Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Who Laughs Last"

This poem is spillover from the March 18, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from wyld_dandelyon.  It also fills the "keeping warm" square in my 3-6-14 card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

Who Laughs Last


The protest against tuition hikes
begins in an orderly manner.
Students wave signs,
and someone passes around
flyers of protest chants.

Nobody feels happy about
paying more for less service,
or working longer for less pay.
"Across the state, across the nation,
stop the war on education,"
students and faculty chant.

The rain has stopped, but
the cold wind has a bite to it.
People brave the weather anyway,
even the ones in patched coats.

When the Board of Trustees
leaves the administrative building,
the chant changes to,
"Shame on you! Shame, shame!
You're the ones to blame!"

The Chairman of the Board
turns to the crowd and says,
"Don't blame us, blame the people
who decide where your tax money goes.
It isn't going here anymore, and
we have an institution to run.
The money has to come
from somewhere."

It's the wrong thing to say,
and the mood turns ugly.

The Chairman trips on the stairs,
and it looks like nothing out of the ordinary,
but I can feel the tiny flare of power.

"Get up. Get down.
There's a revolution in this town,"
the crowd chants.

A bottle flies through the air,
and I don't want to be here anymore.


I dart forward as Clarity withdraws.
The crowd isn't out for blood,
not really, but they're angry
and that can get dangerous.

I use my talent to deflect
the bottles and other debris
so they don't hit anyone.

The other Trustees are having trouble --
shoelaces untying, briefcases spilling,
scarves flapping over faces --
and I suspect Farce behind it,
that quick twist of Murphy's Law.

The campus cops break out the pepper spray,
and oh, that's a mistake, because
the crowd growls and surges forward.

Then someone hurls a stink bomb
back at the cops, and that
can't be Farce, it's not her style.
Maronna mia!  what a smell.

Everyone falls back, and
I can see that the line of cops
isn't going to hold much longer.

Several of them have belts coming loose,
and one poor man is holding up his pants
with both hands, abandoning his guard duty.

If the crowd overruns the Board of Trustees,
this could get very messy very fast.

Just then my vidwatch goes wheep!
and suddenly the parked cars
are all going haywire at once,
lights flashing and horns blaring
as something triggers their alarms.

That's gizmology at work,
it has to be, so I look around
in attempt to pinpoint the source.

There's a guy at the edge of the crowd
with his hands clamped on a controller.
I reach out with my mind and grab it.

In the ensuing tug-of-war,
it smashes to the sidewalk,
and the cars go quiet again.

The damage is done, though;
the crowd spills past the cops
to pull at the Trustees,
demanding answers that
those fool old men don't have.

I use my power to push people back,
but it's hard work, and I wish
that I had Mira's ability with illusions
to hide the Trustees or at least
create a distraction.

They're greedy dicks,
but I still don't want
to see anyone get hurt.

A deep, booming bark
rolls over the Rangle
and people fall back in shock.

A few windows shatter,
and I can just catch a glimpse
of that patz'  who looks like a dog
before he ducks away.

The streetlights are raining broken glass
and people are covering their heads.

"Warda la ciunca!"  I shout.
"Look out for the glass! Get away!"
There are too many fragments
for me to divert them all.

There's a shift in the pattern
of people tripping and things going wrong,
though, which steers them away
from the worst of the shards.

Savoir Faire flits past
in hot pursuit of someone,
presumably one of the perpetrators.
It's odd, but he doesn't seem
as tall and imposing as
I thought I recalled.

Some of the Trustees
have made it to their cars
and escaped the scene.

Then laughter ripples through the crowd.
I follow the sound of it, and see
that someone has managed
to pop the Chairman in the face
with some kind of pie.

I can't help chuckling myself.
That image is bound to be
all over the internet in an hour.

The protest breaks up after that,
people drifting away in smaller groups.

I hear an evil laugh behind me,
and I whirl to defend myself,
but then Farce doubles over coughing.


I push forward, because
I don't like the sound of that cough.
Ham doesn't want to let go,
doesn't want Farce to get away again,
but he's tired from doing crowd control
while I'm fresh, and helping people is my thing.

I catch Farce by the shoulders
and lead her away from the litter of
broken glass and plastic bottles and pop cans
so that she doesn't fall and cut herself.

I smooth my talent over her
until the coughing slows, but I can tell
she doesn't really have it under control.

Farce sags against the corner of a building
just out of sight from the Rangle.
Her shoulders feel thin and sharp
under my hands, still shaking a little.

She's wearing her jester costume
of green-and-orange motley, but no coat,
no hat, no gloves, not even a scarf.
The wind whips around the corner
and makes her shiver harder.

I press closer, trying to
block the draft and keep her warm.
"Where's your coat?" I ask gently.

"Had to stash it," she says.
"Change back later."

"Quite a showing at the protest,"
I say. "It looks like you're
making some new friends."

"Wouldn't call them that."

"Allies, then," I suggest.
"I saw that dog-headed fellow
working with you, at least."

"Oh, Subwoofer?" says Farce.
She's breathing a bit easier now.
"He's not with us --
not with anyone, really.
I think he hates everybody.
Guy's a total spork.
He just likes to show up
and fuck around with things."

"Sounds lonely," I say.
"The pie was funny, though.
They say who laughs last, laughs best."

"Yeah, well, it's hard to get
any respect from supervillains
when a maniacal laugh
makes you hack up a lung,"
Farce mutters.

"Not to mention if you
secretly keep the damage level
down to mockery and mischief,"
I say to her.

She looks away, unhappy,
pulling her costume a little closer.
I can't read her face
behind the tragicomic mask,
but I don't need to.

There's no escaping the fact
that I'm the one who's here
instead of her 'allies.'

I unwind the scarf from my throat
and hold it out to her, saying,
"Here, cover your face with this."
It's a shade more blue than green,
not the acid-bright hue she favors,
but she takes it anyway.

I walk away,
because the day could have
gone so much worse than it did,
and if Farce is thinking even a little
about moderating the damage she does,
that's something I want to encourage.

Ham will complain about it later,
but that's okay:

the world needs all kinds of heroes.

* * *


Rising tuition is causing unrest at colleges nationwide, and a serious barrier to education.  I borrowed some protest chants from this one.  Protesters often attempt to shame the perpetrators, and it can turn violent.

Large groups of upset people may become dangerous.  There are principles for coping with an angry crowd and disarming a mob.  Ironically, "skunking the crowd" is a known tactic, usually cited in humor but closely related to dispersants such as tear gas.  Tips to survive a riot focus on personal safety rather than crowd control or other heroic action.  Choose your actions mindfully.

De-escalation is a fundamental skill of heroism, whether ordinary or superpowered.  There are verbal, political, and physical techniques for de-escalation.  In patrol psychology, this is a vital tool for maintaining a healthy relationship with the populace; note that this applies both to police and to superheroes.  Here is a conflict resolution workbook from security training.

Murphy's Law is a famous statement of mischance.  More precisely in this case, Farce operates under Finagle's Law.  Her ability to make things go wrong is a subset of the superpower known as Probability Manipulation.

Ham often uses Italian-American slang ...

maronna mia! – oh my God! (madonna mia!)  [maa-ROAWN-aa-MEE-uh]

oobatz’ / patz’ – crazy person (un pazzo / u’ pazzu)  [oo-BAATZ]

uarda / warda - look! (guarda!)  [WAAR-daa]
‘uarda la ciunca! – watch out, you’re gonna get hurt! (guarda la ciunca!)  (WAAR-daa-laa-CHOON-kaa]

Pie in the Face is a classic trope that also happens in real life.  The Biotic Baking Brigade is one loosely organized activist group that believes in speaking pie to powerWatch them on YouTube.

Recent studies indicate that laughter is a surprisingly common asthma trigger.  Symptoms vary, but it often leads to a coughing fit shortly afterwards.  Some triggers are odd and obscure, while others are well known.

Fronting is the act of controlling the body shared by a multiple system.  Here you can see the headmates switching front in different ways, such as Ham taking over when Clarity bails out, and Clement pushing Ham out of the way.  The headmates are getting better at sharing awareness and at switching on purpose instead of by accident.  Making it a truly cooperative process is still a work in progress.

Spork -- a superpowered person who hates soups; developed from the superhero group SPOON and the term for an anti-super bigot, fork.

Therefore, Subwoofer as a spork is a case of Boomerang BigotInternalized oppression causes people to despise themselves and others, and to behave in destructive ways.  There are ways to heal internalized oppressionSelf-hatred is a prevailing symptom of it.  There are ways to reduce self-hatred.

"Who laughs last, laughs best" is a common saying.

Special thanks to Dreamwidth user Rosieknight for input on asthma and how it might affect supervillain activities.

Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, education, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, writing
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