Near a faraway star, on a faraway planet–

So distant we can’t hope to scope it or scan it–

The Tower of Us, with its great crooked boom

Bends over the planet’s thin cover of gloom.

Quite broad at the bottom, the Great Tower rises

Surrounded by towers of more modest sizes.

Then upward it zips, till its uppermost tip

Tends to wag in the wind like the mast of a ship.

From bottom to top, like a huge flower spike

The Tower sprouts wheels like the ones on a bike.

These wheels, great and small–plus a few odd propellers–

Preoccupy most of the Great Tower’s Dwellers

Because, as they spin, the whole Tower grows higher

Toward heights to which all Tower Dwellers aspire.

(“But why?” you inquire, but no one knows why

The Us-ers compulsively climb for the sky.

Some say that the higher-ups just like the view

Looking down on the many, and being the few.)

The wheels, one and all, lie along the great loop

That feeds the whole Tower with precious Go-Goop.

Go-Goop! It’s the very lifeblood of the Tower–

The ultimate source of all towerly power.

The whole world depends on the flow of Go-Goop;

Without it, all towers would rapidly droop.

And yet, it was learned long ago that Go-Goop

Produces a poison they call Go-Goop Poop.

It drips, drains, and dribbles, creating huge bogs

And wraps the whole planet with bad-smelling fogs.

So all Tower Dwellers are somewhat conflicted:

They know Goop is poisonous, but they’re addicted!

And while they may wallow in willful denial

Go-Goop is the fuel of their very lifestyle.

If driven–although they don’t like to admit it–

Most towers will steal, cheat, and murder to git it.

It may be you’ve heard about Go-Goop before

And how it ignited the Great Go-Goop War.

If not, you can read all about it online;

Go Google “Go-Goop”–that ought to work fine.

Our story continues a year to the night

After Us’s Chief Resident started the fight.

The Tower of Us’s Chief Resident, Shrub,

Is pacing the floor in the innermost hub

Of the uppermost wheel of them all, the Great Hoop.

He’s on the phone, talking–let’s slip in and snoop:

“Uh-huh. If you think so. OK, fine by me.

I guess I can do it. OK. I agree!

I’ll make a big speech if you think that I should.

Just tell my speechwriter to write it real good.”

It was Shackles, the Sub, calling in from off-Tower;

He checks in with Shrub every other half hour.

(Old Shackles, he’s just like an uncle to Shrub

And as Sub, he takes over when Shrub leaves the Hub.)

Just now he called in with an urgent suggestion

That gave the Chief Resident bad indigestion:

“It’s time to go talk to the Who-When-Where-What-ers!

Don’t worry, they’re used to your stumbles and stutters.

Don’t try to be clever, just steady and strong

And try to let on as if nothing’s gone wrong!”

But the war hasn’t gone the way Shrub and friends planned it.

And some say, “Abandon it!”

Some say, “Expand it!”

The boom has cost billions and billions to build

And hundreds of young Us-er troops have been killed

And thousands of Them-ers have perished as well.

Things’ve just gone to hell since the mighty Boom fell.

It should have been easy. They’d do just one thing:

Get rid of the evil king, Goddam Ga-Zing,

That murderous tyrant, that maker of trouble–

Who happened to sit on a vast Go-Goop bubble.

The funny thing, though, is that Goop wasn’t mentioned

‘Cause Us-ers think wars should be better intentioned

And not just about taking stuff that you need:

Your neighbors might say that you acted from greed.

“Why him?” Us-ers wondered. “He hasn’t attacked Us

And picking a fight’s not our usual practice.

The world’s full of tyrants!” They shrugged and they sighed

So Shrub made a play to their towering pride:

“We’ll tell him, ‘Surrender!’–then see how it goes!”

So he crowed, when Goddam started thumbing his nose,

“We can’t have him thumbing his nose at our Tower!

True Us-ers don’t quaver! True Us-ers won’t cower!

We’ll have a short battle. Then, after we beat ’em,

The Them-ers will thank us for giving them freedom!”

This still didn’t silence the carpers and kvetchers

So Shrub made another speech, adding some stretchers:

He said that Goddam had a big blunderbuss

That was secretly aimed at the Tower of Us–

And he said there was cause to believe that Goddam

Was secretly working with Ali Ka-Blam–

Ka-Blam, who’d attacked the Great Tower before???!

And that, at last, got Us-ers into the War.

Well, they soon had Goddam on the run. It was fun!

Almost overnight, it was clear Us had won!

And Shrub, full of glee at this smashing success,

Marched out on the boom, dressed in full battle dress

And he put on a show for the whole world to see

“We got rid of Goddam and set all of Them free!”

But they looked underground, and they dug all around

And no giant blunderbuss was to be found.

And the story connecting Goddam and Ka-Blam

Turned out to be fake–a deliberate sham.

And the boom, angled off of the Tower’s right flank

Got stuck in the muck and it steadily sank

Requiring the Tower to stand with a stoop

And choking the Goop as it flowed in the loop.

And worst of all, Them-ers who’d been liberated

Decided that now it was Us that they hated.

Recalling how, under Goddam’s bloody reign

Us punished the villain–but Them felt the pain.

Now, thanks to the Us-ers–because of the war–

Most Them-ers are even worse off than before.

The booming has blasted their roads and their plumbing

And brought other troubles Shrub didn’t see coming:

It isn’t Goddam-ers, but anti-Goddam-ers

Who seem to be working with Ali Ka-Blam-ers,

While so many of Them have become blunderbussers

With personal angers to settle with Us-ers,

That everything Us does to fight these Us-haters

Results in there being more Us-haters later.

What’s more, the slim towers of Us-friendly Them-ers

Are rumbling with rumors and trembling with tremors.

And now comes the news that explosions and fires

Are spreading among Us’s neighboring spires

Till some of the closest are pulling away,

And the tensions give rise to a top-heavy sway.

Some top Us-ers question if Shrub can be trusted

And whether the Us apparatus is busted.

The loop is still running, the wheels are all turning,

The air everywhere smells of you-know-what burning.

But some, even so, say the Tower is shrinking.

Shrub snorts a retort to this poor sort of thinking:

He says, “If it’s true, it’d sure be surprising–

‘Cause I’m at the top, and I know that I’m rising!”

But grumblers say Shrub keeps the upper end pumping

While, midway, the floors of the Tower are slumping

And folks near the bottom are stuck in one place

Amid leaks, cracks, and creaks in the Tower’s broad base!

Shrub goes to the deck and he gazes straight down

But he can’t spy the spot where the Tower meets the ground–

Too dim and too distant. He’s never been down there

Although he knows people who come from around there.

He’s heard half the folks in the Tower below him

Are ready (supposedly) to overthrow him.

And some guy named Long-Jaw is leading a group

That hopes to take over the Hub of the Hoop.

This Long-Jaw’s a talker. He has folks believing

That Shrub is to blame for the Tower’s wild weaving:

“The rest of us gave up our Goop to go booming

While Shrub and his buddies are upwardly zooming!”

“Bring him on!” mutters Shrub. “Am I worried? Oh, no sir!”

But Long-Jaw is close, and he keeps getting closer;

Already he clings to the Hoop’s outer rim–

“Never fear,” whispers Shackles, “I’ll take care of him!”

Tonight Shrub addresses the whole elevation

While Shackles, packed off to a hidden space station,

Is sending him words of advice and good cheer

Through a speaker the size of a speck in Shrub’s ear.

“Fellow People of Us!” Shrub begins, nice and loud,

“Our Tower is tallest! We all should be proud!

We keep getting higher! Our wheels keep on spinning!

And as to our Great War–by golly, we’re winning!”

But then comes a rumble, a shake, and a shock

And the Hub of the Hoop starts to rattle and rock.

Shrub staggers and stumbles and loses the speaker

Which drops from his eardrum and lands in his sneaker.

He stands up and finds, to his horror, reporters

Lined up with recorders just outside his quarters.

In tremulous tenors, the Who-What-When-Where-ers

Ask Shrub to confess if he’s ever made errors.

But Shrub only shrugs, so a questioner tackles

A more ticklish topic: “Have you heard from Shackles?”

And Shrub, terrified of another bad fumble

Can barely do better than mutter and mumble.

(It’s lucky for Shrub that a lot of Tower Dwellers

Have such low opinions of paid storytellers:

When they toss a softball, and Shrub swings and misses

Reporters get all of the boos and the hisses!)

Now Shackles swoops down, and he’s loaded for bear,

Crying, “Look out for Long-Jaw! He’s right over there!”

Shrub’s rival’s arrival provides a distraction

While Shackles works fast to put Plan B in action.

He rounds up the terrified When-What-Where-Who-ers

And calls Mr. Long-Jaw and friends “Evildoers

Who’d make our Great Tower get weaker and shorter

By cutting our Goop supply almost a quarter!”

In fact, Long-Jaw isn’t that different from Shrub.

Born high in the Tower, not far from the Hub,

He just thinks the Tower is way over-stretched

And that Shrub’s big ideas are, frankly, far-fetched.

“Put me in control and I’ll fix and I’ll fiddle

To pump more Go-Goop to the bottom and middle!

Our misunderstanding with Them can be solved

But we need the Whole Nother Countries involved!”

Shackles says Long-Jaw is just a surrenderer.

“Onward!” he yodels, “and taller and slenderer!”

Grabbing the rudder with all of his might

He turns it as far as he can to the right.

The whole upper Tower goes into a twist

Then snaps back again when the Dwellers resist.

Then Shackles looks out to see Long-Jaw still clinging.

And inside his head an alarm begins ringing:

There’s Long-Jaw–and, right out there with him, there’s Shrub!

Their battleground wiggles and wobbles and flips

And it’s only so long before one of them slips

But only a blowhard would say which, or when.

Now Long-Jaw advances! Now Shrub’s up again!

Around and around in a desperate dance

With the whole Tower watching below, in a trance.

Meanwhile, far below and much farther away

The Great Go-Goop War carries on to this day

With Us-ers and Them-ers all acting like savages

Going on rampages, suffering ravages

Sinking hip-deep in the Goop-laden mud

And spilling a torrent of innocent blood

…While the Tower itself is so badly off-balance

No hero can right it, whatever his talents.

The fight for the Hub, between Long-Jaw and Shrub,

Could be settled by some little fib, flap, or flub

But whichever victor that battle might end with

He’ll still have this god-awful war to contend with–

A war Shrub concocted from rumors and grudges

Which Long-Jaw supported (a fact he now fudges).

Indeed, some have said that the war’s just beginning

And likely to wind up with nobody winning.

The danger to Us, at least, hasn’t diminished.

Suffice it to say that this story’s not finished.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Tom Chalkley.