"Superman Sounds Depressed"
As Superman Returns to the big screen, I thought of putting up this poem, having read it some years back as part of an introductory course to poetry.
Superman Sounds Depressed
Nothing could have prepared me for this life
in which all hinges on me,
where it’s only me and my past now left
to reassure the world. The trouble is
they forget me fast and start counting
on krill, or thinking they understand
turbulence; so I have to make regular
appearances on the borders
of disasters, dropping through some backdoors
in space whenever I feel the gravity
of their need. Apples for the teacher
are all I get for it, for holding the railway
train on the high viaduct by a single joint
of my little finger, blowing hard
at the last moment to keep the water upright
in the shape of a shattered dam, for stopping
a model of the earth based on real chaos from
breaking through. I feel spelled all wrong,
stuck in the east wind
with my face caught in an expression
which would mean world financial crisis
if the president wore it. Give me dinner,
a lovely long dinner in dim light, with someone,
someone who will propose something rude
so it doesn’t sound rude — just delicious —
nothing personal, anxious or brutal about it
though it might seem all of those things
to others when it’s not night, over their ordinary
sandwiches: wholemeal, mustard
and fragile morsels. My head aches; I want
that woman and enough passion to blast away
any hope of understanding what’s happening
to me. And I want us to eat scallops,
and I want to lick the juice from her chin
as though I could save the world that way,
and I won’t even ask what passion is for.
By Jo Shapcott
Far from the unruffled, heroic Man of Steel, Superman comes across here as a lonely, unloved figure in his soliloquy. The use of the couplet form (stanza with two lines) with run on lines that flow from one line to the next breaks the smooth flow of the poem, slowing it down, giving it a sad, plaintive tone. The caesuras (pauses created through the punctuations in the middle of the lines) further enhance this effect further of a world-weary Superman.
The run on line that breaks at “…gravity” emphasises both the magnitude and ‘weight’ of people’s expectations on him. The “Apples” he receives also plays on the “gravity” of Newtonian physics which he is less subjected to compared to the human ‘laws’ that are thrust upon him. It also highlights the disparity between all that he has done and the little gratitude he gets in return, sadly repaid with greater demands that rob him of his life as a person, an individual with his own needs, wants and desires.
Not surprisingly, what Superman craves is normalcy…not to be super, but to be just a man – a man who can enjoy a dinner with a lady he fancies. One can almost feel the desperation of his “want”, the “ordinary” that he yearns for…to “blast away” from the “gravity” of being Superman and just live life, passionately.
Although this is Superman’s soliloquy, does this poem just speak only for Superman?
[On a completely different note, S.B.Toh of The Star wrote an interesting review of Superman Returns, giving a cultural analysis of Superman as an American icon representative of its perceived benign world saving moral duties]