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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    A cloud of black, a cloud of white,
    pillar orange, then ruby bright:
    What thoughts are appropriate
    when fighting the insubstantial?
    Clark (Kal?) has none, can't concentrate.
    The whole horizon around him
    burning, and he just keeps turning,
    turning like a moth in a room
    full of candles, slow like you'd walk
    over the beach in your sandals.

    It is really only seconds,
    but time enough to reassess
    his own horizons.  This noon
    he had heaped praise on the Comp'ny,
    like a loyal employee should.
    After all, it did save the town;
    the good it had done would inure
    to everyone.  "But at what price?,"
    Lana had asked and he dismissed.
    At what price?  Was this the price?
    Something in the scene's not right
    to him, but what?  Insuring
    worker safety at the work site,
    creating proper conditions --
    He knows these are private duties
    and the Comp'ny made assurances.
    Then, what was that man doing
    in a container car full
    of oil fumes and residues?
    It was poor supervision
    at least, and not the sole
    impropriety:  Past Comp'ny
    policy made Clark fix the books
    for tax purposes.  So who looks,
    anyway?  On the other hand,
    what kind of entity commands
    such practices?  A high price
    for its perpetual largesse,
    and whose price was it?  Who the men,
    the absentee lords of the land,
    for whom Clark (Kal?) jumped when they said.
    Who are these men who pump
    a mix of mud from a dug trench
    back into the ground through the pipe
    with diamond-end pinchers that clench
    the Earth's throat and bits that puncture
    her, just to see what comes back out?
    To sample the local strata
    until, dozens of shifts later
    and a hundred more meters down,
    they hit a big methane bubble
    and pop it so it gushes up
    the black gold they would all drown in?
    What kind of men?  What kind of men
    want to make the land vomit?
    How come he hasn't thought on it,
    in all its ugliness, before?

    Suddenly, Clark's mind is bigger
    than it's ever been.  What kind of men
    want to watch oil spit up the rig,
    then plug it fast with concrete, gag
    the Earth before she opens wide
    and engulfs them all?  What kind?
    And, should he be on their side?
    On the other hand, shouldn't he?
    After all, they did save the town.

    And they're about to burn it down.
    Quick as he is, Clark has had
    plenty of time just to think
    as this crisis has progressed,
    but all he has time to do now
    is address himself this pledge:
    He will find these company men,
    find them where they roost and dredge
    to the bottoms of their hearts
    until he comprehends them
    as well as he does John Ross' ken
    and their more apparent evil.

    The conflagration has grown,
    albeit just a little.
    No more time to contemplate
    in slow fall now.  Concentrate!

    There is a foe to quell,
    a fire that crackles and roars,
    its cackle seeming to exhort
    his prompt surrender.  Do the flames
    really talk?  All an illusion,
    he decides.  He sees no chalk-white
    face of his alien father
    in the billowing plumes of smoke.
    He hears no haunting voice poke
    through the crackle like that which
    once from a pond offered to teach
    Krypton's ancient ways to him.
    All such hearing is delusion --
    there is no god upon the earth
    who would extort Kal-El's loyalty,
    who rode in the Dust Bowl winds
    that he banished into space
    only to return and peer
    into his mind at the face,
    the new face, by black tress framed
    that has come to haunt his dreams.
    "No!," demands Clark as he forces
    back the face and those forces that would
    manipulate its soft presence
    in his head for their own ill ends.
    "No!"  He forces them all back,
    back into the depths of torn soul
    whence they came.  There's a foe to quell,
    a fire that crackles and roars,
    and that is all!  No more
    shall he be frozen as a moth
    before a colony of flame,
    not while the foe yet lives,
    no!  All the all of him he'll give
    to the cause of its destruction.

    When men dig an oil well,
    they dig past the water table
    but leave the drill pipe in
    to be a pump and to see
    that the water stays still.
    Clark will disturb it.
    By tensing every muscle,
    by holding his back so tight
    it's a wonder he can move,
    he makes of his flesh a drill
    harder than any diamond
    and punches holes in the ground,
    spinning, spinning, soaring up
    and coming down, down, down;
    down like a needle pulling thread
    around a round piece of fabric's
    perimeter.  He pierces earth
    a hundred times to the same depth
    (that whence water is welled),
    then up they spurt with him,
    near a thousand water spouts,
    columns like the billion geysers
    that must have heralded the birth
    of water and life on the earth.
    And Clark steps back, lets the shower
    rain down all its healing power
    and the secondary fires
    put out.  The burning oil itself
    water alone can't heal.  He'll stifle
    that himself, thrust his body at
    its source.  He aims himself, rifle-
    like, where the proud tower once was.
    The workers, the men, have returned.
    As one, they've walked over the hill
    to watch Clark make the final kill.
    How could they resist the draw
    of this foreign spectacle?
    Who gapes not in awe
    at the far off and powerful?

    Clark's body is a jackhammer.
    It pummels the wreckage,
    the piles of metal he's jammed
    the oil-spout with from all around
    the devastated acreage,
    now all agleam with the steam
    from cool water streaming down.
    He beats it to a pulp of steel
    and plugs the well with it, feeling
    the fire subsiding like wheels
    slowing that have been spinning long
    and fast and furious.  Hissing
    like a locomotive stopping,
    the fire dies, the crisis ends.
    Clark can hardly stop pushing;
    it's become a reflex.
    He is hot and soaking wet
    and finally feeling it
    once he does stop forcing the plug.
    He sinks to his knees, sits behind
    the barricades he must have dug
    into trenches all wrapped and wound
    into concentric circles around
    the plugged hole where the derrick stood.
    He must have manned them all, but when?
    It doesn't matter.  The job's done
    and he hears no voice like Rao's
    mocking him inside him now.
    What, then, is that sound, like the sound
    he hears from as far away as Cleveland
    when bacon's frying on Ma's grill?
    It's applause.  He jumps onto the wall
    of metal that shields the hole
    from which the oil would have been spat.
    All the men, seeing him emerge,
    cheer him from distant hills, their hats
    waving.  "SU-PER-MAN," they all chant,
    and he drinks in the sound of it.
    He hears nothing but them.  The men
    and their gratitude are alone,
    the old gods are dead and gone.
    The men clap.  He is one of them.
    He stands, content to be a man.
    He is... SUPERMAN.

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