ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the June 7, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "embracing imperfection" square in my 6-1-16 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem was sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem contains scenes that readers may find disturbing. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. This is "the infamous kitten scene" that Groundhog has mentioned a time or two. It features a failure of capacity -- although not courage -- in a crisis, graphic description of animal injury, graphic description of mental issues, self-blame, and other unpleasantry. This is a significant event in Groundhog's life, where he's struggling with what he can do and what he can't. It's about fear and courage, ability and disability. He's made enormous progress in coping with his superpower and what it did to him; he's mostly functional; but hit him in the wrong place and he still goes down. The ending is not so much happy as full of dogged determination. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Up a Tree"

Groundhog was walking
to the bus stop so he could
catch a ride to work when
he encountered the problem.

At the pocket park which lay
halfway between his home in
the Skylark Apartment Building
and the nearest bus station,
a yellow-and-white kitten
had gotten stuck up a tree.

Underneath the tree stood
an Asian girl who looked
about ten years old, crying
and pleading for the kitten
to come down from the tree.

Okay, this was Heroism 101 stuff:
get the kitty out of the tree.

"Hi, I'm Groundhog," he said.
"What's your name?"

"Hong Overhard," she said.
"Are you a hero? You
have a hero name."

"Well, I try to be," he said.
"What's your kitty's name?"

"Kikuko," she said. "It means
chrysanthemum flower. She got out
last night, and she's been stuck up there
ever since. Can you help her down?"

That definitely wasn't a good sign.
Usually stuck cats got down by
themselves or with a little coaxing.

"I'll do my best," he said. He tried
calling and patting his hands on the trunk,
but the kitten just clung and cried.

Well, fine then.

Groundhog's soup mentor Highliner
had said that maybe what he needed
to regain his Flight was the right inspiration.
Now would certainly be a good time for it.

So he concentrated as hard as he could,
trying to imagine himself floating up
just high enough to save the cat.

It didn't work. All he got was
an unpleasant falling sensation
in his stomach that made him
swallow hard and clutch the tree.

Overhead, Kikuko yowled
and got herself stuck in a fork.

Time for Plan C.

There weren't any branches
low enough for him to step on,
so Groundhog jumped up and
caught one, his feet scrabbling
against the narrow trunk.

He tried to pull himself higher,
and also not to hyperventilate.
He could do this. He could.

Then the kitten fell out of the tree
to smack into the pavement with
a small thud and a loud screech.

She limped in circles, dragging
her left hind leg which bent
at an unnatural angle.

Oddly, Hong stopped crying
and crouched over her kitten.

"Call the animal hospital,"
she said calmly, and gave
Groundhog the number.

Apparently she didn't
know how to climb but
did know feline first aid.

Groundhog made the call and
then described the problem,
determined not to be
totally useless today.

By then his vision
was starting to tunnel in.

He went into the part of
the pocket park between
the two buildings, sat down
on the ground, and pressed
his back against the brick wall.

It helped a little.

After ten minutes, though,
he still hadn't settled enough
to get back up and continue
walking to the bus stop.

Groundhog gave in and
called for a teleporter.

Tumbler popped in to pick him up.
"Rough day?" she asked gently.

"You have no idea," he said.

"Maybe after I take you home,
it will get better," said Tumbler.

"No, I have to get to work,"
Groundhog protested.

"Okaaayyy," she said.

When they arrived, Ninepin
took one look at Groundhog
and said, "You look like crap.
What the heck happened to you?"

"There was a tree," he said to
the other dispatcher, "and a kitten.
Can I just get to work now?"

That was when Granny Whammy
came into the lobby, and Groundhog
wondered which of them had punched
the silent alarm button for her.

"Come on, boy, let's go back to
my office and have a chat," she said,
waving for Groundhog to follow her.

"Fine," he said, although it wasn't
and honestly neither was he.

"What's got you so down at
the beginning of your shift?"
Granny Whammy asked
as they took their seats.

Groundhog sighed and put
his face in his hands. "I tried
to rescue a kitten from a tree,"
he mumbled through his fingers.
"I couldn't do it. Couldn't fly,
couldn't climb more than about
a foot above the ground."

"That's hardly a surprise,"
Granny Whammy said.

"It's the most basic hero trick
in the book, save the cat," he said,
"and I couldn't even manage that one.
The kitten fell out and broke her leg."

"I'm sorry to hear that,"
said Granny Whammy.

"I am such an utter failure,"
Groundhog moaned.

"Now that's just not true," she said.

"I couldn't keep on task when I was
needed," he said. "I'm pretty sure
that's the definition of failure. There
are probably supervillains who
make better heroes than I do."

Granny Whammy leaned forward.
"There's more than one kind of hero,
kid. Trust me, I know, I can't do
half of them myself," she said.

"But ... you're the leader," he said.

"Sure am," she said. "When Franz
and I started out, it was just the two of us,
so we had to do all the jobs, whether we
were any good at them or not. That's how
I learned to look for people who could
do the things that I can't do well."

"Really?" Groundhog said.

"Really," said Granny Whammy.
"Nobody's perfect, Groundhog; you've
got to embrace your imperfections.
You're a great dispatcher, which
I most definitely am not. Besides,
my first cat rescue wasn't much better."

"What happened?" he asked,
intrigued despite himself.

"Well, I couldn't reach the fool cat,
and the tree didn't have any branches,
so I just broke it off and lowered him
down that way," she explained.

"What's so bad about that?" he said.

"The city fined me fifty dollars,"
said Granny Whammy. "Fifty! Dollars!
In 1949, which was a lot. For a tree."

Groundhog couldn't help it.
He started giggling -- and once
he started, he couldn't stop.

At least he wasn't crying.

After he finally finished,
Granny Whammy passed him
a tissue to wipe his face.

"See now, all heroes have
our good days and our bad days,
things we can do and things we can't,"
she said. "What I need to know now is,
can you do the job I actually hired you for,
or do I need to have Tumbler take you home?"

"I can do my job," Groundhog said.
"I'm not going to do any good for myself
or anyone else just sitting in my apartment
and staring at the walls all day long."

"That's the spirit," Granny Whammy said
to him. "I'll walk you to the front desk."

Ninepin had doubled herself, and
her mahogany faces were pinched with worry,
but she got out of her seats when Granny Whammy
said, "Time to go home, Ninepin, and see
your kids. Give Groundhog a turn."

Just sitting down at the familiar desk
made him feel better somehow,
more secure. "Thanks," he said.

He might have gotten himself
up a tree today, and landed badly,
but if there was one thing that
he had gotten pretty good at,

it was getting back up.

* * *


Groundhog (Eunan Campbell)
-- He has strawberry blond hair, green eyes, and pale skin with freckles. His weak lungs mean that he can't handle altitude changes well, and tends to catch every cold or chest bug that goes around. He works at the Onion City SPOON base as a dispatcher. He wants to support other soups so that bad things don't happen to them like what happened to him. He's one of the few people who is compassionate toward supervillains, because he understands how traumatic superpowers can be and how they can mess up someone's life. His parents Jordan and Margaret run a plant nursery.
Origin: When his superpower first manifested during his infancy, he disappeared into the sky, and before he was rescued he got so high up that it damaged his lungs. His parents were frantic, and after that, overprotective. Left with vulnerable breathing and a timid nature, he stopped using his power.
Uniform: Navy blue shirt and pants with the SPOON logo embroidered in silver on the chest pocket.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Dispatcher, Expert (+4) Soup Contacts, Expert (+4) Sympathetic, Good (+2) Classic Literature, Good (+2) Courage, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Green Thumb, Good (+2) Sewing
Poor (-2) Weak Lungs
Powers: Good (+2) Flight
Limitation: He is acrophobic and agoraphobic, so he never uses his power. It still works, in theory; he's just too afraid of it to activate it.
Motivation: Support people with superpowers.

Hong Overhard -- She has golden skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and long straight brown hair. She is currently 10 years old. She lives in Onion City, near the pocket park between Skylark Apartment Building and the nearest bus stop. She has a yellow-and-white female kitten named Kikuko.
Qualities: Good (+2) Animal Lover, Good (+2) Feminist, Good (+2) Limber
Poor (-2) Climber

Tumbler (Leanna Nolan) -- She has tawny skin, amber eyes, and long straight red hair. Her body is slim and strong, with small breasts and narrow hips. Leanna has been a gymnast since her toddler years. After her superpowers manifested, she came to work for the Onion City SPOON base, with the understanding that if anyone ever identifies her assailant, SPOON will help bring them to justice. As a teleporter, she excels at reaching people even in the midst of a fight and pulling them to safety. She is friends with Leapfrog down in Easy City.
Origin: During her last Olympic tour, someone tried to poison her with an unknown substance. She completed her routine and then dropped to the mat with convulsions. After spending several weeks in the hospital, she developed superpowers.
Uniform: Navy blue shirt and pants with the SPOON logo embroidered in silver on the chest pocket.
Qualities: Master (+6) Gymnast, Good (+2) Organized, Good (+2) Patriot
Powers: Expert (+4) Teleporting, Good (+2) Super-Speed
Motivation: To discover the truth.

Ninepin (Poni Daniels) -- She has mahogany skin, brown eyes, and long wavy black hair. She has three children, two boys and a girl. Ninepin works as a dispatcher at the Onion City SPOON base.
Origin: Poni's parents divorced when she was twelve, and they fought over her like two dogs with one bone. She often wished she could be in two places at the same time. Then one day it actually happened.
Uniform: On duty, she wears a navy blue shirt and pants with the SPOON logo embroidered in silver on the chest pocket. Off duty, she favors deep jewel tones and gold jewelry.
Qualities: Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Dispatcher, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Mother, Good (+2) Multitasking
Poor (-2) Nosy
Powers: Good (+2) Self-Duplication, Average (0) Super-Intelligence
Limitation: She can make up to nine copies of herself simultaneously, but she can only control seven of them with accuracy. The other two either copy what another version is doing, or wind up staring into space. She can actually make eleven copies if she doesn't try to do anything else with them, but it's still exhausting and not much use.
Motivation: To be there for people who need her.

* * *

Pocket parks are small green areas with just a few amenities that serve the block they're on plus surrounding blocks. Read about how to establish one. This pocket park consists of a cluster of trees along the sidewalk plus containers and benches in a niche between two buildings. It also takes advantage of the view behind it, which looks into the courtyard of another building with a central fountain. The park lies about halfway between the Skylark Apartment Building and the nearest bus stop.

Here is Kikuko up the tree.

Cat Up a Tree is an entertainment trope which often appears in superhero stories. There's a debate over it because some people think this sort of thing is a waste of time, while others think it's what heroism is all about. Know how to get a cat out of a tree. There are also tree-climbing, cat-saving experts you can call for help.

Fear is a natural response to danger which helps keep us safe. It only becomes a problem when it is out of proportion to the actual risk and/or interferes with everyday life. In Groundhog's case, his fear is rational -- his superpower almost killed him, and it could happen again -- but the effects of that fear messed up his life. By this point he's gotten the impact down to where he can do most of what he wants, most of the time, he just needs to be careful with the amount of outdoor time. Here are some ways to overcome fear.

There are basic and more advanced references for cat first aid. This page covers broken bones.

Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes, and making a safety plan can help. For people with PTSD or related issues, things can go haywire more often. A safety plan should include likely triggers, constructive ways to respond when triggered, and backup people to call if self-help isn't enough. If at all possible, include at least two steps to try yourself before calling outside aid -- just having multiple options can help to maintain a sense of control. A safety plan is like first aid, something you do for yourself when things are just starting to go wrong. You can see Groundhog making layers of plans and working through them methodically. For people whose mental or physical issues can get bad enough that someone else may need to take over decision-making for a while, a WRAP workbook is helpful.

Mental issues span a wide range of intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses, and mental injuries. They can make everyday activities harder, especially at work. However, minor changes can make major improvements in someone's ability to function. Understand how to help employees who have mental issues, how to cope with your own at work, and what kinds of accommodations can help. Groundhog finds it much easier and safer to go outside if he knows that he can call a teleporter friend to pick him up if he needs it.

Feeling like a failure is a common human experience, but it doesn't necessarily correlate with being a failure. Know how to overcome failure and cope with feelings of failure. These skills are especially crucial for heroes, because when you work in hard dangerous job, you tend to fail a lot simply because you're not getting the easy cases. Either you learn to dealwith that, or you burn out. As a dispatcher, Groundhog saves lives every day, but he tends to lose track of that because he's not doing it the same way as the frontline superheroes.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-14 07:18 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Yay poem! This is a beautiful, moving, yet hilariously funny piece and it is also very on-topic for me right now.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-14 08:19 am (UTC)
sweet_sparrow: Picture of two cats lying back-to-back with two black spots connecting to make a heart. (E: Heart)
From: [personal profile] sweet_sparrow
Nooooooo. Not too dark. What makes you think it'd be too dark? *curious* Because the kitten broke its leg in the fall?

I thought it was lovely. ^_^ This has it rough spots in places, especially if Groundhog's situation hits home in any way, but it's mostly Groundhog being either really, really brave (and can someone please point that out to him someday?) or being very adorable and learning something important about himself.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-14 12:43 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lone_cat
Right now, "cat encounters Solid Environment, survives, will recover" reads pretty good to me.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-14 07:33 pm (UTC)
sweet_sparrow: Picture of two cats lying back-to-back with two black spots connecting to make a heart. (E: Heart)
From: [personal profile] sweet_sparrow
Mmmm... Doesn't that rule more commonly apply to deliberate harm? This is clearly just an accident, and a fairly minor injury at that.

He is a hero. He just... seems to have grown up with the same kind of superhero imagery we did and hasn't really taken to heart that there are different kinds of hero.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-14 03:16 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
Aw, Groundhog.

I think Granny Whammy handled that really well. Hearing that not just someone, but a major, credentialed superhero, bungled a similar situation - I can see where that'd help, big time.

He's really gotten better at coping skills in the later poems, hasn't he...

Aw, Kikuko. This being the world it is, I'm sure the kitten will get good care. That buffers the onscreen animal harm a bit. And, we've seen Undertaker go through worse - although he's a soup, he's still a cute'n'fuzzy animal.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-15 08:48 pm (UTC)
corvi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] corvi
Ninepin's power and origin story are really neat. I would love to see more of her. Is there another poem she's in?

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-06-15 10:22 pm (UTC)
corvi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] corvi
I will do that! I love how good you are at writing superheroes getting creative uses out of their superpowers, I'm excited to see what you'd do with hers.

You're also especially good at the feeling or experience of having superpowers. What it's like, how it changes you, how it affects your outlook. I have no idea how being able to duplicate yourself would affect your view of the world. I'd love to find out.
Edited Date: 2016-06-15 10:24 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-06-14 10:48 am (UTC)
ext_74: Baron Samadai in cat form (Default)
From: [identity profile] siliconshaman.livejournal.com
"Okay, this was Heroism 101 stuff:
get the kitty out of the tree."

I'm now imagining how my characters would manage...
Ilyana would probably solve it the same way as Granny Whammy... because she is so not climbing trees. [although, if there was a construction site nearby, she'd improvise a scaffold.]
Blaze..probably spent half her childhood up a tree, no problem.
Bulwalk, would just create a set of forcefield steps and walk up.
Theodora...yeah, no problem.
Alicea, would call someone.
Terry... create an ice spire and walk up, but kill the tree.
Ashley...probably call Haruko and ask for help, because goth gear is so not made for climbing!

I don't think Groundhog is all that alone in not managing to deal with basic stuff at times. That's at least half the heroes I know who'd flunk Heroism 101.
Edited Date: 2016-06-14 10:51 am (UTC)


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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