Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Tallest Poppy"

This poem is spillover from the March 17, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] chanter_greenie  and [personal profile] rix_scaedu. It also fills the "vulnerability" square in my 3-6-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest.  This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette and an anonymous donor.  It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series and features Savoir Faire and the Rescuer.

"The Tallest Poppy"


Savoir Faire had just begun his patrol --
it wasn't even full dark yet --
when he heard the screams.

In a cluttered alley behind
the Corner Joint youth center,
he found four large boys
picking on another boy,
who was taller but less burly and
topped with a riot of outrageous red hair.

Savoir Faire dropped down on them
from the nearest rooftop,
deftly separating the bullies
from their victim.

"Why are you sticking up for him?"
one of them whined.
"He's just a no-account soup!
We're teaching him a lesson."

"You boys want to fight
someone with superpowers?"
Savoir Faire said in an ominous tone.
"Then come and fight me."

The bullies hesitated,
looking at each other,
shuffling in place.

"Come along now,"
Savoir Faire said briskly.
"Two of you get behind me.
Let's make this as sporting as we can."

With a little more prodding,
they fanned out and attacked him.

Savoir Faire easily eluded
their clumsy blows,
his coat flaring around him
as he danced out of the way.

He tripped one boy
with a sweep of his foot,
then shoved the next
into a trio of garbage cans.

Savoir Faire left his sword
in its sheath, and instead
snatched up a wooden slat
from a pile of trash,
which he laid smartly across
the seat of the leader's pants.

The fourth ran away
without trying to hit him,
and the rest soon limped after.

Savoir Faire knelt beside
their shivering victim.
"How badly are you hurt?"
he asked quietly.

"Just some bruises,"
the boy said, rubbing his face.
"Who are  you, anyway?"

"Savoir Faire, at your service,"
the superhero said,
bowing from the shoulders.
"And you are?"

"My name's Rufus,"
came the reply.

"I'm pleased to meet you, though
I could wish for better circumstances,"
Savoir Faire said to him. 
"Come, I'll take you home."

"I was supposed to stay
at the Corner Joint
until my parents got off work,"
Rufus said, looking down.
"Then those guys started
picking on me, so I left, and ..."
His voice trailed off.

"I'm certainly not of a mind
to leave you at home alone,
nor does this place seem safe,
after what just happened,"
Savoir Faire said thoughtfully.
"I'll introduce you to a friend,
and he'll keep you company
until your parents get home."

"Okay," Rufus said,
rubbing his arms.

Savoir Faire doffed his coat
and wrapped it around the boy.
"Here, you can borrow this," he said.

"Thanks," said Rufus.
"Those boys were between
me and my coat, so I tried
to slip out another way,
but they still caught me."

"It was clever of you regardless,"
Savoir Faire assured him.
He led the way through
the slowly darkening streets
until they reached their destination.

"Where are we?" Rufus asked
as the doorbell chimed.

"A friend's place,"
Savoir Faire said.
"I think you'll like him.
He's called the Rescuer."

A sturdy man answered the door.
"Hi, Savvy, what's --" he began,
but then he saw the boy
and his voice sharpened. 
"-- going on here?"

"You need to have a little chat
with the people at the Corner Joint,"
said Savoir Faire.  "This is Rufus.
"I found several boys bullying
him for having superpowers."

"We will just see about that,"
the Rescuer said darkly.
Then he turned to Rufus.
"I'll get some ice for the bruises.
What's your gift, then?"

"I don't have any special powers,"
the boy said with a scowl.
"People only think that because
I'm a good student in school and
I play the oboe better than anyone else.
I just do well because I practice." 

"It's getting worse?"
the Rescuer murmured
as he beckoned them inside.

"Third time this year," said Savoir Faire.
"It's bad enough when the forks
come after us, but it's harder still
when they jump on ordinary folks
for a case of mistaken identity.
Then nobody's  safe."

"Well, this one is," the Rescuer said
as he peeled Savoir Faire's coat
off Rufus and handed it back.

"Thanks," said Rufus,
wrapping his long arms
around Savoir Faire.
"He's right.  You saved me."

"That's my job,"
the superhero replied.

As he returned to his patrol,
Savoir Faire thought about
what had happened.

He hated seeing people
tear each other down,
especially when they attacked
those who showed such promise.

"The tallest poppy gets picked first,"
he grumbled.  "Well, the hand that
reaches for the stem had best beware 
the nettle that lies in wait!"

* * *


Rufus O'Scollain -- At eleven, Rufus is already tall for his age, lanky and knobby-kneed.  He has bright red hair in a mess of curls, fair skin with freckles, and yellow-gray eyes.  He enjoys school and is a dedicated student, also playing in the school band.  Sometimes people pick on him for doing so well.  Rufus can climb just about anything: rocks, trees, fire escapes, whatever comes to hand.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Oboe Player, Good (+2) Climbing, Good (+2) Gentle, Good (+2) Student
Poor (-2) Situational Awareness

* * *

Bluehill is a small city about two hours away from Urbanburg.  With a population of about 200,000 it has 3-4 superheroes, 6-7 supervillains, 10 crickets, and 180 latents.  It has a manufacturing base and a small college known for flaky research and occasional breakthroughs.  Although predominantly white, there is a sizable African-American population (about 21%) and some Hispanic (about 4%) along with a sprinkling of others.  Bluehill is rougher than Urbanburg but still maintains a lively folk culture with such things as music, quilting, and street fairs.  Bluehill is particularly known for its homebrewing, not just of beer and other alcohol, but also of soft drinks.  Azure Cap is a regionally popular bottler similar to Jones Soda, using clear glass bottles with a distinctive blue cap; their logo has a blue baseball hat.  One of their signature flavors is a baklava soda, sweetened with honey and flavored with walnut extract, which is hugely popular with strongmen and speedsters.  Jack & the Beanstalk is a local coffeehouse that hosts an open mike night.  The Corner Joint is a youth center.  The Rescuer also lives in Bluehill.  Nearby is Ruston, a smaller town.

Bullying can cause a lot of trouble.  Terramagne-America has a serious and growing problem with people abusing others who are suspected of being  soups, but don't actually have superpowers.  This has really come up in the last several years and is just getting to where superheroes feel compelled to make concerted efforts about it.  In some places it's illegal to make false allegations of someone having superpowers, as defamation, and bullying someone over it typically counts as a hate crime.  Know how to stop bullying if you are a bystander or a victim.  You can help a friend who is being bullied, or a child in school.  If you have been bullied, there are ways to heal.

There's a longstanding trope of an expert fighter going against one or more who are hopelessly outclassed.  This often features a one-stroke battle and a swat across the butt.  Savoir Faire, being a gentleman, has nerfed his advantages down as much as feasible so that he can teach the bullies a lesson without anyone getting seriously hurt. 

In our world, the closest equivalent to being mistaken as a soup is being mistaken as gay.  Some have been severely beaten.  This means nobody is safe.

Tall poppy syndrome refers to people picking on anyone who excels or otherwise stands out.  It drags down the performance of the group.  There are ways to deal with it.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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