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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


Young Lex Arrives
in the Great State of Kansas

    Papa keeps the old Russian label --
    "Alexei Luther" -- but that won't do
    for his son, who chooses
    an American version
    of their name instead.
    "Lex Luthor", he is called.
    Watch this new-world double-L rise
    to address Smallville's town Council.
    Listen to him seduce the assembled
    citizens with Gain's not-empty promise:

    --    My good people, you know of me:
          I am the son of a businessman,
          of a man in the business of rebuilding
          the towns on the outskirts of the fields
          where his men do their drilling.
          My father comes from an old school,
          one that has kept communities
          in the old country intact,
          that keeps peoples' bellies full
          despite starvation all around them.
          This salvation can be yours as well:
          Give us your work, your toil
          and our checks will set you free,
          will break your chains of poverty.
          Vote for this contract, my friends!  Pull
          Smallville out of the pit she's in,
          pull her back from this Depression's
          cruel and cutting edge.

    With a flourishing gesture
    of hand and arm and head, he closes,
    saying,  "Say 'Yes!,' my friends,"
    and not one elector hedges
    his or her bets: In unison
    they all applaud the son,
    the papers are signed, and,
    ten days later, the drills begin
    pressing into Smallville proper.

    Luthor's men fix the old church too.
    Its pews fill fast -- a few dollars
    well spent will waken dormant faith
    -- the flock flocks back the next Sunday,
    is enervated by a Company-
    approved meditation, after which it
    floods out, penitent and replenished,
    to work another week for him, and bread,
    by which alone most men can too live.

    Lex is pleased, but cannot forgive
    his much praised father for stranding him
    here with "these damnable farmers".

    "Unkempt lot!," he thinks,  "And me left standing
     here every night with nothing but wheat
     and my own drills and derricks for miles
     and miles and miles around me.  Nothing but wheat
     and girls who, though they feel the heat
     in my hungry glances, stay chaste --
     they flirt, but I've no real chances
     with them! -- and there's not half-a-brain
     in the neighborhood even worth
     the challenge of cheating;
     nothing but bright, blinding,
     bloody, damnable wheat!"

    When he was but a lad, Papa had said,
    "You were born to rule, my son."
    He had believed the promise, then,
    and been at Papa's beck and call
    ever since.  He had obeyed all
    his father's orders, even that
    to pick up his "lead feet" and march
    south happily to meet the Heartland's
    denizens, that middling sort, the dull
    peasantry.  Once there, he had engaged
    their labors, and engaged himself
    in their quaint local pleasantries
    to the point of enraging his pride,
    thinking all the while they'd be grateful
    for all he had done to save
    their starving province.  They are,
    but not to his satisfaction.
    Nothing can ever suffice
    for one such as he: neither wife
    nor work will ever be
    enough to ease his maudlin heart
    or sate its dreams of glory.

    Proof?  He feels this all must be
    someone's fault, then decides whose.
    Hear him rave the plan he thinks will be
    his treacherous path into History:

          Papa!  You've had it all so long.
          It's not fair!  It's not fair!
          Power's been yours long enough,
          so now...I dare!  I'll dare to lure you
          to your own fields of black gold --
          I and my allies! -- dare to stuff
          gunpowder    down a dry well shaft myself
          -- I can see the fear welling up
          in your tearless eyes! --
          I'll stuff it down the spout,
          and before it blows, I'll get out,
          I'll get out with savoir faire!
          I dare!  I'll dare seize all you hold,
          all the stocks and bonds and men
          and precious metal pure: I'll dare!
          And who will care? 
          Who will care, now that Mama's not here
          to be your protector and paramour?
          Who will care?  Who will care!
          No-one!  Nevermore!

    He looks out from the veranda
    of the colonial mansion
    his men built him on a hill
    overlooking this his fiefdom,
    his Smallville.  Suddenly, all that
    'bright, blinding, bloody, damnable wheat'
    he sees waving to and fro every day
    takes on a different cast to him.
    He sees rivers of liquid gold
    roaring toward and past him,
    and the vision ends with him
    riding their waves as they swerve.

    God helps them that help themselves,
    but not who helps himself
    to another's bounty.
    A man cannot serve
    both God and Mammon.
    He who raves
    and will stoop to serve no-one
    shall not be saved.
    Still we pray for the maybe-damned,
    for the vile, for all the warped betrayers,
    we pray for the ravers and naysayers.

    Have no doubt who, in all the contests
    yet to come, shall best whom,
    nor who be declared the winner.
    But, still, pray for Lex Luthor.

    Pray for one more poor deluded sinner.

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