Hero Lesson

It was threat that inflated the hero
and from there he rose on the steam
of this nation’s extinguished doldrums.
The battle made him who he was,
and it made him look like who he always thought he was,
so he refused to survive without it.

Happily-ever-after antagonized him.
And idleness poisoned him.
Then he pursued the battle against everyone
who would take the battle away:
today he is in prison
and we live in great luxury.

Yet we are nostalgic.
For the hero, yes.
But more than that
we are nostalgic for his threat, his adversary,
the one that jerked him to life.
We lack an image of what to hate:
something the clear opposite of ourselves.
Before he killed it, the hero’s enemy
embodied the ugliness inside us
and we need an alien like that again
to steal back our attention,
pull the shit right out of us,
and give us a target
that triggers disgust
in full proportion to our own denials.
This enemy that can be slain with violence.

Of course old stories do not mobilize us to action today.
We just treasure their image of the problem
as it has nothing to do with us.
We hold such stories as guides
to which battles are worthy of our attention,
the battles we know we can win,
while nothing real relates to what our lives consist of.

Come Sunday, football will do.
That today’s enemies
are the mirror images of ourselves, but for
the lightning bolts on their costumes,
is obscured by an unbearable collective need for action.
We forget who is the one
sitting on a couch.

Our modern burden is not that we aspired:
it is that we plotted to kill death,
the death we could see, and we largely succeeded
in breaking the cycle. We live
in a land of nightless glare. The thoroughness
of our accomplishments has disemboweled us.