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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    They built the casket together
    as a father and son project
    before flames consumed the workshop.
    Ma didn't know (she'd have thought it
    morbid and been upset), but it's
    Eben's and his secret no more.
    Into a humble pit
    the pall bearers lower it.
    Clark pulls Pa's watch from his pocket.
    (Ma'd given it to him that morning.
     "He ordered it from Sears,"
     she told him through her tears,
     "he'd've wanted you to have it.")
    He thumbs the insignia etched
    on the casing, an 'S' design.
    What referent, this symbol?
    The seller?  Almighty Dollar?
    The House of El?  Not the latter.
    It looks like the carving
    he saw at the lake on the chest
    of a god disguised as a ghost, but,
    such stellar gifts have come thence that --
    no, it heralds no Kryptonian host.
    He is free to forge his own meaning, so he sees,
    in the flaking gold plating, that tree,
    deep rooted in Black Forest's floor
    whence grew the line of Kent.  Its progenitor,
    for honor (or was it mere greed?), hung cages
    over the Elbe, burnt Varras' legions
    alive and so kept the Wald from Rome.
    That warrior's successors then roamed
    afar, sailed forth from frozen fjords
    to conquer Britannia's lush counties
    and brand the serfs, each for his Lord.
    Among the bolder peasants, one,
    after years of staid settlement,
    sought glory in the New World.
    Across the vast Atlantic he went
    to plant in an unsullied continent
    a fertile crop like those his grandson
    Eben reaped before the firmament closed.
    Now fallowness has claimed the last
    of that line.  Eben rests --
    a twig from the tree pruned --
    but is the boy he adopted doomed
    to heed the wanderlust which cursed
    (or blessed?) his human lineage?
    As the loving visages
    Clark long has worshipped dim,
    will Smallville lose its grip on him?

    Sarah frees herself from the crook
    of her son's arm, embraces Sally Ross
    and confers with John.  Lana crosses
    to Clark to comfort him.
    Clark has no remorse for the distraction.
    He does miss the adults' conversation,
    but, someday he'll learn in one nod to hear
    distant sounds and noises near.  Meanwhile,
    Lana's company compensates amply
    and Ross seems ready to satisfy
    his curiosity anyway.
    Pinching the lapels of his Sunday best
    with pensive thumbs, Eben's old nemesis
    steps up to address the former's son.

    --    Your Pa 'n' me... We was friends once
          back in '17... death merchant
          coup... Bryan quit the cabinet
          (you must'a read 'bout it
          in school)....We protested the war,
          and other things, injustices done
          the farming man, whose borne
          this country along from Day One,
          Clark.  We deserved more
          than a draft for our sons
          and to hear they died
          defending foreigners.  Eben felt
          mighty strong on that score -- lost Sam,
          his brother, in that Spanish war --
          but he didn't go in much for
          politics, less so after you were born,
          after the movement got beat, the Green Corn.
          He ever tell you 'bout this?

          (Clark nods "no," incredulous.)

          No surprise.  Eben was... no talker.
          He and I... we fell out 'bout that time,
          both awful bitter 'bout it, too.
          I kept fight'n', had new takers,
          new names for the new forms,
          but Eben hadn't the patience,
          not for organizing, for... resistance.
          Now, I guess...
          I can't blame him; he....

    "For shame, John!" Sally prates,
    having sidled to their midst and replaced
    Miss Lang (whose sudden absence
    Clark now thinks to notice).  Mrs. Ross:
    "Such talk... at this time, in this space...
     You leave the boy alone
     'til after his grieving's done.
     Come along!"  Off she waddles,
    her husband following fast,
    projecting a "Keep in touch!"
    back at Clark out a neck
    left near whiplashed by the effort.
    Ralph joins Clark under the arch of the gate
    to the graveyard and they stand there, framed on
    a rolling backdrop: The tinderbox plain.
    The Salkind film contains a like tableau.
    (That work is legitimate, has its place
     in the "Superman" canon, despite
     the sanitized Hollywood flash.  Show it
     to your kids.  I will borrow from it
     for my verses.)

    Dibny opens the dialogue:

    --    Sorry our paths had to cross
          at a time like this, Clark;
          and that I've had no chance
          to tender my sympathies --
          it seemed inappropriate,
          chatting while your Ma was upset.
          Glad to see she's settled a bit.
          What are her long term prospects?

          --    She's a strong woman.
                She'll manage.

    --    And you?

          --    For now?  Keep at the land,
                maybe hire a hand
                who'll work for room and board.
                You a farming man, Ralph?

    --    Never harvested a bushel,
          though I've dug ditches with the best
          and shucked corn to finance my quest.

          --    For that magic potion?

    --    The gingold, yes; it brought me west.
          I'll gain a portion soon, then stretch
          my way to fame and fortune.
          The Nebraska Fair is next.

          --    Guess I won't ask 'bout that job, then.

    --    Which?

          --    Farmhand.

    --    I'm not ready
          to exchange quests, Clark,
          and this soil'd be a struggle.

          --    Yes... (and he drifts off).

    --    If I can change the subject...

          --    Be my guest.

    --    Your gal can help with the rest
          of whatever work needs doing,
          this season and next...
          and the next... and the next.
          Get my drift?

          --    Ralph, Lana's not even my 'gal;'
          she's not about to marry me.

    --    What I've seen today, I'd say she wants to.

          --    Not likely.  I'm not that lucky.

    --    Clark, I saw you catch a horse-drawn cart
          with one hand; then you beat two men
          with rooms ahead of yours in hall
          down to your dad unseen.

    (Clark nods, vexed that he failed
    to cover his trail,  to draw the thin veneer.)

    --    Well, I'll not speculate.  I'll just keep
          the crushed ladle for a souvenir,
          and that say most ladies I know would heap
          attentions on a man so quick and strong.

          --    I don't know.

    --    You need practice.  Won't take long
          just to talk to her.  She's with the Prof.,
          your Ma and... who's that?

          --    Pete Ross.

    --    He and the Prof. have hit it off;
          similar senses of humor.

          --    Both pretty sullen now,
          standing there by the plot.

    --    So are the women.  And she won't
          wait forever, Clark.  Be careful,
          or this Pete'll become a rival
          soon, diluting her affections.

          --    Thanks for the instruction, Ralph.
          I always wanted a big brother.

    --    No bother.  Every man's got to test
          his mettle fighting for some gal's heart.

          --    Guess you can't be convinced
          to settle in these parts?

    --    I'll not be settling anywhere,
          my friend, not for a long, long while.

          --    I'm glad we met, Mr. Dibny.

    The two young men shake hands and wait
    for the others to reach the gate.
    Ma would tremble, but stays composed,
    wants to resemble a stable
    matron.  "The Greens have made table,"
    she tells the Prof., "so I could close
    my kitchen.  I'd hate to be late;
    such nice people.  What's the time, Clark?"
    He tries to read the watch through its case
    in his pocket, can't, (just a dark spot),
    so he pulls it out, looks at its face
    and says, distraught, "Nearly noon, Ma,"
    his thoughts of the moment closer to:
    "What's the metal been frosted
    o'er here with gold?"  Sarah: "We've almost
    an hour then.  Good.  Your 'Carriage,'
    Professor," she insists, offering her arm.
    She needs a shoulder to lean on
    today and so accepts a stranger's charms,
    and the problem of the gold plating
    has Clark so absorbed that the Prof.ís grating
    gets ignored.  Not by the rest of the bunch.
    Pete forces warmth, says he'll see them at lunch,
    then meets Ralph.  They walk down the hill
    to Smallville, talking of the Prof.'s intentions
    and of their worries.  They reach the bottom
    in a flurry of decision. 
    They'll spread no false alarms
    regarding hypothetical harms, nor...
    "What's that noise?" Ralph must ask,
    "Like, I've heard tell,
    the gathering of a locust swarm?"
    "The other boys are gone," Lana says
    on the hill.  She and Clark hug into one.
    They would here kiss, but, suddenly,
    it is noon and something blots out the sun.

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