Monday, March 12, 2012

Irving Layton's "Paging Mr. Superman"

(by Irving Layton)

I myself walked into the Sheraton
And after remarking his raw nose
Was part natal umbilicus I told
The clerk in the loudest voice I could bear:
"Page me Mr. Superman," He looked
Diffidently at me but acceding
My tie-pin, made of the rarest onyx,
Belonged to neither a sour fanatic
Nor one sick in the head from eating
Shrimps canned in the Andes and contraband
Here, he signalled for the call boy who came
Running all spongy with awareness,
His cheeks flapping in the air-conditioned
Air and his white dentures extended in
Warmest greeting. "Page Mr. Superman,"
The uneasy clerk said eyeing my pin
To re-assure himself and in his mind
Recapitulating the small number
Of paid two-week vacations he had had.
Luckily the grey-haired call boy was one
Of the ignatzes the cities now breed
Reliably and with a more exact
Efficiency than former days.
He saw
Nothing remarkable in the clerk's request
And sent his voice through the loudspeaker
Of his imagination constructed
In the faraway days of childhood in rooms
Alone with Atlas and the last pages
Of boys' magazines. I heard the glory
Of it that afternoon like the closing
Chords of Handel's Messiah. "Superman"
It rang out clear across the floor polish.
"Mr. Superman." There was such triumph,
Such wild exultation in his voice,
The pale cigarette girl at the counter
For the first time in her life gave wrong change
And all the elevators raced upwards
As if a pistol shot had startled them;
They did not stop till they had crashed the roof
Where one can see their solemn closed cages
Side by side and standing pigeon-spotted
Like the abunas on the cathedral
Dazed-seeming by the wildest flight of all.

This was the cocktail hour when love
Is poured over ice cubes and executives
Lay their shrewdest plans for the birth of twins
With silver spoons; when one forgets the ships
Aground in fog, the pilot with letters
For mountain peaks and snow; the silent poor;
Or the wife with pre-menstrual tensions;
When Asia is rubbed out with an olive,
A truce ordered to the day's massacres.
I saw only six in the large lobby,
Five men and one solitary woman,
Who hearing Mr. Superman called
Looked up at once from the puddle of their
Lives where they stood at the edges making
Crumbling mud pies out of paper money.
While the stout woman adjusted her bra
And studied the door of the Gents' Room,
The men had risen to their feet watching
Scared and breathless the quick revolving door
As if they expected the flashing blades
To churn him into visible substance.
But no one emerged from either place;
The unusual name was finally
Lost under the carpet where it was found
The next day badly deteriorated.
The condemned six returned to their postures
And the hour rained down the familiar
Wrinkles and the smiles cutting like glass.
The call boy gave it as his verdict
Superman was nowhere in the lobby,
And the tall clerk now regarding my pin
Mistrustfully rubbed the umbilical
Part of his nose that was raw and itchy.
"He has not yet arrived," he said. "Perhaps
You'll return later." For a split second
I thought he was making game of me
But his eyes were steady as if fixed
On a T.V. serial. I thanked him
And smiling amiably in all
Directions of the bell-shaped womb, I walked
Out into the ordinary sunshine.

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