My Name is John Carter (Part 1), by James Hutchings

Former CSA Captains John Carter and James Powell search for gold and riches in the Arizona wilds in the first part of an epic verse retelling of a Princess of Mars.

 

My name is John Carter. I hail from Virginia.

I held to her customs and lore.

I greeted my neighbor and worshipped the Savior

and fought an unwinnable war.

 

Virginia gave thanks and I rose through the ranks

and they cheered as I rode on my way.

When I came home again I had half of my men

and Virginia had nothing to say.

 

So, my belly unfilled, I went out to Brazil

with a dream of a place in the sun

but they’d wooed us with lies and the fever and flies

did the work that the war had begun.

 

Still we mostly survived and we started to thrive

and I spat in the eye of the Fates

till the talk of the war got too hard to ignore

and I took a boat back to the States.

 

 

So I thought it was best if I headed out west

where you got a new start, so they said

where the talk never strayed to our noble crusade

or the widows of those that I led.

 

I went west with a friend that I’d met at the end

of that terrible year, ‘Sixty-Three.

Name of Captain James Powell, he was wise as an owl

or at least he was wiser than me.

 

Like the Spanish of old we went searching for gold

in the hills parched and bitter and burnt

where we guarded our claims and told no one our names

as we dreamed of a fortune unearned.

 

Unearned did I say? If you don’t count the way

that the heat nearly sent us deranged.

But be that as it may, we hit paydirt one day

and I thought that my life might have changed.

 

 

And Jim said to me “Jack, I think I should go back.

We’ll need dozens of good engineers.

We’ve uncovered a load that’s as long as a road

and we won’t reach its ending for years.”

 

We agreed that I’d stay and keep trouble away

while Jim rustled up men and supplies.

We’d seen hardly a soul in our dry little hole

but they say that the hills have got eyes.

 

When I’d felt at my worst I’d believed I was cursed

so perhaps I was drunk with relief

but I watched the sun rise and felt tears in my eyes

and it seemed to dry up all my grief.

 

Too elated for speech, we took one rifle each

and Jim rode down the trail to the plain.

As I watched his descent I felt more than content:

for the first time in years I felt sane.

 

I had holes in my shirt and I sat in the dirt

but I felt like a king on his throne.

I just sat there that day watching Jim ride away

till I noticed he wasn’t alone.

 

 

Jim was barely a dot and I couldn’t see what

was pursuing him over the flats.

And who knew if they went without evil intent?

Though I gave little credence to that.

 

There was hardly a tree that was not foul to see

in this sinister stretch of the West.

I have heard it proposed this is where God disposed

of the trash after making the rest.

 

There was hardly a man without Cain’s burning brand

and most men were a country of one.

No, this wasn’t a land where you held out your hand

if that hand wasn’t holding a gun.

 

Thinking thoughts such as these did not quell the unease

that completely took hold of my mind

so I got on my bay and set off right away

with the gold left for any to find.

 

 

When the sun had near gone I was still riding on

as if chased by the Devil’s own hordes

though I knew very well that the only real Hell

was the one I was riding towards.

 

For in these parts the law was as rough and as raw

as the men it was bringing to heel

and most took the advice that “They can’t hang you twice

so you may as well murder as steal.”

 

I rode on through the night, vainly hoping for sight

of a cloud of dust swirling ahead

till I saw what they’d left from their cowardly theft.

It was Jim, lying injured or dead.

 

When I made my way near it was horribly clear

they had done what the Yankees could not.

Jim had lived as he died: with a gun at his side

and I counted four bandits were shot.

 

 

I abandoned the chase, not from mercy or grace

but because of the hope that I lacked

just as if a great weight made of merciless Fate

was immovably bound to my back.

 

As I buried poor Jim I felt envy for him

for his pain was at least at an end

and I wondered “O Lord, the next time you grow bored

what new grief will it please you to send?”

 

My existence on Earth from the day of my birth

seemed unspeakably empty and base.

All my mountain of gold left me utterly cold

and I hated the whole human race.

 

I looked up at the sky as if asking God “Why?”

but I saw no Creator to ask.

If He really was there He was hidden from prayer

like a bandit who creeps in a mask.

 

And I raved in my mind “Are you wicked or blind?

Are you Jesus, or Devil, or Fate?

Have you chosen to hide, gone demented or died?

Who rules over this Earth that I hate?”

 

 

As I looked at the stars my gaze fixed upon Mars

which was burning as brightly as shame

and that god of the sword seemed a more likely Lord

than the one the apostles proclaimed.

 

As with Richmond ablaze I could not turn my gaze

till it seemed that all else disappeared

as it hung in the sky like the lone baleful eye

of that Odin the Vikings revered.

 

And it seemed that I heard a demand without words

from that terrible god of the North

in a voice of command that I could not withstand

that decreed that this mortal come forth.

 

Then, against every clause of all natural laws

I flew up like a giant’s spear hurled.

I could do naught but look, as if caught on the hook

of an angler whose lake was the world.

 

Yes, my will to resist felt no stronger than mist

as I sped like a moth to the light

yet I freely confess, as I’m sure you will guess,

I had but little will left to fight.

James Hutchings lives in Melbourne, Australia. He fights crime as Poetic Justice, but his day job is acting. You might know him by his stage-name ‘Brad Pitt.’ He can be found at http://apolitical.info/teleleli

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