By Stephanie Burt
(Horace, Odes 1:1)
I’m writing to thank Mr. Stark: not the first
inventor by that name, I know, but the first
truly awesome one. I owe him everything,
or almost everything (sorry Ned!). There are guys
who like nothing more than drag races through Forest Hills,
who spend every Saturday polishing their rims.
Some sophomores already obsess over prom king,
and others with making bibimbap, or tagine.
Betty takes so many selfies, it’s like she’s already
the network celebrity she wants to be.
There’s absolutely no way you could convince
the Vision to go out clubbing, or get the Hulk
to read the Bill of Rights; he loves showing his pecs,
and getting applause for tossing girders around.
And there are kids I remember from grade school who, now
that they look like their fake IDs, play Bingo with beers,
knocking back every brand whose name they know;
they’re the same kids I see at the Seven-Eleven
before and after school. They’ve been there all day,
and tbh they seem to enjoy themselves.
There are the Junior ROTC kids, who are scary
but definitely have goals. And, also, there’s MJ—
they totally know who they are; what they get into,
what’s really fulfilling for them, is speaking up,
and speaking out, and helping me figure out binders,
which took forever, that is, most of last year.
And honestly, I don’t want to be an Avenger,
not yet anyway: I’m all about neighborhoods,
especially my own. My friends live here.
But I absolutely want to be a hero.
Some days it’s all I want: protecting Queens,
and, OK, also, Brooklyn and maybe the Bronx
from demolition-happy adults with guns
or big fat checkbooks or alien energy rays
by swinging in, punching somebody just in time,
and gumming them up with my web-fluid right before
the cops show up to read my handwritten note.
That is my jam, and my only jam. And thanks
to you, Mr. Stark, it’s something I’m able to do
without freaking out about whether I’m going to die
if a homemade web-tube cracks, or if I fall
and twist an ankle, or somebody tugs on my mask.
You got me trained, and brought me to Germany,
and I know that didn’t stay awesome for long, but thanks
(someday I might even have an adventure in space).
I can grab hold of a helicopter, and dive
like a serious diver, and cling to glass,
and send my telemetry to the guy in the chair,
because you picked me early: I won’t let you down.
You’ve made me the Peter Parker I want to be,
even though almost nobody knows his name.
Stephanie Burt is Professor of English at Harvard. Her recent books include AFTER CALLIMACHUS (Princeton, 2020); DON’T READ POETRY: A book about how to read poems (Basic, 2019); and ADVICE FROM THE LIGHTS (Graywolf, 2017), an NEA Big Read selection.
The Disquieting Muses (After de Chirico)
acrylic and silkscreen inks on canvas
50 1/8 x 42¼in. (127.3 x 107.3cm.)