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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


Secret-Origin of a Super-Villain

    The boy's injuries have stalled
    his father's plans, made him question
    all the years of plotting, of plans
    made in lonely towers to gain
    stature in this peasant state.
    How he misses his late wife,
    her coy aristocratic gait!
    Alexei Luther strokes his beard,
    runs a palm across his shaved pate,
    pats his overweightness, and sighs.
    The nurse is late.  Lex stirs in bed;
    Alexei rises: "Do not move,"
    he whispers with long forgotten
    tenderness.  "Do not move, my son.
    Sleep until the medics come.
    Dream sweet until the dawn, my son."
    The father sits, watches his son's
    head twitch on its pillow.  Both sleep.
    Their dreams are anything but sweet.

    Morning.  Young Lex is first to wake.
    He can't move or see, but he hears
    Papa snoring.  Close, in a chair
    by the bedside, Papa has slept.
    To be with his son on this day
    was a promise he made and kept.
    Lex smiles, too pleased to notice his thirst
    or hunger, or wonder which is worse.


          The bandages come off today,
          hurrah, hurrah!  The bandages
          are off today, hurrah, hurrah!
          The bandages are off today
          in the city under Papa's sway,
          the city I will see today...

          After what's seemed ages
          of blindness, ages
          trapped in traction --
          Lex Luthor will see action
          in Metropolis,
          the city that's his inheritance --
          If only a fraction
          of my expectations comes true
          I'll be one happy patient
          with a spectacular view
          of my city: Metropolis!

          City settled with fanfare
          near the port where Perry fought
          a navy royal, where he caught
          the King's admirals unawares,
          where he caught them in their bottoms
          and sent them into deep slumber
          on five Great Lake beds.
          To the beat of heavy cannon
          they sank, one fathom
          for every measure of war served.
          To that same dull, steady rumble
          the ensuing century swerved,
          Victory's rhythm spurring on
          the Heartland's refugees
          to heed its so hypnotic call
          and march, or grope their way
          to the city's glittering halls.
          Metropolis!  One day you'll answer my call!

    (But, he does love his Papa so.
     Papa will wake up soon
     and remove the straps of gauze
     from Lex's face, or help the nurse
     at least. That will end this curse,
     this monotonous darkness.)

          Couldn't wait, could I?
          Couldn't wait for Papa to die
          simply of natural causes.
          O, no: too slow a pace
          to greatness, the natural course
          of things; I've no such patience!
          I wanted what was mine.  That's fair,
          that's fair!  I wanted what was mine
          right then, right there!  And so I dared
          to take it by force, by the might
          that makes a man a force to fear
          and makes the worst cause the right cause
          when all the smoke has cleared!
          Now how many weeks has it been
          that I've been denied my vision?
          How many hours to pout
          since my plan blew up in my face
          and on my face and clothes and hair?
          No fair!  No fair!

    (He tries to rub the tears from his eyes) --

          Damn this gauze, this bloody gauze,
          like cotton stuck to my face!
          Damn that town, that nowhere town,
          bloody out of the way place
          with its meddling 'hero'.
          He's let me live in disgrace!

    (And that disgusting disguise!
     Gaudy colors he despises;
     so, even before Lex's eyes see
     what they're to see, he decides:
     It's the fault of the flying man.
     Not a rational conclusion,
     but one you might derive
     after surviving an explosion.)

    "Stop moaning, son," Papa says,
     words muffled by a bandage-haze.
    "Nurse Collins is here.  She says
     you can come home today
     and you may be able to see.
     I will take a vacation
     and we will take a trip on the sea.
     You like the sea, no?  And the boats?"
    Innocent accident victim:
    that's all Alexei sees
    when he looks at his son.  To him,
    the boy is only what he seems.

    This should come as a reprieve
    for Lex; but he can't conceive
    letting himself be forgiven.
    He has to have an origin.  He does.

    "Hold very still, Lex," says the nurse.
    She works, pausing often, so the gauze will off
    slow and leave the scar tissue behind.
    The senior Luther holds up a mirror
    to Lex's head as it's unwrapped
    like a Christmas gift. The glass
    with its gilded trim captures
    the room's dim light, lets it pass
    onto the nurse's white tunic
    and takes a blank reflection.

    Collins straightens and steps back.
    Alexei Luther sees an arm
    grab the mirror. He hears it crack
    on the tile when Lex slaps it down
    from his hunched-over position
    on the floor, face to the wall,
    Lex's two hands rubbing his bare crown
    over and over again.

    "It may grow back, son," Papa says.
    "At least, that is what I am told."

    Bald as a billiard ball, Lex thinks.

          My brow reflects the mirror's trim
          as it will the gold of the grain --
          and all because of him,
          all because of him.

    He turns.
    What Lex sees when he turns isn't there:
    Superman picking up the mirror
    and saying, "Your mother loved this."
    Supes won't be in Metropolis
    for some time yet; still, Lex sees what
    he sees, and lunges.  Collins runs, screaming.

    Lex's hands are around a white throat
    and they are squeezing, squeezing, squeezing.
    Once Papa has finally choked
    Lex will let go and see his 'truth':
    Superman's murdered his father!
    'The flying man killed my Papa?',
    he will say over and over
    as he pulls away at his scabs.
    "The flying man killed my Papa!" --
    never quite rational.

    The scabs will heal.  But Lex can feel
    the roots gone from under his hair,
    can scratch where the follicles were
    and peel away at his marked face
    with overgrown, neglected nails.
    To trap Superman in those claws
    will become his poetic plan.
    'Vengeance be my cause!' he will shout
    and waste no time getting about
    his new business.
    All this time Papa is wheezing,
    Alexei Luther is wheezing,
    wheezing and trying to say, "Boat?
    You would like to go on a boat, no?"
    That might have been fine,
    but, no.  Not this time.  No.

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