Of Great Wealth
The chair is very old. Leather snapped on
its dark pine frame with brass buttons as squat
as cheap stogies, it lacks padding, is flat
but sturdy -- no finery for the fat
man who in its confines sits, smoking.
The table is made of marble
imported from Milan. Cigar
ashes have piled up there and should
be brushed off. The bill could
feed, clothe, and domicile two
working families for a week.
He folds it lengthwise and makes a trough.
Over the pile he stays his hand, coughs
once without disturbing it, then stirs
and goes to survey his lands. At the bay
windows of the penthouse he stands
and looks down at Metropolis.
(An intruder: In his study?
Blazes! The news had best be good.)
-- What is it, Lex?
-- It's happened, father.
After all those false alarms,
Wall Street has fallen,
just as you warned.
He smiles. On the icy street below
two beggars wait outside a mission.
After winter that line will grow;
there will be a new kind of cold,
as the fiscal chill ripples westward
from eastern towers of tarnished gold.
Former pursuers of solid wealth,
the creed of Carnegie's idol cult,
will cluster on corners where, of late,
warring, fedora'd gangs have scrimmaged
and left their wounded for dead.
`Til now most have waited for work;
henceforth, they'll queue just for bread,
the sullen plodding of their feet as they tread
through the slush in the gutter
crying out for a speedy end.
Will he grant one in his kingdom?
Maybe. Or, he may just pretend.
"Bring me an ashtray, son," he says.
The boy spins on his heels, returns
with that fancy porcelain piece
the wife haggled over in Nice.
It isn't him, but will do. He cups
it in his left palm, puts it flush
with the tabletop brink, and pushes
the ash into it with his cash scoop.
He gives Lex the full dish and looks
at his marble-ous reflection
as he pronounces that, "Today
is October the twenty-ninth,
Nineteen-Hundred and Twenty-Nine.
Mark it well, my son: Black Tuesday,
Tabula Rasa." He makes
an abracadabra gesture
at the lone forgotten man
left standing, soup bowl in hand,
out back of the soup kitchen;
then sits and takes a match
to another Havana.
Expectant, compliant, Lex nods
and pours his dad a glass of port.
The elder lifts it high in toast.
The liquor wets father's red goatee,
Lex wonders, "What's in this for me?",
and outside the streets are desolate.
This pair's grown very bold. Wait and see.