Poem: Charles Atlas Shrugged

The icons on the beach, drifted over with 
      kicked sand:
that starving boy, the first
to wish evolution would give him a hand,
clap him on the back like an elder
brother, say: You won’t be bad, kid, when 
      you’re grown.
Bucks die with horns locked in the distant forest
falling tangled like trees. You’re not one of those.
Here comes the girl,
the type who’s always ready
to play Fortune in the pictures
supine in borrowed silks, her eyes asking
What have you done for me lately?
Black bikini now, teeth so white
her smile’s one continuous crescent, like the moon.

The bully barrels in, plump as a steer,
pissing on everyone’s picnic.
He’ll run to fat when he’s older,
go deeper into the forest
shattering nests with shot
and ripping the silence away like a roof,
his days on the beach forgotten.
The burning cloud of history
doesn’t show in the sky.

The end of the tale’s well-known:
in just one panel
the runt improves himself, becomes a man
with tight buttocks and a hammer fist,
the wedge of his chest blocking the sun.
His highest ambition was to hit back,
or to know he could.
And what’s wrong with that? Too many victims
tinkled out the sonatas of their homeland
on a piano of bones,
quibbled over matchstick games of cards
and honorable regulations till the total fires
swept everything flat like a smoothing hand.

Dagny Taggart’s trains
run nevertheless, though pulling boxcars
of short-weight goods and heads full of error
in the passenger cars. They deserve to die
when they smash up, says Rand, for winking at
the drunken signal-men, the corrupted routes.
Two trains can’t run on the same track.
No patronage repeals the laws of force.
Mac can’t throw
the brute off the beach till he becomes one
with the other man’s mechanism, his simple 
The morals of a mad world
are the power of goodbye.

Dagny sees this at last,
slams the door behind her
on her way to Galt’s Gulch
where copper sunlight sets on silver metal
and all the women have heroes,
where every one
smokes Marlboros and stays out of each other’s 
      personal space.
And the girl on the beach, what does she want?
It would be a mistake
to peg her as a bimbo, she could be
a communications director or a veterinarian, 
      like Barbie.
All the more reason
why she craves a man who’ll overcome her,
who doesn’t need a manager or mother
to hide in like soft sand.

The people behind them
tan themselves in his cartoon halo,
trying to forget that
soon summer will be over and the factory
has fallen down. Someone tried to run it
as if need were the measure of one’s wages,
ability the weight of one’s chains.
As if need were anything
but the stern carver’s adze
that polishes you or grinds you down.
The trains rust on the abandoned siderail.
Somebody just like you
could still write away for the booklet
that works you into strength, for two holy dollars.
The dollar-sign over Rand’s coffin
might be translated: To call virtue priceless
means no one is willing to pay for it. “That was 
      the end
of the noble plan and of the Twentieth Century.”

      from A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003)

13 comments on “Poem: Charles Atlas Shrugged

  1. Hank Rodgers says:

    This is, largely, just a test to see if the comment feature works for me, without entering a website, or maybe even an e-mail address, which is, after all, already registered. …Ayn Rand and her “libertarianism”, such an unusual subject, and one of my favorites. The poem is wonderful, though I will have to spend some more time with it.

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