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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


          UP! UP! and AWAY!

    He goes not gently into this night
    of challenge, but tacks left, tacks right,
    scales the ether with all his might,
    longing to escape the earth's grip
    and touch the face of Mistress Moon.
    The attempt, though vain (not for naught
    are lunatics named for the moon),
    is majestic:  UP!    UP!    and    AWAY! --
           how else can an author convey
    the war-horse gallop of his flight,
    the sheer colossal fury
    of a godling-boy confronting
    the schisms in his soul
    and tearing straight up in fright?
    We of this jaded era
    have watched Saturn-5s lift off
    and the atom bomb's furor
    (on television): We scoff
    at efforts to describe the trials
    of one man in such terms.
    But, there aren't any better.
    To break the fetters of space
    and time themselves he strives;
    he will write Diana love letters
    with his lips, will kiss her silver face --
    Olympian splendor and freedom
    from Duty and Life's doldrums
    are surely hers to give!

    Will it happen today?  If not now, when?

         UP!     UP!         and         AWAY!

                   --    and then....

    He can feel that fragile Bubble,
    the world's crackling atmosphere,
    stretch and burst and release him
    like stamen spurts pollen to ease
    the pistil's female hunger --
    Free!  From Earth!  From Life!  From Fear!
    From....Air.  The Kryptonian
    cannot breathe in a vacuum --
    "super-lungs" he hasn't, nor throat --
    but he can resist its pressures
    long enough to make swift retreat,
    to slip free of the moon's orbit,
    Diana's loving death-hug,
    before it crushes him
    and he bubbles like a slug
    slithering through salt water.
    Starting to gasp, his throat to grasp,
    he dog-paddles with hands-and-feet
    back to the Bubble, there to bounce
    like a wasp-corpse on the asphalt
    when a child swats it from the air.
    He passes out -- Life isn't fair,
    nor meant to be -- and, atmosphere
    piercing, he erupts in flame and falls
    near as far as those Angels fell
    who strove with God's hosts in battle
    and lost; as if a meteor
    he were, he plummets down to dig,
    unconscious, a crater as big
    as the Reed Sea in the desert
    cartographers call Death Valley.

    So, no, not today, but --

    and    AWAY        he went,

    young Kal-El, a.k.a., Clark Kent,
    to rest in a place where none
    may restfully lie; no, we must
    adventure there and learn
    that a Man never really dies.

               ASCENSION TRUE

        In the pit he dug with his head
        and mass, Clark sits up, heavy but
        wraith-like, not quite corporeal,
        and finds an angel and a devil
        of himself on his shoulders alight,
        wrong to the left and good to right.
        His angel says, "You should be bolder,
        not chained down by the town,
        nor the mindset of your father."
        Then it springs off him, behind
        and rightward, and grows to life size,
        revealing itself as Jor-El's ghost,
        the real one, no faker now,
        no felled demon like Rao.  It nods
        approval of the angel's speech
        and steps back to let Clark's devil,
        still perched on the boy's left shoulder,
        still in miniature, make its pitch.
        Whispering, Evil prods our hero:

        --    Nationalism is the newest sin.
              Recall, "God gives for his own sake"
              and avoid the fall you surely will take
              heeding this viper Henderson
              from far-away Washington
              with his urban innovations
              in deed and thought.
              Do instead as Eben taught.
              Seek that Isolation sweet
              that his forefathers fought for
              without ever sounding retreat.
              Do not get involved.

        And off Clark it too leaps, behind
        and leftward, this into Eben,
        overalls and all, transforming.
        The two fathers turn, face to face.
        Their son, between them (in his place),
        sits as, bare-knuckled, they grapple,
        Jor-El's white hair caking with sweat,
        Eben's weak heart feeling the strain.
        Clark covers his eyes and ears
        as the fight grinds on in that slow motion
        common to dream- (and tele-) vision.
        Then he crawls out from between them
        and tries to run, tries to climb out
        of this deepening pit, but can't.
        He can't even stand up.  He can but
        wring his hands (that's all) and watch
        his two fathers scratch and roll
        in the hot California dirt,
        and think: "The dead cannot each other hurt!  
        What can be these specters' goals?"

        Trapped between boulders now, like starfish
        when the tide goes out from their shoal,
        Clark is immobile.  But he still can catch
        the wooden rod that someone throws him
        from beyond the crater's lip.  Limply,
        like a javelin of rubber,
        he throws it, in slow-mo still.  "Pa!"
        Eben turns from his foe and lifts his arm
        in time to grip the spinning stick,
        but his blubbery fist breaks it
        with a squeeze in two, Jor-El snaps
        up the broken half and, thus armed,
        they struggle forth anew.
        His spirits sinking, Clark can view
        what he can barely hear through the thick
        slow-mo medium that muffles all sound
        but that of his own weeping:  The crack
        of staff upon staff, the snarls,
        grunts, and growls of warriors
        locked in mortal combat.
        Through tears, with one phrase fierce spat,
        and hoping neither is deaf like him,
        Clark/Kal-El curses the both of them.
        "To Hell with you!" he says,
        "To Hell with the two of you!
         To Hell with you both!"
        And he spits, sputum landing
        in their circular arena,
        the ring of never-ending strife that
        arcs its way also around and through
        the inside of his skull.  New Life.
        He must have a new life.  "To Hell
        with both your ghosts," he says again;
        and this "Nature" responds to him.
        With mucous wetted, the ground sags.
        Desert sand turns into quicksand
        and the fighters' boots mix it up,
        thick and slow, as fisticuffs land.
        The mute, uncomprehending pair
        keep on pummeling each other
        even after they start to sink,
        and neither Earth, nor the Hell
        that would swallow them, nor the soul
        of the alien watching them,
        could care.  They disappear.

        Clark heaves a sigh of relief.
        Then he finds himself freed from the rocks
        like the ship of bold Odysseus
        from between Scylla and Charybdis.
        He wants to climb out of the pit,
        but finds he's no longer in it.
        This is no Pit.  It is the foot
        of that great mountain, the root
        of Western Civilization
        itself.  Crowds sprout up all around
        him, six-hundred (or more!) thousand
        men, and untold multitude
        of women, cattle, and children.
        All stand, staring, awe-stricken
        by a pillar of white flame
        falling from Heaven to tame
        Chaos and this fallen world
        with one lick at Zion's peak,
        a loving peck on the cheek
        of gathered Israel.  Clark cuts
        a pathway through them, seeking....
        He knows not what, but instinct
        pulls him to the top to find out.

        He can't fly yet, but leaps far fast
        and reaches the summit quickly.
        The Lawgiver-to-be is there
        and he, frail, weak and slow of speech,
        is strong enough to meet the blast
        of divine fire head on
        and let it lift him off the peak.
        Clark follows him:

            UP!     UP!     and     AWAY!

        ...through an esophagus of flame and into...

    Clouds of white and blue
    lights that comfort as they warm,
    a place held up by a fire
    that neither singes nor consumes...

    Gan Eden, where a Face
    is the only law the race
    of angels ever needs, and song
    is the labor of all.

    Clark's host explains.  Moses:

        --    When Joseph through the well's pit went
              down into Egypt-land, the angel
              with whom his father strove
              first to this, the celestial
              paradise, took him.  I would be
              your guide, friend Clark Kent, were you
              a child of Jacob's family.
              Since you are not, here you must wait.
              The one who is to be your angel,
              your guardian through peace and war
              and journeys to the farthest stars,
              will be here soon; and, he will wear
              a familiar form, perhaps more
              than one such as you have seen of late.
              So wait here, my friend.  Wait...Wait...

        Back into the cloud landscape,
        Moses' image dissipates.
        The landscape itself follows him:
        Billowing green replaces white,
        the clouds dissolve into fields, night
        breaks over them, dust gives way to dusk.
        Clark considers this new sight,
        fixing his eye on a lone star,
        dull at first on the horizon,
        but growing to life.  It's no star.
        Christ in a chariot he sees,
        driving Apollo's stallion team,
        cracking a long golden whip,
        dragging the sun and stars and moon
        from dusk's purple distances
        through night to morning's crimson sky.
        Even only passing over,
        it is an awesome sight.
        Clark, mouth agape, barely catches
        the voice behind and to his right:

        --    You have to be a hard driver
              to steal all that Greek thunder.
              Now there was a Jew who knew
              how to take chances.

        "Henderson!," Clark exclaims, turning
        and rushing up the hill to greet
        the agent,  "Welcome to my dream."
        But the older man, feet strapped
        in rawhide sandals and white
        flax bedecking him, is wiser.
        "Clark," he says, "How do you know
        this is a dream.  Even if it is,
        our dreams are not our own."
        Then, bidding the young man follow,
        Bill walks to the top of the hill.
        It is a cliff, as Clark can tell
        well before reaching it.  Clark is
        afraid, yet he responds to Bill's,
        "Look, my boy; look down below,"
        by doing so.  Why the fear?  He still
        thinks he can't fly on his own here.

        Teetering on the precipice,
        Henderson's comforting presence,
        though still felt, is now out of sight,
        and Clark sees, where the Israelites
        were before, at Sinai's foot:
        Many more people, all kinds
        of people, hundreds of millions
        of people; of men, of women,
        of mewling babes; all looking away
        from the mountain and up at a statue
        in a harbor by a great blue sea.
        The voice behind him speaks:

        --    All in the world who would be free:
              They look to Lady Liberty.
              Take her for a mistress, Clark.
              Help her raise her torch to the air
              and stand forever tall.
              Read her the Book she carries,
              remind her what started it all:
              The pillar of cloud-by-day
              that turned into flame at night
              and now burns forever bright
              above her clenched palm.
              Exhort her to heed its light,
              help her do deeds that crush the wrong,
              and uplift and honor the right.
              Or, are you too afraid to fight?

        The devil in him wants to answer,
        "I have super-powers!
         I'm not afraid of anything!,"
        and jump off the cliff
        into the People's midst.
        Clark doesn't do that.
        A memory stays his course:
        Ma reading him from the Good Book
        about an ancient leap-that-wasn't
        and of what that story's Hero taught:
        "Tempt not the Lord thy God."

        So to Clark -- whose parents, the rod
        of proverb having broken
        on their boy's behind,
        spared him not the Word
        (a better corrective, surely) --
                            to Clark it dawns
        that the greatest Power
        is that of self restraint.
        Because its exercise is hardest,
        only the greatest of heroes
        can dare it and not faint.
        This revelation lifts him;
        he can fly once again,
        but chooses not to.  He walks
        backward from the edge, then turns to talk
        to Henderson.  Bill is gone, but
        there is another, a...someone
        (or thing); someone awash in light
        so bright it blinds Clark and obscures
        the figure's face and the golden
        throne upon which it sits and waits.

        The light is the Light of that Love
        which moves the sun and moon and stars,
        which, molded into bolts of Jove,
        falls on the wicked in just wars,
        yet is the bright warmth in the smiles
        of lovers embracing, and the wiles
        of saints plotting to do good deeds.
        Clark is burnt by Compassion's seed
        itself:  The mystic fire of Grace
        makes its mark on his reluctant face
        as the Voice of the Incarnate Word
        issues from the throne behind the light.
        "Clark Kent," it says,
        and he will not gainsay it:

              --    Father!  Here I am.
                    Reveal me my fate, won't you please;
                    before it's too late,
                    before I make one more mistake,
                    before I give in to sin,
                    or, what's the same, to my own ease?

        --    There is no such a one
              as Fate, my son;
              she was a Greek invention.
              There is only Freedom,
              of choice, of will,
              and the occasional
              divine interventions
              you call miracles.

              --    Then, I pray for a miracle
                    (and he falls,
                     like Ma taught, to his knees),
                    a miracle of will
                    that will enable me
                    to choose wisely.
                    Tell me, Lord, What is Your Will?

        --    That Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
              with all thy heart, with all thy soul,
              and with all thy might, for this
              is the first and great commandment,
              and the second is like unto it:
              Love thy neighbor as thyself.
              On these two commands hang
              all the Law and the Prophets.

              --    I am to do, then, that which lies
                    in the way that Love will move me?

        --    In all things, lad.  Always.
              Lift up your heart.

        (And, as the figure rises from the throne,
         our hero responsively intones:)

              --    I lift it up unto thee, Lord.

        --    Let us give thanks
              to Our Father here in Heaven.
              Let us praise his glorious name
              forever and ever.

              --    It is meet and right so to do.

        --    It is very meet, yes, and right.
              And, it is our bounden duty.

        The figure lifts its arms and draws
        a gleaming sword from the flaps
        of its flaxen robe, lifting it
        overhead by its blade as bolts
        of lightning, black and terrible,
        split the skies.  Still kneeling,
        Clark feels his costume congealing
        upon his too-solid flesh.  He looks up.  
        The sword is a fiery Cross
        shining amidst re-descended
        Darkness, the pall of Clark's first fall
        into the pit.  The Sword is the sole
        relief from it, obscuring even
        the throne's light with its brightness
        like a star being born.

        "By this sign," says the Lord,
        "You shall conquer."
        "Conquer what?," Clark asks,
        intending no sacrilege.
        "Death," says He.  "Death of Love
         and of life in the body.
         Conquer both," He says, lowering
        the sword slowly to tap Clark's
        right shoulder,
        "In the name of the Father..."
         (left shoulder: tap)
        "And the Son..."
         (right again: tap)
        "And the Holy Ghost."

        The power of Holy Orders
        crackles down Kryptonian spine
        for the first and only time
        in cosmic history.
        The figure of the Nazarene
        is lifted up, then;
        the blessed blade carries Him
        through the parting clouds above
        the arid Mojave
        swift as the wings of a dove.
        When He can be seen no more,
        a Voice beckons from afar.
        "Clark Kent of Smallville," it commands,
        "Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton, Arise!"

        The kneeling hero abruptly
        shakes his head, as if to clear it.
        (What is that voice?  Does he really
         hear it?) He stands, scans left, scans right,
        searching the pit with super-sight
        until it settles at last on
        a Neanderthal skull sitting
        upright, half buried in the dust.
        Atop it rests a wooden crucifix.
        (No accident; still life doesn't just happen.)
        Carved of pine, it is black from tons of mud
        and millennia of lost time.
        He walks toward it and picks it up,
        crushing the skull with his boot.
        He considers this crucifix.
        The anguished face of Jesus Christ
        upon the darkened wood calls to mind
        his friend Joe, the old Negro.
        No more questions:   He knows
        what to do, he knows what is true.
        He pockets the cross in his cape --
        into which he'd been sure to sew
        a fold that could hold
        his street clothes -- and takes off:    

              UP! UP! and AWAY!

        Softly, with conviction's quiet,
        he flies straight to Smallville's main street
        and Henderson's abandoned car.
        He gets under it and lifts it,
        an attractive old Model A,
        and bears it on his shoulders
        back to the Kent farm.  He parks it
        on the road just outside the gate
        and flies up to his room to change
        into another set of street clothes.
        The same one he wore at dinner
        is in the drawer.  He has been gone
        for an hour, no more.  Miracles?
        He doesn't even wonder.
        Downstairs, agent Bill Henderson
        is asleep on the couch again,
        his expression less than angelic.
        Clark wakes him up.  "I've got a question,"
        he says.  Bill rubs sleep from his eyes.
        He has one too:

        --    Where've you been?

              --    Out for a walk...
                    thinking about what you said,
                    the whole tenor of our talk...
                    clearing my head.

        --    All right, then.  What's your question?

              --    Where do you have to go
                    to get your warrant?

        --    To a federal court.
              That means Kansas City,
              or Saint Louie,
              where I'll deliver my report.

              --    Then let's be on our way.

        --    Son, you've made the right choice.

        As they emerge, they find the car
        parked there on the dirt road,
        undamaged.  The agent must ask,
        "How?"  Clark, in a quiet voice,
        can only say, "Heaven knows."
        And they get in to go
        just as Dawn starts painting the day
        with her fingertips of rose.

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