"Now that's freedom, you say."
Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series
Need to Know
13: Free Form
12: The Necessary Ear
11: The Necessary Eye
Issue 10: Out on a Limb
Issue 9: The Missing Body
Issue 8: The Lily
Issue 7: Passages
Issue 6: No More Tears
Here's the thing: the hero is always so cool
like he's known all along deliverance
or whatever you want to call it
will happen along at just the right time,
an orphan boy or fishmonger veering
into the bad guy's path, creating
a precious fraction of a second for the hero
to swing free of his shackles, skirt the blade of doom,
hurdle startled henchmen, burst through a pane,
roll from a lorry's path, slide
down a chute and swim underwater
to the unsuspecting mastermind's lair.
Then my turn comes.
The tubercular lackey makes the drop an hour late
and I head across town in traffic rickshaw thick,
dodging camera-mad tourists in the octopus bazaar
and the soldiers outside the national palace
shaking everyone down. I only get through
by offering up a pack of American cigarettes.
But the sergeant takes a liking to my sunglasses,
leaving me exposed to the equatorial glare
when I come quayside and find myself
face to face with the Wizard's goons
who muscle me without ceremony onto the scarlet junk
and take the vials saying, Number One Bossman mad.
Don't I number one know it? But what can I say--
It's not my fucking fault? I have no ready-made excuses,
and I see the blade despite the dark,
thinking Where's the orphan? Where's the shrew?
At least cut to another scene.
No such luck. The moon is new,
and I remember what the spook said
that night in Bangkok the last time I tried to turn
the tables: Man, he said, you got to stop
making like this is some chop suey flick.
Setting out, you think you know
the landscape—books and movies and television
have taught you riverboat and gambling den,
rangeland and tank town,
Stetson, Pullman, and Colt.
You're not thinking about barbed wire,
chainsaws, pesticide or strip mining.
But there it is, out the Greyhound window
and you're geared for speed
though vastness deludes you into standstill.
Then you meet the frontier in an old cowhand
some midnight in a station harshly lit—
a town in the middle of an oil jack badland.
He speaks of drifting
place to place in search of ranch work.
Now that's freedom, you say.
He spits tobacco into Styrofoam
and says, Yeah, mister, it's all of that—
but so's the lack of regular
paychecks and no hospital plan and no equity.
That's freedom, too, nothing left to lose,
you know the old song.
A last call separates you from the frontier—
you're going farther west, and he's for the south—
and you're back on the bus crossing darkling land,
hands cupped around eyes to peer through glass
because you see—you're sure of it—
cactus, trading posts, dry gulches,
an Indian mounted bareback on a mustang
firing arrows at the Greyhound's flank.