Paul Hamill

September 29, 2009

Monster-Slayer for Hire (part of an epic, of sorts)

Filed under: Uncategorized — paul @ 12:37 pm

The world was full of monsters in those days

–when isn’t it?–but those made better tales:

dragons, giant boars, and ladies whose gaze

would turn men into statues that might be titled

I’m Just Leaving, or Sure I Like Your Hair. 

 

If all the local braves were gulped or glazed

like pots, testing the depth of monster sleep,

the best resort for fed-up towns, or kings

with daughters underfoot for lack of prospects                                             

–”A heap of bones for dowry!” they would wail!

–was to spread word of prizes worth a hero:

glory for sure, the throne when it came vacant,

the hand of that articulate princess. The call

would draw a crowd of thick-legged brawlers, who’d swill

on the town tab, claiming to wait for omens.

The hope was that some brand-new Hercules

would bull past lesser bullies, kill objectors,

get the princess pregnant, and fight sans contract

for love of mayhem. He’d bring a tourist trade.

 

But monsters build a record. Word gets round

that casualties are total, the herald’s voice

booms to fast-emptied squares.  One course is left:

to hire, cash in his agent’s purse beforehand,

a monster-slayer by trade.   His references

swear that he is proof against all wonders,

whether of malice or distracting good.

No one you’d give a crown or princess to–

more like a trapper than a demigod–

he pledges to kill the vermin or drive it off..

 

He rolls in like a circus, tall with plumes


and bright in cheap gilt armor, knowing that yokels

expect that for their fee.  Lagging behind,

two seamy helpers and a mule-sized hedgehog 

of poles and spears.  One sidekick, the town learns,

is crazed but has sharp ears; and one knows ropes. 

Word spreads that the hired slayer is morose

in his cups, with few words even then. He says

he’ll settle some day in a town like this;

no local seconds the thought.   He strikes the Lair

in dawn mist: youngsters who slip close report

the crack of splintering trees, billows of smoke.

 

When he comes back, blood-smeared and scorched, the town

goes silly with relief, until it learns

his mood is black, abusive. If what he met

was snaky, he tells the town it’s python-fouled. 

He’s drunk a bellyful of smoky venom

and spews it at the tawdriness he rescued. 

If he destroyed a gorgon, all the men

worth knowing thereabouts had turned to stone

before he came: as for the living, their gold,

soft stone, is all they have worth fighting for. 

 

The town officials call it shock from wrestling

such foulness at close quarters. The first day

the townsfolk whisper as if shocked themselves

but soon, their honest memories become clothed

in proper stories: his burdened ass turns horse,

sprouts wings and soars above the monster’s claws.

The people knew the story before it happened:

 for even mercenaries step onstage into

the oldest of old plays, the battle with Fate

(whose role, unwittingly, the monster played). 

The hero owns—must own!—an birth that shows

why he could act while we got used to monsters.

He is betraying victory itself who comes back

small and sour, as veterans often do,

and are resented for it by old neighbors.

 It must be true, they think, that conquering souls

see far beyond us!  How else could they dare?

And how else can we know that fate’s clenched fist

does hold the hopes that tease us? A cynic victor

almost makes us want our monster back.

 

 

 

 

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