9.9 / September 2014

Five Poems

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Motion Picture, 1980)

There is always that spacecraft careening
through the vortex: Flash Gordon—reluctant
astronaut and quarterback scrapping
through alien quagmire, through rocket
launch and starfall to save every one of us
from the Emperor of Planet Mongo.
Flash—his boyish smile delights earthgirls,
makes alien princesses quiver for beefcake
bursting through that offensive line
of robots to protect our Earth.

A boy dreams of soaring with hawkmen,
crashing through lightning fields
for true love—he brandishes his name
on his chest like it was another word
for miracle, for courage. There is no thought
about the velocity of a perfect spiral
thrown on second down near the manhole
marking the fifty-yard line, just Dale Arden
cheering Go, Flash! Go! No thought about
that high school girl wincing as a boy crashes
and burns on a hard tackle in front
of her driveway. He lays in the street
and imagines Freddie Mercury singing

his name: Flash—king of the impossible,
savior of the universe
, feathered hair and square
jawed as Dale Arden pleads, Flash! I love you
but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!

He will stand up, dust himself off, refusing
to recognize that pain in his hip until later
that night—in the dark he will press his palm
against the bruise and think about how
he should have caught that pass and dashed
for the end zone, how that girl will look
at him as he waits for the school bus
or a spaceship to any distant solar system.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Motion Picture Soundtrack)

The only words a song needs:
a man’s name in five-part harmony.
A radio signal, cosmic wind rushing
through the caverns of his heart
before erupting into wicked laughter.
Flash—a crash of cymbals, piano
pulsating like a woman’s heart
after starcrash, after that electric guitar
shrieking a man’s name in quasar
and quicksilver. Not a woman,
but a rogue planet searching for orbit,
then a machine gun vibrato slashing
through space, tremolo quivering,
a canticle for manhood. A burst
of swagger and bombast, then one note
vibrating into a man’s name: Flash
ringing against a downy falsetto
explaining what the universe needs
a man to be. Not a musical astronaut,
not champion of the asteroid belts, not
a celestial body hovering over a woman
as she lay in the grass at night watching
for hot Jupiters or Mars crossers.
All a man has is a song until it’s over,
then just his name, a cigarette lighter
sparking in an alley, a supernova,
the erratic blink of a motel sign
on a lonesome stretch of highway.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Hawkman Variant)

A man can know peace
when he comes to understand a bird
of prey, a feathered tussle of bone
plummeting through sky.

His voice is the wind in places
where words have abandoned syllables
to the airstream keening

for war. A man can be a soldier,
a reaver if he wants. His wings are not
always his wings, his temper not always
laced with sad laughter as he makes
animal shapes with his hands. Lash him

to a woman’s wrist, a hood
over his eyes. Look at their shadows.

Notice how they appear to be one creature.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Comic Strip in Five Panels, c. 1937)

And deep underground, Flash leads
his band of outlaws, lemon-skinned
peasants of Mongo clearing dark tunnels
of debris by gas lamp intent on gaining
entrance to Emperor Ming’s dungeons.
A boy doesn’t have to know how to read
to understand the chain of command
in four colors on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, Dale Arden is taken
captive by the corpulent dungeon
lord—Hong’s menace marked
by his sallow complexion as much
as his physique, his autocrat’s gaze.
A boy doesn’t have to understand
the complexities of caste tangled

with the threat of alien-human attraction,
Hong’s yellow face warped by a salacious grin
as he pulls her close. All a boy needs
to see is Dale Arden’s hands bent
on prying herself free, her eyes looking
off-panel at him: yes—you can save me.

Flash strikes a heroic pose in the dark,
the kind of posture a boy practices
in the mirror—chest thrust out, muscles
tensed for hurling thunderbolts, for girls
to admire on playgrounds. On his command

a boy enters Ming’s dungeon, his outlaws
subduing guards behind him. He strides
down the corridor in his bright new skin
toward Dale Arden, toward the future.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Serialized Remix, 1936)

Nothing brings a man and a woman together
like a rocket. Let them dangle over a diorama
before crash landing among the iguanas.

Some nights, a man can flirt with an alien
princess, but his heart belongs to Dale Arden,
his name to the lightning, to the forest fire.

The octopus is a ravening beast
in miniature, the shark man less fish
than silver body suit. The water is
the shape of Flash Gordon’s body,
magnificent in the aquarium.

Emperor Ming is faithless, love-starved.
Some nights, a man looks in the mirror
and sees a sham version of himself.
There is no mirror, some nights.

Nothing brings a man and a woman together
like a flock of angels and a death ray.
The wrong angels, the wrong woman.

Dale Arden is beautiful eating a turkey leg.
An alien princess is sexy with a snake’s tongue,
with a leopard’s temper in her throat.

A man is lucky a woman can’t be wooed
by the different shapes a shadow makes.
Nothing brings a man down like a gush
of atoms, a woman down like a man.

Flash Gordon wears a virile sheen
of sweat and a loincloth, a sunburst
on his chest when he wields a sword.
A man in an ape suit looks dangerous
snarling in a low angle shot.

Any woman could be Dale Arden
when a man has lost his memory.

Holy dragon, beast of Mongo—so many
costumes a man wears to frighten a woman.
Flash Gordon stands valiant, thrusting
and parrying until every monster is dead.

Nothing brings a man and a woman together
like an invisibility ray. There is no such thing.

A woman can change her mind about the man
she loves. A man looking like Flash Gordon
can wrestle a tiger to the ground, can love
a woman with his bare hands.

Some nights, a man is grateful for the end,
for that inevitable kiss before the credits.
Some nights, nothing.

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of the Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014). His writing has appeared in Bellingham Review, Barrelhouse, the Normal School, the Collagist and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and teaches at Grand Valley State University.
9.9 / September 2014