I had worn the Great Man's mantle
for some time
before I thought to check the pockets,
and they were empty.
In fact, they had been torn out!
28 August 1989
This is actually a sequel although I can’t imagine anyone other than me picking up on it. In my previous poem, ‘The Apeman Cometh’ (#689), we see the poet looking in the mirror and not recognizing the creature gawping back at him (or, more correctly, not being recognized by the thing in the mirror). This harks back to ‘The Drowning Man’ (#600) where the young poet recognizes something in his hero’s eyes he’d only seen before in a mirror. Years have passed and so has the great man and now the young poet is wondering just how ‘great’ he actually is.
How do you define greatness? Per the dictionary: “the quality of being great; eminence or distinction.” Eminence? “Fame or acknowledged superiority within a particular sphere.” Distinction? “Excellence that sets someone or something apart from others.” As a teenager I honestly believed I was destined for greatness. I didn’t just have a chip on my shoulder I had a whole fish supper! [Fish supper is a Scotticism for fish and chips.] I thought that everything I wrote was gold. I really did. Now, when pressed, I’ll admit to a certain facility with words. That I can’t deny; the evidence is overwhelming. But greatness? I actually wonder how many great men (and, of course, women) felt comfortable with that label. Very few I would imagine.