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