
          but, if treachery you intend,
          tell us, that we do not tarry here.
          We have needs you could not comprehend.
          We must be fed, and, in far off lands
          there are greedy men who would be our hands,
          whom we can lead joyfully to vassalage,
          and drag their thralls in tow.
          Our strength, then, would meet our will,
          and we would return, Kal-El,
          to extract your suffrage as well.
          You know this is true, so why not kneel
          before us now, save yourself troubles on
          the morrow?  Bend your knee, child!
          Great Rao commands it:  Pick your pantheon!

    Clark refuses, and thereby chooses
    to make his stand on and for the earth.
    The rejected dog departs,
    dejected and doubting its worth --
    it so hates it when it loses --
    and, with glazed eyes, Clark gazes,
    as what was once his pup
    goes up,
            up, and away.
                 What a day.

    The back door creaks and Eben speaks
    to the dazed boy, charging him with a chore.
    "It shouldn't be any trouble,"
    Pa says, handing Clark a shovel
    (the one he always uses).
    "Not for you, anyway,"
    and he leaves his son standing.
    To Clark, the door's slamming
    sounds louder than ever before,
    as do the distant squeals
    of four wrought iron wheels.
    The Rosses' coach squeaks.
    Clark cringes at the screech,
    lessens his perception of it,
    and braces for Ma's approach.
    (His hearing's a topic
    he'd rather not broach, just now.)

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