UP! UP! and AWAY!
Clouds of white and blue
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.
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...
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
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
"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.