Completely Subjective: Bethany Schultz Hurst’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths, Issues 1-12”

The first time I read this poem, an interpretation so brilliant and illuminating came to me that I proudly jammed my bookmark in between the pages, ready to capture the magic into a piece of writing once I finished following the voice inconveniently calling me from the other room.

This is not that. 

It’s been a month. 

I don’t remember what I was going to write. 

This interpretation is not the one that caused me to frantically scribble exclamation points on a crumpled old sticky note (that I have since lost). This interpretation is very different but just as true as the first and probably just as faithful to the source material. 

It kind of reminds me of a comic book multiverse.

Speaking of multiverses, let’s talk about “Crisis on Infinite Earths, Issues 1-12.” The poem, that is. It’s divided into twelve parts, conveniently labeled with roman numerals. Some ‘issues’ are events while others are observations or statements; yet they all have one common thread. Truth. In each respective part, the following occurs: blame is accepted, possibly unjustly; very bad news is good; Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth doesn’t always force people to tell the truth; a bird worth eight hundred dollars is not really worth eight hundred dollars to the people who found it; birds could be symbols for love or freedom or maybe they’re just hollow inside; A name changes depending on how far away the speaker stands; the author cannot decide what is true; people seem to be having fun when they really should not be having fun; an attempt to unite the multiverse may have only divided it further; the author confesses things that are “stupid,” yet still leave them feeling guilty; the author wishes to change their name as if it would change anything else; the author sees something they weren’t expecting and is grateful for something that they aren’t very grateful for at all.

Wow, isn’t this great? We’ve condensed this whole entire five-page poem into a couple of sentences that clearly delineate the author’s intention! “Things aren’t always as they seem.” We’ve cracked the case. Who says analyzing poetry is hard?

I do. 

Because that poem can just as easily and accurately be portrayed as: poetry sucks; motorcycles are hard to return to their owners; Comic book writers suck at writing comic books; close your windows; poems have birds in them; someone lost a black lab; the author is bad at condolences; cardboard makes for good signage; DC got tired of writing a multiverse; don’t drink blueberry coffee from 7-11; dizziness probably won’t cause memory loss; someone’s cough syrup is cherry-flavored. 

That made no sense. 

Honestly, it makes just about as much sense as the poem does on a brief skim. But somehow the poem does make sense. My very long and convoluted point is that truth cannot be oversimplified (I say, which in and of itself is an oversimplification of everything I just said).

Are you confused yet?

Good. Because that’s the point. This poem is confusing and it’s confusing on purpose. It uses enjambment and caesura so much that it makes you forget how to read.

This poem frames truth in a comic book universe. There were too many writers at DC and they couldn’t decide what was true anymore. Their solution? Spend twelve comic books smashing all of the alternate truths together and pretending they were like that the whole time. Even then, the solution was imperfect beyond repair. Now there’s a rift between the Universe back when it was actually a Multiverse and the Universe now that it’s a regular Universe. Truth is fluid in a comic book world and sometimes this world feels like a comic book world. Everything’s broken up into little pieces and you’re forced to connect the dots between the panels, though if you zoom in close enough, everything is just dots anyway. 

I was going somewhere with all of this but I’ve forgotten where that is. Again. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there isn’t one. Because some things haunt us and hurt us and appear in places they’re not welcome and they tear our world apart. Sometimes people don’t care enough. Sometimes people have lives but that’s against the rules because here’s someone’s house that was swept away by a tsunami and here’s someone’s house that’s been burnt to the ground by a fire and all anyone can say is “good news for beachcombers.” That’s not fair. Do we really have a right to be happy when so many people are sad? Grief is messy and nothing makes sense. The author’s response? “Thank / goodness for the seagulls, / coming to peck out / everything’s eyes.” Because with all the fires and tsunamis and tragedy, sometimes we want our eyes to get pecked out by seagulls so we can’t see the sadness anymore. Sometimes we wish someone could rewrite our universe into one that makes sense. But that would probably leave more holes than it would fix. At this point we don’t know what truth is anymore and does it really matter? 

The whole world feels like a tragic disjointed comic book.

Yet, through all of this, the poem opens with the author wishing they were at a Comic Con: somewhere people go to appreciate comics.

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