The Straw Man

Christmas, 2011 / No. 27

I survived it all: Dorchester, vaudeville, the Golden Age,

all those TV variety shows, and yes, Oz. I have front-page

memories of that makeshift and lengthy road I tramped along,

after my hero, the role of my dreams, that perfect song.

I can, even now, summon the steps I took as, and I quote,

“a horse-faced hoofer”—the distance I was willing to devote,

for a brain. And, by happenstance, the straw man would be

all I would ever need to be; after 1939, no yearly TV or

DVD residuals, just the blessed gift of immortality.

And I’m old these days. I have not ruled in Oz for years, and

am unaware of the politics that arose after me. A band

of Winkies took over, perhaps; it was, after all, their time.

Or good ol’ Mervyn LeRoy—nestled, all pickled and fat

on a plush throne in Emerald City. Yes, I could see that.

Over time I saw less and less of everyone. A star was born

in Judy, Jack found himself on TV, while Bert was reborn

a savant on Broadway. And back to the grind we were thrust.

We rarely talked of the days we owned that road, or fussed

over the lore that evolved of its own accord. No one but us knew

we sang those tunes as though they were our very due.

Only ten years ago, if I had walked a few blocks down

North Beverly Drive, I might’ve encountered the Tin Man—the man

I didn’t know how to be—as if a villager in Munchkinlan’.

He lived well, of that I am quite sure, with his heart intact.

I do not know what or if he ever thought of me. In fact,

I survived them all: a good witch and a bad witch, a flying

monkey, a bumbling wizard who knew nothing of wizardry,

a lionhearted terrier and a terrified lion, the lovely girl Dorothy,

or was it Frances or Judy?—I no longer remember which

name her fate later came to curse. Each of us a small, quotidian

part of her legend; like scrap parts, from the days of nickelodeon,

when chewing the scenery was a job for the lowly proletarian,

was all the circuit’s two-bit players had by way of feeling utopian.

Now I lie in a hospital bed, patient Gwen rubs my forehead.

She talks to comfort me, but I’m consultin’ with the flowers,

or is it the rain? “Ray,” she calls, and in her eyes are a red

and yellow cornfield where a murder of crows circles a lone, weary

straw man—a ratty obelisk against a rainbow-less sky. I hear

the steps of clicking shoes, the poised bark of a dog, leering

closer—and I am resolved to return, because, as my song knows,

with all the thoughts I must be thinkin’, I have much still to learn.