Pushcart 2014: Jake Adam York, “Self-Portrait as Superman (Alternate Take)” (Poetry) from New England Review, Summer 2012

At twenty-four frames per second, sixty seconds is two hundred
             feet of film you’ll never see: Christopher Reeve
ready to become mild-mannered Clark Kent — sharp
                     trilby and blue chalk-pinstripe suit—
once they call Action, the Who-me smile fading
             to bit-lip circumspection, cover story and secret,
hand on the button-down’s placket, ready to pull
                     the buttons from their eyes, peel
the rough-hewn cotton from the ancient crest, the S
             that curves like a river between the mountains,
a snake curled inside a chest, invulnerable aorta
                     of Kal-El’s dense alien body, gone spectacular
in the air of his new home planet, to run, almost,
             out of his clothes and into the air, faster than
a speeding track star alone in the Kansas wheat,…

This poem is available online in text and audio. I urge you to read the complete properly typeset version rather than these excerpts (pay attention to the curving, curling line indents as you read the text above), and I urge you to listen, particularly to the audience, who supplies an enthusiasm rarely heard at poetry readings. I especially urge you to watch a video of a reading York gave in November 2012 which has nothing to do with this poem, but includes his explanation, at about the 4 minute mark, of a “long term life project”: to write a poem for each of 120 Civil Rights martyrs.

That project will remain unfinished.

A few days after the publication of this poem in December 2012, Jake Adam York died of a stroke at age 40.

I must let the poem, and the poet, stand on their own. I can’t bear to do more for the second Pushcart writer this year to leave too soon.

             He’ll smile again as he always does, boyish
and pure, the curl’s wag ready to swing free,
                     waiting for the call that lets him arc
across the sky, high over the heads of any tragic
             chorus, arms open to catch the screaming woman
who, it seems, is hardly ever there. He’ll ease
                     again, two hundred feet of acetate,
to the ground, where they’ll curl in their questions—
             Who are you? What was that?—in a darkness
where he can unbutton his shirt and graze
                     cramped fingers over skin
burned like a meteor in the rays of our yellow sun.

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