First of all, if anyone is in Boston right now, please do let us know that you’re all right, given the events of the afternoon. I hear cell phone service is down, but I hope Internet is still up, and that you and yours are fine. It’s a terrible thing to see/hear about from afar, and I’m certain worse in the thick of it. Thoughts for you all.
I don’t know if it makes today’s poem more or less fitting. NaPoWriMo wanted a persona poem in the voice of a superhero, and though I stepped kind of outside the “in the voice” part, this character just made himself known unbidden and whole as I was musing over it last night. Finally got some time after work to just ramble this whole thing out. (Ten bucks says someone has done this before, anyway.) And now, off to workshop!
Not like his brother, the Captain,
who we’ve all seen plastered on comics
saving the country from Nazis,
Soviets, druglords, terrorists, and once
even a warlord from the thirty-first century
hell-bent on conquering ours.
The Captain is forever out there
throwing his shield like a boomerang
for God, Justice, the American Dream.
His brother, though, you could call
the Dreamer. And the two, of course,
are indivisible, halves of one equation.
The Captain is the might of sea
to shining sea, life, liberty, et cetera,
the military strength of the almighty.
He has his momentary crises of faith,
but his belief in the System
remains unshaken in the end. He is
protected by registered trademark.
It’s the other one who you’ll see slumped
over the wheel of a cab after twenty hours
without a break, or cleaning human shit
from the mall’s faux-marble floor, or
gathering plastic bottles from trash cans
to take down the recycling center
for a nickel apiece, hundreds of them
slung over his shoulder like some
environmentally-conscious Santa Claus.
He’s the one with burns on his arm
from the pizza oven, who has locked
cocaine in the basement where
his lover won’t find it so he can go
cold turkey like they agreed, who rides
subways before dawn to go to work,
and always wakes still-sleeping homeless
if the police are about to show.
At Christmas, maybe the Captain
gets together with his brother for coffee,
leaves his Spandex at home.
Even superheroes need to feel normal
now and then. The Captain tells his brother
about operations in Iraq (well, as much
as he can– it’s CLASSIFIED),
an awkward incognito date he went on,
this new egg-whites diet. His brother
wishes he’d ever left the country,
thinks of his ex stuck at home with
their baby, reminds himself to save change
so he can pick up milk on the way home.
The Captain is living the dream,
and his brother doesn’t mind: he is proud.
Someone must do it. And equally,
someone must be backstage, even just
to make the bullets, build the computers,
on which those secret missions rely.
People point, amazed, at the Captain.
But they don’t touch him, just
his brother, whose imprint is all over:
in the craft of the bike rack, or ink
embossing the Times, or the toll booth
passing change. Soon the Captain
receives an emergency distress call
on his officially licensed telecom device,
and his brother, well, he has
a clock to beat. They pay for the coffee
and walk out together, parting briefly,
both kissed by the indifferent snow,
both off to save America.