Taking The Elevator

By Peter Halstead

Otis! Bear with me as I tell the tale
Of one who, bold in pleasures, set his sail
Against the fiendish shaft and random cage
Whereby the strong among you come of age,
Shackled by the grinding belt and clanking pulleys
Of a keep o’erwhelmed by hollow bullies,
By rigid monsters of the dark and airless halls
As rend the night with joyless, buzzing calls
And tempt our bucking, young, and careless riders
To ruin at the hands of robot fighters.

Ohm-stressed electrons, in whose frightful centers
Sages manage to surpass their mentors,
By whose constant currents wayward ships
Loose their moorings and escape their slips,
Give me leave to, trembling, try and sing
Of one who had the insolence to bring
Against the demon all the petty hope of earth
Who sought to circumnavigate his birth,
To pit his brazen gall against the odds
Which threaten those who storm the gods,
Whose iron prisons, however frail,
Suggest our fate if we should fail,
Yet persist in spite of certain hell—
Jailed one way—the other way, as well;

But before the foe is tricked and fought
And our gentle cautions come to naught,
First the barbaric setting must be shown,
Lest the glass-like beast seem overblown:
Wild march and ghoulish cell no stranger
Than this Styx would be; no danger
In the deepest maw or dungeon faults
This nightmare with its rattling metal vaults,
Its mouth the gaping deep of cobalt mines
Imploding like a barque’s receding rigging lines—

The rushing blood grows faint with dread:
The spirit of the wood too much has bled
For night-deep, labyrinthine cubicles like this,
Inset with false luxury’s sad uselessness,
Round which the tackle limps and moans,
Paying for our fragile glory with its bones:
But here, the weight of wood and industry
Lures the hapless, seawind-crusted prodigy;
But dare I talk too freely of this truth?
This masthead-snapping hidden booth
Where all the plagues of ever-searching man
Come to rest so far from heaven’s plan,
Whose razor banks are buffeted and shrunk
By extruded cunning into iron junk,
The forest’s fresh and unencumbered graces
Reduced by commerce to such unnatural places—

And yet here it was that, highly strung
By pride to mount the topsail’s lofty rung,
To test the gunwales with the fo’c’sle’s height,
As moths their passion drives to light
In darkest winter when the basest phantoms
Stalk regions where the summer never comes,
Or as the brittle gale of candied fates
Prompts desperate men to change their dates,
Breaching seas and grim with hunger and hubris,
To cross the bar and risk their lot—that is,
Wild and monstrous, keepers of the only hope
That slips the cleat and casts the rope
Alone connecting them to fortune’s shore,
To the slippery future’s thrashing store,
He, encompassed by the bouncing quarters,
Set out through the shaft’s nocturnal borders,
Sheets caught aback, lines and halyards
Castled to the crow’s nest by the birds
Where the clanking lift and tackle nimbly soars
With ratlines flailing up the shank to sail high floors
Where heart alone may never travel, where song
Itself cannot provide the ports for which we long,
Whose canopies contain the sparkling sun and stars
Far away from death-inviting cars
Whose menial darkness dulls the soul, and yet provides
The wide Elysian landing expected of such rides,
Darting flesh and sheets of fire, the wheeling play
Which gods inherit from the climb’s long day—
Godly are the man-made odds that raise
Or lower fortunes with their empty gaze,
Yet all too human are the sagas streaming from it
That justify the taking of this sudden summit,
This plateau which stars themselves must love,
Coming from the flattened earth to rise above
Where gate-like cumuli compress and then
Rush apart to show the long sky’s final glen—
So much buckle, grease, and chain unfurled
To raise man in his smallness to a higher world.