Outstare the stars

after Nabokov, Pale Fire

I had a staring contest with Travolta —
by accident, of course! — the movie I
was watching hit a glitch, and John’s wide face
was filling the screen as looking up from pie
I locked eyes with him (too tired to know
it wasn’t really him), and I dared not
to blink, growling: You don’t scare me, old man!
He said nothing. My eyes dried out
as hours seemed to pass, like two great ships
in pea-soup fog, threatening and obscure.
I agonized, alone against his gaze,
a sailor swabbing poopdecks on a tour
of South Pacific far from home (where
sun and moon stand more or less as one,
with common goals, or at least, enemies —
one’s greatest enemy there is the sun
(the sun being John’s face in metaphor
(I’m sure you understand, dear reader, but
I want to make things pure-lead-crystal clear))).
The victor was Travolta, finally. What
I learned along the way, though, I hold tight:
Better to have tried, and failed, than wish I might.