FA-LA, IT’S MAY: A ZUIHITSU Elisha said to Elijah, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” I never said that to Eleanor, though perhaps I should have. Or maybe I did inherit some of it, without asking for it. Or maybe we shared a kind of spirit. We at least shared a type of sidelong way of looking. She often signed her emails to me “General Motors” for a reason that is too silly to explain. My physical therapist has explained to me that three days without pain does not mean that tendonitis is healed. She said to think of the injured tendon as made of tissue paper instead of Carhartt fabic. Tensile strength, or some such. It has to do with how much of a load it can bear. There have never been so many purple violets in the lawn, or white violets, or dandelions. The orchard down the road is “like nothing else by day.” All of the forty red tulips I planted in the vegetable garden survived the wet winter and the chipmunks. Why must it all happen at once, so fast that it’s hard to take in, so beautiful that it’s impossible to appreciate? I understand that May Sarton could be very difficult. She had a terrible temper, for one thing. I didn’t much care for the one novel of hers that I tried to read, but I do like the poetry that I’ve come across, and I believe her journals are superb. I’m finally reading At Seventy. I understand her irritability, her need for solitude, her struggle with interruption. The Great Crested Flycatcher has returned to the garden, as he always does in the middle of May. He is a “charismatic” bird, with his crest and improbable rufous tail and the raucous announcement he makes when he arrives. Now and then I glimpse him on the back garden fence. The first one I saw, years ago, was in a nest in the iron crosspiece holding up an ancient clothesline in my friend Bea’s yard. I’d like a double portion of Bea’s spirit, too, but that would be greedy. Things I have in the pockets of my jeans: a small heart-shaped piece of sandstone from my desert-dwelling cousin Maggie, a Swiss army knife with a blade and scissors and a corkscrew and a screwdriver and a toothpick, a white handkerchief with a blue rose embroidered in the corner, a dozen or so tiny bacon-flavored dog treats, a Christmas lima bean from my friend Kathy, and a moss agate bead from a necklace Eleanor sent to me when she was clearing out her things. Today it's snowing, and the north wind is blowing cold. I don't have to like it, or be grateful for it, or smile at it. All I have to do is notice that it's snowing, and that the north wind is blowing cold. And I can be grateful for warm clothes, and a warm house, and the songs of the brave birds.
CHANGING PHOTOS In memory of Eleanor Jones Nov. 10, 1921-April 15, 2023* The day Eleanor died, I changed out the photos of the grandchildren as I have every year since they were born. I’d been crying a lot. How could I not grieve for the friend who knew me since I was born, who took me seriously when I was a child who wanted to write, who sent me Wind in the Willows when I was six and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology when I was ten. When I was an adolescent with an alcoholic father and a silent mother, Eleanor acknowledged my complicated life and told me to call her any time. When I was an adult we talked and wrote and emailed about families and griefs and how, for a writer, everything is material. I saw again the older photos of the children stuffed into the backs of the frames. I thought of about impermanence—how I would not keep the children small, even if I could. Now there is no baby to hold, but a grandson who plays music with me. Now there is no baby to rock, but a granddaughter who likes to read fairy tales and play with my old dolls. And I thought about Eleanor and the way she watched me grow and I thought about the way she grew. How she told me that being very old was a different country no outsider could understand. How after she couldn’t see and started falling and had to move out of her house, she thought of writing about the quirky people in the place she got moved to— the woman who ate only potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, and the man who liked to sink Cheerios with his spoon. And I changed the photos. Instead of Arthur in a wizard hat there’s Arthur playing a guitar because now he can play a tune on anything, and instead of Ruth Eleanor on a bike with training wheels, there’s one of her engrossed in a book about Marie Tharp, because now she can read. *Not a typo. In 2022, Eleanor had an argument with a pharmacist who insisted she could not have been born in ’21.
A ZUIHITSU FOR THE IDES OF APRIL
A ZUIHITSU For the IDES of APRIL “Friday the 13th comes on a Thursday this month.” ~Churchill LaFemme (Walt Kelly) My youngest sister married a widower on a Friday the 13th in Lent. She had to clean the first wife’s clothes out of the closet when she moved into his house. Her choice of a date was criticized. Eventually she and her husband had 7 cats. She died on a Sunday in June, twelve years later. “I soften with my sunshine and my showers/ The heart of earth,” H.W. Longfellow wrote in his poem “April.” It recently occured to me that he was referencing Chaucer, whose “smale foweles maken melodye,/That slepen al the nyght with open ye,/So priketh hem Nature in hir corages.” However, I disagree with Henry’s choice of Zodiac figures: it’s hard to see April as a bull, no matter how wreathed his horns. I prefer Chaucer’s ram. My maternal grandmother died in April. So did two of our cats and one of our dogs. An old colleague of mine just died and another is dying, as is my 101 year old godmother. What’s up with that? It will be warmer than 80 degrees today. If anyone dares say to me that it’s “lovely” or something similar, I might knock them down. Yesterday, I found an enormous blob of springtails in the ephemeral stream that runs through the gully below our house, thousands of them. Tens of thousands of them, with more drifting in. Strangely, they are not considered insects, but Collembola and there are perhaps 8,200 species of them. There can be as many as 300 million in an acre of land. I looked at a few with a hand lens. They are charming little things with six legs and antennae. They appear purposeful, and seem to engage with one another. Maybe “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” in spring, but it seems old women’s heavily turn to the pains in hips and feet and how gardening gets harder every year. That’s hardly fancy, however. Just simple fact. Five fanciful things: 1. The clay troll I made to guard the pallet bridge over the gully. 2. Mermaids. 3. Dragons. 4. Forty red tulips sending forth leaves in the vegetable garden. 5. Trying to write a zuihitsu on a hot April day.
MARCH FIELD JOURNAL: THRESHOLDS
MARCH FIELD JOURNAL Bridport & East Middlebury THRESHOLDS We’ve already crossed a few. From forest, field and barn, the patch of flax, the cow, the sheep, the church and village store we moved on to a place of more and more, where water drove hard through a gorge of stones to turn the wheels that broke the iron hills with smoke. Everything seemed possible then, with space beneath our roof for even more. Now we sit in the village square. We stare at the handbuilt barn. We stand beside the ruins of the mills and take photos with our phones. We wonder how and why and what they’d make of us. And are we standing in or out? And what now can we do? What holds us in, what keeps us back? What must we keep, and what let go?
ZUIHITSU FOR AN UNKEPT LENT
ZUIHITSU FOR AN UNKEPT LENT When our grandson was not quite two, we brought him to a park, where we pushed him in a swing for a long time. After awhile, he wanted to stop. He just sat there in the swing, staring ahead of him, with a half-smile on his lips and a faraway expression in his eyes. I took a photo of him, like that. I keep that photo by my desk. The Father is Silence. The absent, silent one. The Son is Word, the teaching presence within and with and beside and behind and before. The Spirit is Practice. So they say. I take the dog into the pine woods every day. Sometimes I take her twice. I take her there in all weathers. Lately, heavy wet snow covers the path. It’s too sticky for snowshoes, so I slog through in my high heavy boots. The dog bounds. Lately, I’m watching a broken tree for signs of sheltering animals. I’m watching a hole under the roots of another tree to see if anyone is using that. So far, I have seen the tiny tracks and the tail-drag of a white-footed mouse disappear into that hole. A Bargain for Frances is about a little badger girl whose friend tries to trick her out of a china tea set she wants. When I was a little girl, we had a tin tea seat, turquoise and white. I will buy our granddaughter a tea set for her birthday, a china one, packed neatly into a little white basket. She already has a tea set that used to belong to her mother, but it isn’t in a basket. There is a place on the front step that is always icy after a heavy snow. This happens because the snow piles up behind the bars that keep it from sliding off the metal roof. The weight of the snow causes it to melt underneath, like the water melts under a glacier. That melt drips onto the step, and freezes there. I keep a bucket of sand just inside the front door. My friend Molly recently sent me a poem by Tim Jones, a poet who lives in North Carolina. I liked it so much that I looked him up and found a book of poems written by him, and I bought it. This is from his “Lent” poem: “Blessed are you, for yours/ is the lengthening of the light.” This morning, just at first light, I awoke to hear a cardinal singing in the shrub under the bedroom window.
FEBRUARY FIELD JOURNAL
FEBRUARY FIELD JOURNAL The Watershed Center The name you can say isn’t the real name; the way you can go isn’t the real way. ~The Tao Te Ching, version by Ursula K. Le Guin What can we observe about this creature, in this forest? Stop and look. Make no assumptions. Sometimes she walked straight along an open path, sometimes she zig-zagged under low branches. She stopped here by a deer trail, and here beside a coyote’s trotting way. She stopped in front of this yellow birch, and this hemlock, and this white pine. See how she sank her heels into the ground. For awhile she sat in this clearing, looking toward the south. Notice the nutshell and the breadcrumbs. Notice the prints beside her. She wasn’t alone. We can see clearly that she wasn’t here alone.
VERMEER: The Glass of Wine
VERMEER—The Glass of Wine A man, a woman, his hand on the jug, her nose in the glass, a curious smile on his lips. Seduction. The usual. But the man does not look lascivious, and the woman appears focused on the wine. Perhaps, then, another story. She is a prosperous businesswoman and he an importer of wine from France. She inhales the bouquet. Lemon, she says. Mignonette. He nods. She buys a dozen bottles.
Zuihitsu in February
ZUIHITSU IN FEBRUARY Six good things about being old: It’s easier to say No. It’s easier to say Yes. The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated. . . One can recognize languages other than one’s own. One can no longer die young. Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. One unpleasant thing about being old: arthritic thumbs. Return to Clay Studio: The plan is to make a troll to put by the pallet covering the wet spot between the yard and the woods. The children know the stories. According to our granddaughter, every story should end with the sentence, “And then, the bees got her,” adjusted, of course, for gender and number. The terra-cotta amaryllis was lovely. Four blossoms on two stems, just as advertised. The red one was even better: one stem with five blossoms and one with six, beyond all expectation. And last week, it made one more stem with six blossoms, smaller than the first eleven, but just as red. Things one can do with arthritic thumbs: knit with medium needles, play the piano, make things from clay, change wax filters in hearing aids. Things one can’t do: play the harp, knit with small needles, pick up pins. Be Gentle, says the Oracle of the Day, you’re hatching. Hard work, hatching. That weird little egg tooth on the end of the beak. Coming out into the world all scrawny and hungry and wet, opening your orange mouth. Or if you’re a butterfly, with bent wings to pump up and stretch. So yes, gentleness is called for. The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well. And then, the bees got him. This old woman is learning Finnish. Why not. The nouns and pronouns are not gendered. It’s as foreign as Klingon. No means “Well” and Ja means “and.” Tuo has nothing to do with “you” as it likely would in an Indo-European language. Suomi on niin vaikea kieli, mutta kaunis. I have a plastic reindeer on my desk. No niin.
Thank you for my hands—the broad palms, the long split life-line. Thank you for my strong arms, my short strong legs. Thank you for my dark hair turning white instead of dull. Thank you for the garden and the craft, the silence, the forest, the birds, the fields full of four-leafed clover, the deer on the edges everywhere. Remembering my Dad, who died 16 years ago on February 1, which the Irish counted the First Day of Spring. He was born on October 31, the Eve of the First Day of Winter.
O Again: 8. Virgo
O Again 8. O Virgo (the other one) O Virgo. O Dike, warning us and fleeing to the hills. O Atargatis, Erigone. (Look it up.) O Spica, Alpha Virginis, Virgo’s grain, not eclipsing, mutually interacting. O Virgo: Silver Earth sign. Could you anyhow be the Mother we hail, still full of grace?
O Again: 7. Emmanuel
O Again --£…≥÷¢* 7. O Emmanuel (already) O God-with-us in NICU bassinets and nursing homes and truck cabs and warehouses. God-with-us-now on battlefields and bombshelters in churches and congress (even there). God-already-with-us dashing through the snow on city sidewalks in the bleak mid-winter. O. That’s all. Just O. *(cat typing. Why not here, too?)
O Again: 6. O Not
O Again 6. O Rex* (O dear) No. Just no. No king. It never works. Even so-called good ones. Not even a god because nobody has ever agreed about which, or how. What we need is the desire bit. O Desideratus. O Desire for kindness, O Desire for compassion, O Desire for joy, O Desire for peace. O Desire. Amen. *"King of nations and their desire."
O Again: 5. O Oriensast
O Again 5. O Oriens (my favorite) Oriens. O Oriens.* Our Star in the East today rises as far South as she goes. Tomorrow she’ll cross the line to lengthen our days. O Oriens, O Morning Star— Come and enlighten. Sun of Fiery Dawnings— Sun of Rooting Bulbs— Sun of Joyful openings— O Oriens, come. *(Just say it. It does nice things in the mouth.)
O Again: 3. O Clavis
O Again 4. O Clavis O Key, O keys. I lost my Irish grandfather’s keys on a sidewalk in the snow. O necklace of skeleton keys. But I have his broken clock, and photos of his children glued in a celluloid box. O keys, lost keys. I was afraid of Opa who spoke Russian and German and Polish but whose English was remote. I have his silver and porcelain wine tray painted with plums. O lost Clavis, O Radix lost.
O Again: 3. O Radix
O AGAIN 3. O Radix (misread) O Root. Before coffee, I read: Root of Jesse standing as a sign among the peonies. Huh. People, not peonies. Had peonies once. Tried to do them in because botrytis blight. They kept sprouting. Radix, root, radish, etc. If you plant a grafted apple tree and bury the graft by mistake, the original takes over. Radical thought.
O AGAIN: 2. Adonai Reversed
O AGAIN 2. O Adonai (reversed) Lord of Might. O my, how we crave one. Somebody to fix it all up. Do It Yourself is awful hard work. Giver of Law. So much simpler to follow along. Obey the rules. Do what we’re told. Lord of Might? Jesus. Consider the trees around here: every year they burn and are not consumed.
THE ANTIPHONS RETURN: 1. O Sapienta
O Again 1. O Sapienta (Fifty Years later) Holy Wisdom sets things in order. If there is an order to set. If there are indeed things. Moreover, what does it mean to be wise? Premise: Holy Wisdom might show us the path of knowledge. Why would that be a path and how, precisely, might it be revealed? Furthermore, what can be known? O Sapienta: Holy Wisdom. A good night to conceive a philosopher on an unheated waterbed in a cold bedroom. We didn’t have a clue.
DECEMBER ZUIHITSU It is easier to awaken in the dark of winter. The body opens slowly, warms slowly with Qi Gong practice, with hot coffee. The summer body is restless, quick, easily exhausted. Why must my study be the coldest room in the house? From the windows I watch bare ash trees and brushy hemlock trees moving slightly in the North wind, dark against a silver sky. Sometimes a feeling of desperation. The weather, the news. The way my hips still hurt. Driving into town we pass a herd of young horses racing across a frosty pasture. We agree that it must be a wonderful thing to be a young horse on a cold morning. On weekends, the woman who calls herself The Lady From the Gravel Company sells Christmas trees for her son who is out West hunting deer. She hopes he doesn’t get one, she told me, because already she has two deer and a bear in her freezer. The dog wants to eat her scraps on the living room carpet. The old cat wants the young cat’s food. The young cat wants the old cat’s food. My husband wants cooked chicken thighs. I want Rasta Pasta. At supper, I find the jalapeño pepper that had disappeared into the stew. Water does not put out that kind of fire. Strange bedside fellows: Neil Gaiman and Barbara Pym. I expect she could write about him: a mysterious man with tousled hair, much admired by excellent women. I cannot imagine what he could write about her. The dog must go out in the dark again to see if the fiend who hides under the steps is still hiding under the steps and to see if every deer track down the driveway was made by the same deer. I must go out with her to see the moon and to listen for the owl who sits in the oak tree behind the house.
JUST ASKING Why do you keep feeding us? We don’t give you much: a few bones, some onion skins, now and then something like a token of pinecones and twigs or a lanyard we made at camp. You’re tired, I know. You look tired. And old. All those wrinkles and cracks. And you don’t smell so good, not any more, not even after the rain. What happened to your jewels— those little birds and buggy things? Are you letting yourself go? I wouldn’t blame you since we don’t seem to care much about how you look, or what you do. And where would you go? And when we’re hungry, where will we? Thanksgiving, 2022
October Field Journal: Salisbury Kame Terraces
OCTOBER FIELD JOURNAL Kame Terraces, Salisbury Once rivers limined the stone mountains with gravel and sand. Below, the ice-blocked valley; across, the wild flow of melt. Three kinds of oak. Witch hazel and teaberry undergrow the logged-over never-plowed land. So much time, yet not enough time. I want to be like a river on the edge of the ice— letting go as I can, holding whatever I must hold. I know "limined" wasn't a word. It is now.
OCTOBER 13 The leaves are scattering and so too the people who came to see them, their glorious impermanence. For a little while, until the snow, I don’t have to wait in lines at shops or cafés. I don’t have to remember to stop and gaze myself: those red maples, sugar maples, popples gold against the evergreens. Oaks will come later, but no one comes here to see the somber oaks. For a little while there is no demanding, just the ease of amber and gray, the silence of these late days, the beauty of this coming dark.
SEPTEMBER FIELD JOURNAL: KINGSLAND BAY
SEPTEMBER FIELD JOURNAL
What is your name and what
do you know and what
together can we do?
Folded, weighted, shifting,
broken and remade,
the layers hidden underneath.
And where on this map
of shifting stone
do we belong?
Come walk and name
this place, this very place,
this weather and these trees:
the edge edged with white cedar
—and the rain.
And when the blowdown comes
may we trust
our own entangled roots?
This one from the milkweed growing against
all odds on the edge of my driveway or
one of those rescued from a predator
in Polly’s patch. Remember the story
that one might change the weather of the world?
Maybe not the movement of its wings.
Maybe just the vision: that brave orange
and black animal, fragile against a leaf,
blown across the sky, what it’s like to change
that way, and who knows who, seeing it, will change?
Alexandria: a hopeless play
Alexandria: a hopeless play
Cast of Characters NARRATOR: Gender doesn’t matter. Modern clothing. THE LIBRARIANS: All in vaguely Greek-style garb, may be bearded. Untidy, barefooted, somewhat ravaged looking. ZENODOTUS A bit pedantic. CALLIMACHUS Very close to insane. APOLLONIUS Arch. ERASTOSTHENES More expansive than the others, even cheerful ARISTOPHANES Brisk. ARISTARCHUS Somewhat vague. Even untidier than the others. HYPATIA: Supernaturally calm, reserved. Her garment is blood-stained. Scene No curtain. No flats or backdrops, just the rawness backstage. The floor is covered with torn, broken books and/or scrolls--so many that the characters must kick them aside as they enter, one by one. Notes Each Librarian enters from stage Left as his name is called by the Narrator, steps to the very edge of the stage, and addresses the audience. When he has finished, he wanders back among the mess of papers and fiddles around among them, ineffectually. NARRATOR (Enters slowly, shuffling through the books, stopping occasionally to pick up a fragment and read it, sometimes aloud, ad lib. To center stage: looks at the audience in silence for an uncomfortably long time.) Things happen. Despite what historians unearth, it’s not possible to know exactly what happened.Despite what the prophets and pundits say, it is not possible to know what will happen, or what would have happened. May I present to you, for example, the librarians of Alexandria? We will never know what was lost when that great library was destroyed. Would it have saved us? It is foolish to hypothesize. And yet—-perhaps—-can we regard its loss as a warning? What are we losing now? In any case, I shall introduce you to the librarians. They have their opinions. First: Zenodotus of Ephesus, grammarian. ZENODOTUS You, librarians! Hear me! Are you listening? I was the first to alphabetize, label, and weed—-no doubt occupations with which you all are familiar. Like myself, you must constantly decide: What is important now? What must be saved and catalogued? What will you discard? You never know what they might want someday. You never know what some scholar will require,if not now, a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now. But, my fellow librarians, you never know what they will burn. No matter what you do, no matter how careful you are, you do not know if it will last. Oh, my work, my work. . . and all of it lost! May your great work never be lost! NARRATOR And here is Callimachus, father of bibliography. CALLIMACHUS Half a million books! One hundred and twenty volumes of catalogue alone. Catalogue! Catalogue! Lost. All, all lost. (He is overcome by emotion, throws himself on the floor, and continues to weep—mostly quietly—through to the end.) NARRATOR (Regarding Callimachus with resignation.) Ah, well. It can’t be helped, I suppose. There’s a kind of obsession here. Next, Apollonius who wrote Argonautica in the old and epic style and was mocked from the city in shame. It is highly unlikely that this sort of thing would happen today. APOLLONIUS (To the Narrator.) Do not be so sure, my friend. (To the audience.) Like you, we were not strangers to scandal and gossip, to exaggeration, the power of untruth. Perhaps among you now, a poet would not be physically driven from a city for rhyming poetry. And yet, and yet. . among you, even now, I hear that “this sort of thing” still happens all the time. Mocking and shame are still rampant. Reputations rise and fall with the gossip of the day, with the opinions of the learned critics and, I hear, the opinions of the ignorant masses. Human nature, always, always, is the stuff of epic. The library might be gone, but some things are, shall we say, indestructible. NARRATOR (Pause. Opens mouth to speak, but decides not to.) Now Eratosthenes, whom Strabo called “a mathematician among geographers and a geographer among mathematicians.” Who measured Earth and its tilt from where he stood, who invented leapday, who mapped the whole known world, invented the armillary sphere, who wrote poetry and chronologies, who criticized Aristotle. . . ERATOSTHENES (Enters during the narration and interrupts with a gesture.) Aristotle and the foolishness of racial purity! There’s good and bad in everyone, and the world—-Ah! The great globe! It gets smaller all the time. How I wish I’d lived into your century! And time itself gets smaller, no matter the number of days. Maybe you find my accomplishments impressive, but They called me “Beta”, nonetheless, since I was always second best. So much to discover, so much to learn, so much—-So many doors were opening then, in Alexandria. So many doors still opening. Ah! NARRATOR Well then. Now here’s Aristophanes, who invented punctuation. ARISTOPHANES And still the comma bears the name I gave. I like that. “Comma. Comma. Comma.” Cut-off piece. To show you where to breathe. Don’t forget to breathe, my friends. NARRATOR I’ll make a note. Now I present Aristarchus, original critic, editor of Homeric poetry, (Sotto voce.) fusspot. . . ARISTARCHUS Ah yes, that would be I. So much of Homer as handed down, well, let me say that it was doubtful. Not up to the standard. It took a careful eye and a discerning ear to sort things out and arrange them properly. Everything correct, everything in its place, you see. And so I am the original aristarch. And thus, my name lives on. NARRATOR (Gestures toward the Librarians who are picking through the papers.) So. Behold the Librarians. LIBRARIANS (Look up and organize into a circle, somewhat clumsily and randomly, and join hands—all except Callimachus who is still on the floor—and begin to circle around the Narrator. Individual librarians break out of the chanting rhythm to say their lines.) In ten great halls with marble walls amid gardens and fountains we walked. The Muses were our mistresses. We ached to open, burned to know. Our eager hands unrolled the scrolls. ZENODOTUS The Book of Manetho written by Seshat in the Hall of Heliopolis on the sacred tree. ERATOSTHENES The History of Babylon in Berossos’s own hand. ARISTARCHU: Acts of the Greeks and Barbarians under the Tyrian Kings. APOLLONIUS Inscriptions from the Phoenician pillars of the sun. HYPATIA (Enters, menacing.) Nothing, of course, by Hypatia. Let’s not forget her. (The Librarians stop and break the circle. The Narrator and the Librarians—except Callimachus— cluster together and watch her, wary and awkward.) NARRATOR (Uneasy.) You weren’t exactly a Librarian. . . . HYPATIA Oh, that’s what you think. What does that mean, “librarian”? I kept things, sorted things, discovered things, lost things. I lost my life, but that did not matter. In the long history of all things, that did not matter. Loss does not matter. LIBRARIANS (Murmuring ad lib to one another.) Lost things, kept things, sorted, what matters? barbarians. . ) HYPATIA (Her quiet voice over them, silencing them. Addressing audience from the very edge of the stage.) For a little while, here, the world was full of light. Then it was dark. Not the soft dark of night, nor the comforting dark of the tomb, but a darkness of mind—-a flat, cold dark. A darkness of absolute, a darkness of certainty. Nothing reflecting, nothing penetrating, nothing to breathe but dust. Instead of questioning, silencing. Instead of learning, burning. Instead of conversing, murdering. Instead of wonder, fear. And on it goes, and on it goes. Light to dark and back again. But always, always, there is somewhere a glimmer. Always a root that will sprout up green. I think your world is dark now. And you are losing things. Always, always losing things. But is there still light? I think so. Looking down into your times, I see lamplight here and there. Even a little light keeps the darkness from being complete. A question, an exploration, a new word, a new work of art, a laugh, an act of kindness. So yes, here in Alexandria, we lost more than you know. But that is not your concern. What was lost is not your concern at all. Look to what is. Keep what you can and keep going. Keep your lamps alight. (She turns and exits.) (As the Narrator begins the next speech, the Librarians join hands— all except Callimachus who is still on the floor crying— and begin a stately circle dance around the Narrator.) NARRATOR (A pause, watches Hypatia exit.) Well, maybe. Maybe what we lost doesn’t matter after all. Maybe it’s all about what we do now. But we don’t know. We’ll never know. That’s the problem. That’s the point. We’ll never know what was lost. . .The past. . . the way things were. . .We don’t know what’s going to matter. We don’t know what matters now. . . (Repeats, ad lib, while the Librarians dance and chant, words rising above and around the chanting.) LIBRARIANS (Chanting. Breaking into ad.lib.) The barbarians are still at your gates. Still, your libraries burn. Still, the wisdoms are lost. Beware, beware, beware, beware. . . (After awhile,the Librarians break the circle and advance on the audience, stopping at the edge of the stage. Sudden silence.) HYPATiA (Off.) Keep your lamps alight. (Librarians turn, exuent, still chanting. Callimachus remains, sobbing on the floor. The Narrator stands still for a moment, then runs off. The curtain falls.)
BREAKING THE NEWS
BREAKING THE NEWS by Mary F. C. Pratt This play was part of a 24 hour play festival from "The Garden of Voices," a producer of podcasts like "old fashioned radio dramas." We started at 7 p.m. The playwrights had till 9 a.m. to send the scripts to the producer, and the directors and actors had till 7 that evening to rehearse. The plays were then presented live on Zoom, and will be available later as a podcast. The participants decided on a charity--Planned Parenthood--and came up with some themes that fit in with the charity's mission. I chose these: Generational differences in mentality of what families should be. Young couple deciding if it's the right time to start a family CHARACTERS SUSAN A retired teacher, in her 70s. JENNIFER Susan’s stepdaughter, a businesswoman in her fifties. JASON Jennifer’s son, working the gig economy. In his twenties. SETTING A coffee shop. The present. At “Rise”: Coffee shop sounds. SUSAN is seated. JASON Hi Gram. Thanks so much for coming. SUSAN Not a problem. What are grandmothers for? JASON Cookies? Birthday presents? Moral support? SUSAN All of the above. Where’s your mother, speaking of moral support? JASON She texted awhile ago to say she’s running late. Some meeting she can’t get out of. SUSAN Well, okay then. This will give us a chance to get caught up. I’ve hardly seen you since you’ve been driving that delivery truck. JASON I know, right? Weird hours. But it’s the best job I’ve had for awhile. Anyhow. It’s good to see you, Gram. SUSAN Likewise. I’ve missed you. So what’s up? All you said was you didn’t want to talk to your mother alone. It sounds serious, kid. What’s going on? JASON Well, it is kind of serious. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe we should wait till Mom gets here. SUSAN Why? So you won’t have to repeat yourself, or because you don’t want her knowing that you talk to me sometimes when she’s not around? JASON Ha. All of the above. Can you read my mind? SUSAN Of course not. It’s just that it’s a lot like mine. JASON Yeah, it is, isn’t it? And that’s weird because I’m not even related to you. SUSAN Be that as it may. Your grandfather is related to you, and I’ve been married to him long enough to know how his mind works. JASON Um. Not like mine for sure. SUSAN Exactly. Now what’s going on? JASON Well, you know Darcy? SUSAN Of course I know Darcy. You’ve been together two years. JASON Three. SUSAN Wow, already. But yes, I know Darcy. JASON Well—we’ve been thinking about having a baby. SUSAN You and Darcy? JASON Yeah, Gram. Me and Darcy. SUSAN Of course. You just caught me by surprise there. Your mother will have a shit fit. But I guess you know that or you wouldn’t have asked me to be here. JASON Yeah, she will. And it’s weird because you won’t. Have a fit. I mean, you aren’t, right? And I knew you wouldn’t. And she’s younger than you, no offense. I mean, obviously because you’re her stepmother and all, but. . . SUSAN Well, technically I could be her stepmother and younger than she, you know. If your grandfather had married somebody very young after your real grandmother died. JASON Hey, you are my real grandmother. Cut it out. SUSAN I know, I know. And you are definitely my real grandson. So, real grandson, your mother will have a fit. That’s a given. How about your father? JASON Wbo knows? I don’t care. I haven’t seen him forever. He’s never even met Darcy. All the family that matters is you and Grandpa and Mom. Would it bother Grandpa? SUSAN Of course not. He’s all about live and let live. You know that. JASON Yeah. He didn’t bat an eye about Darcy. SUSAN We’re old hippies you know, sweetie. We invented sex and drugs and rock and roll and shacking up. “Living together without benefit of clergy” they used to call it. How quaint is that? JASON So what happened to Mom? How come she’s so—straight? SUSAN She got religion. And—she rebelled, right? Goes both ways. Our parenting style was pretty casual, to say the least. JASON Yeah, but you married Grandpa. I mean, you weren’t like in a commune or something. SUSAN Okay. All right then. So, Jason, you and Darcy want to have a baby? JASON Ooops. Here comes Mom. (Door opens, JENNIFER enters.) SUSAN Jennifer, over here! JENNIFER (From the counter.) I’m going to grab a coffee and I’ll be right there. Though God only knows I don’t need more. SUSAN Take your time. (To JASON) Okay. You’re on. And no matter what, I’ve got your back. JASON I’m really nervous about this. SUSAN Of course you are. It will be fine. Really. JENNIFER (Comes to the table.) So what are you two plotting? Jason, you look so guilty. And so do you, Sue. What are you plotting? SUSAN The revolution, what else? JENNIFER It wouldn’t surprise me. God only knows we need one. We need something. The traffic on Main Street, even before rush hour, is as bad as rush hour. And the price of gas! And now they want to raise our property taxes again, and for what? And clearly the government’s gone to hell. SUSAN Jennifer dear, we know all about the world. It is a mess. We agree. So let’s not talk about that. We all agree it’s a mess. We’re here because Jason has something to say that’s even more important than property taxes. Jason? JASON Yeah. Well. Um. Mom. Darcy and me are thinking about having a baby. We’ve pretty much decided to. I mean, it isn’t completely definite yet, but we’re pretty serious. JENNIFER What? A baby? SUSAN No need to inform the whole café, Jennifer. It is exciting, but still. This is a family matter. JENNIFER Exciting? Exciting? It’s appalling. Jason! I thought you’d outgrown this business. I mean, living with Darcy without being married, but now this. . . JASON Mom, you’re the one who didn’t want us to get married, remember? You thought it would blow over. Well it didn’t. We really love each other. And now we want to have a baby. JENNIFER But why? Whatever for? With the world going to pieces, and you don’t have a real job— SUSAN When your father and mother had you, Jennifer, the world was going to pieces, too. The war in Viet Nam was going on and on, we all figured the Soviets would nuke us, we were just beginning to understand about how bad air and water pollution were. And, well, my dear, we had no real jobs. Your dad was doing seasonal apple picking when your mom got pregnant. JENNIFER But he went to college. He became a professor. He wasn’t just a—a barrista, or a van driveror whatever. SUSAN When your mother got pregnant, your father was a dope-smoking wanna-be artist, Jennifer, and your mother thought she was the next Edna St. Vincent Millay. I was a budding herbalist, pardon the pun. Your father didn’t go to college until after you were born, after we were married. I was there. I know. JENNIFER But he always told me. . . SUSAN I know what he always told you, and I never corrected him. You were conceived on a commune, presumably by your father. You survived your birth, but your mother, who was my dearest friend, didn’t. And your father never wanted you to know because it was so awful and so hard and because, yes, he managed to make something of his life after all. JASON Wow, Gram. JENNIFER Sue, I didn’t. . . . SUSAN I know. And it’s all right. Those were the best of times and the worst of times. It was crazy, but we thought we’d change the world. We really thought we would. And we really loved one another out there on the farm, and it all sort of worked for awhile. You were the second baby born there, and we were all so happy till your mom started bleeding and we didn’t get her to the hospital in time, and she died and it all just fell apart after that. It all just fell apart. JENNIFER But I thought she. . . SUSAN I know, Jennifer. I know. Your dad and I will sit down with you later and tell you the whole story. JENNIFER Sue. . . SUSAN But this conversation is about Jason and Darcy. And by the way, Jason is not what you call “just a”van driver or “just a” anything. He’s a responsible person, trying to make a living in a hard world. And Darcy is a law clerk, for goodness’ sake. So even though the world is going to hell, they’re as equipped as anybody to be parents. Better equipped than we were, believe me. JENNIFER I don’t know what to say. SUSAN Try saying nothing. JASON Uh, Mom? You okay? JENNIFER I don’t know. I’m not sure. I don’t know what to think. I didn’t know any of that. I thought Dad and Mom lived in a house with a bunch of people when they were in college. I didn’t know it was a—commune. I’m going to—I’m going to the restroom. I have to go put some water on my face. I’ll be right back. JASON You sure you’re okay, Mom? JENNIFER I will be. I will be okay. This is just a lot. I’ll be okay. (Exits.) JASON Grandma! SUSAN Yeah? JASON Is that for real? I mean, all that weird stuff about grandpa and drugs and communes? SUSAN Of course it’s real. You’ve seen the photos of us on the farm. JASON Yeah, but I didn’t know it was—I mean, I didn’t know it was something like that. Mom said it was when you were in college, like she said. SUSAN Sweetie, I told you we invented sex, drugs and rock and roll. Flower power. All you need is love, right? And your grandpa and I don’t talk about it much because—well, we just don’t. It’s our past and it’s hard to get younger people to understand what it was like. Like we didn’t understand our parents growing up in the depression and World War Two. And your kids won’t understand you growing up in the trump and covid and climate change years. JASON Thanks, Gram. SUSAN For what? It isn’t over yet. Your mom will have more to say. JASON I know But thanks just for saying that about my kids not understanding. My kids. Mine and Darcy’s. Or kid. I think we might only try for one. SUSAN Here she comes. JENNIFER (Entering.) There. I feel a little better. I can handle this. Okay. So Jason, maybe you can handle parenthood. It will be harder for you than it was for your father and me, but maybe not as hard as it was for your grandparents. I get that. I think. But Jason—- JASON Yeah? JENNIFER You’re going to adopt, right? I mean, Darcy’s a—man. JASON Yeah, but no, Mom. We’re planning to—I mean we’re thinking about—trying for a biological one. JENNIFER But Darcy’s. . . JASON He has a uterus, Mom. JENNIFER But Jason. That’s—-what will people think? What will— SUSAN What will the neighbors say? Is that what you mean, Jennifer? Is that what you’re worried about? JENNIFER Well, it’s just—unnatural. It’s too strange, Jason. It’s just too strange and unnatural and you just shouldn’t do it. If God wanted men to have babies— SUSAN . . . he would have given them uteruses? Or is it uteri? In this case, Jennifer, that’s exactly what God, or whatever, has done. (Brief silence, and an increase in coffee shop sounds.) JENNIFER Oh. Oh. I didn’t think of that. There’s so much I don’t understand. The world is so complicated. I just don’t understand anything any more. SUSAN Has anybody ever understood anything? Really understood anything? JENNIFER Well, I always thought I would someday. When I got to be your age, maybe. Sue, don’t you understand at least some things? SUSAN Nope. Hardly anything. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Life goes on. And now you get to look forward to being a grandmnother yourself. That is, if Jason and Darcy decide to go through with it. Are you going to, sweetie? JASON Well, yeah. We’ve pretty much decided to. We were just hoping Mom wouldn’t mind too much. And, well, we’d kinda like to get married first. Do you mind that now, Mom? JENNIFER It will take—well. It will take some getting used to. Seeing Darcy pregnant? Okay. I think I can do that. I always liked Darcy. And sure. Clearly you two love each other, so get married. I think JENNIFER (Cont.) it’s time. My son-in-law, the mother of my grandchild. It sounds strange, but—yes. I can say it. Can’t I, Sue? My son-in-law, the mother of my grandchild! I like it! JASON Thanks, Mom. Love you. JENNIFER I love you, too. And oh! Look at the time! I’ve got to run. I’ve got to get dinner on the table before choir practice. ‘Bye! SUSAN ‘Bye, Jennifer. I am proud of you. JENNIFER Thanks, Sue. ‘Bye. JASON Weird. I all worked way better than I thought it would. What happened? SUSAN Stories work. Perspective works. And love, Jason. Love works. We’re among the lucky ones, you know? Love’s not all you need, but—it’s most of it. JASON Thanks, Gram. SUSAN Any time. End of Play
TWO WAYS OF LOOKING AT DISASTER
TWO WAYS OF LOOKING AT DISASTER 1. It’s a recipe they’ve been cooking up for ever so long. Leaf through a shiny magazine, pore over today’s headlines and tell me I’m wrong. They whipped up like a glop of imitation cream the illusion that rich means good, then spoonfeed up the iffy dream that anyone can have it all. Lesser creatures never matter birds and forests, air and water. They keep stirring fast and faster— cooking up yet more disaster. 2. Caterpillars ate every leaf on every oak and moved on to the popples and pines. They poured over one another, creatures of bristle and hunger, objects of an inner recipe that transforms leaves into frass and shed skins and cocoons of iffy goo and moths and more caterpillars. Today the oaks are showing what can be done. Every twig, sports a tiny leaf or bud. Every twig. Every single one.
Here is a link to the podcast of “Walpurgisnacht,” a play produced by a lovely company that’s all about old fashioned radio drama.
BEARS 1. Now come the bears. They’re everywhere. They’re fed up with our cars, our hayfields, our guns and dogs. They’ve studied our weaknesses. They remember when we worshiped them, when they ruled our deepest dreams. They are hungry again. They have demands. 2. "Should you be worried?" the media query, their hysteria palpable through the screen. Monkey pox, Autumn surge, flood and fire, Putin’s bombs. And I answer, No. Since they are back, I have a single holy fear— Will I be eaten by a bear?
Start Talking: Conclusion
And here's the conclusion: PLAYWRIGHT I don’t know, Pat. I really don’t remember. Why don’t you tell me? What are you doing in my head? PAT Jesus. Search me. You’re in charge, right? Supposed to be anyhow. ALEX (To Playwright.) Maybe you need her. I mean, maybe you need somebody like Pat in your head. Like Demeter and Hecate, right? When Demeter was all like “I don’t know what to do” Hecate helped her, right? So maybe that’s what you need and your brain’s just telling you that. JOAN Alex, love, you have been paying attention to all those myths I’ve read to you. ALEX Well, yeah. How could I not? They’re pretty great. PLAYWRIGHT So you think I made Pat up because I need her? ALEX Yeah. Maybe. Whatever. PAT I sorta like that. PATRICIA So, Playwright, my question is, Why do you think you need Hecate in your head? What is the witch at the crossroads saying to you? PLAYWRIGHT Oh crap. All I need is for my characters to start psychoanalyzing me. Come on, you people. I MADE YOU ALL UP. Sure there’s bits of me in all of you, but I made you up. You’re not real. You aren’t. I made you up. GRANDMOTHER Then what are we doing here? LAURA Yeah, Playwright. Why did you invite us here and tell us to talk if you don’t want to hear what we have to say? PLAYWRIGHT Once again, Laura, for the record, Laura, I did not invite you. Your being here, however, shows me really clearly why you and your mother did not work out in the novel, or in the play. I had an agenda for you. I was being preachy. Subtly, or so I thought, but it really wasn’t, and at some level, I knew it. It turns out, now that I hear you out of your context, that you’re both stock characters and vehicles for my preachiness. So thank you, and good-bye. You, too, Annie. Good-bye. LAURA But. . . PLAWRIGHT Go. I said go. Do not darken my computer screen again. LAURA This is worse than being shot by that clown. ANNIE (Stands.) Come on, Laura. She’s done with us. LAURA (Breaks down in a childish temper tantrum.) No! I don’t want to! (Annie takes Laura firmly by the hand and bodily drags her offstage.) PAT (Calling after them.) Well done, Annie! PATRICIA (To Pat.) Wait a minute. Why are you still here? The Playwright said she’s done with your play or novel or whatever. PAT Yeah but. She didn’t say she was done with me. PLAYWRIGHT No. I didn’t, come to think of it. Because I’m not. You’re the only one in that play who isn’t a stock character. I think. Let’s see. (Looks around the table.) Okay. What have I got? Two grandmothers who do their own thing— PAT Three. I do my own thing too, right? PLAYWRIGHT (Revelation.) Oh. Yes. Of course. Sorry, Pat. You do. Your divorce and the kid you disowned and the greenhouse and speaking your mind. . . PAT Yeah, yeah. I am a tough old bitch. Huh. Maybe I am a what you say is a stock character? PLAYWRIGHT No, no. I don’t think so. I’ll think about that later. So now I’ve got three grandmothers, two colluding grandchildren and one difficult daughter. GRANDMOTHER Two. Mine’s just not on stage. PLAYWRIGHT (Typing while she talks.) Yeah, yeah. Good. So now the question is: Do I want to keep going with Red Riding Hood and/or the whole tree business, or do I want to do something else with you? JOAN I like the tree business, but that’s not surprising, is is? ALEX Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why not write about a bunch of old women sitting around talking about things? Like their grandchildren, or their daughters, or whatever. PLAYWRIGHT Hm. I guess that’s a possibility. PAT What the hell do you call this? Here we are. PLAYWRIGHT Oh. Oh, you’re right, Pat. Here we are. PAT You could stretch it out some, I guess, if Joan and Grandmother. . . hey, do you have a name? I mean, “Grandmother” isn’t exactly a name, you know, and I really don’t want to call another old lady “Grandmother.” GRANDMOTHER I don’t have one, do I? Why not? PLAYWRIGHT Well, you see, in the play, you’re basically just Grandmother. It’s what Red calls you. You don’t actually need a name because. . . GRANDMOTHER Defined by my role. Despite your idea that I would be a so-called “good example” for a grandchild? That makes me a stock character, doesn’t it? Well, I’m out of here. If you can’t even be bothered to name me, forget it. I’m not going to be in any of your plays. (Stands to go.) (Playwright is speechless.) JOAN (Stands.) I’m with you. That’s appalling. (To Grandmother.) You and I do have to talk. What do you want me to call you, since you aren’t Grandmother? GRANDMOTHER How about Amelia? I like the sound of that. JOAN Amelia. Excellent. RED Wait! Grandmother! Can I still call you Grandmother? GRANDMOTHER Huh. I don’t know. It depends on where you end up. Joan, where shall we go? PAT (Stands.) Mind if I come, too? JOAN and GRANDMOTHER (Assenting sounds.) PAT ‘Cause I know a nice greenhouse. At a crossroads. Coffee’s on. JOAN That sounds perfect. (The three women link arms and exit.) PLAYWRIGHT (Stands.) Hey! Hey! RED (Stands, looking after the grandmothers.) Grandmother? ALEX (Stands and puts an arm around Red.) Let ‘em go, kid. They were pretty good grannies, but we’ve got stuff to do. How about we head back to your gram’s studio and make our own coffee and do some art? RED Sounds good to me. (They exit.) PLAYWRIGHT Well, damn it all. Now what? PATRICIA (Stands.) I suppose I should go, too. That is, unless you need me. PLAYWRIGHT Yeah, you might as well go. Go ahead. Go ahead. (Patricia starts for the exit.) Oh, but wait! PATRICIA (Turning.) Yes? PLAYWRIGHT Maybe you should stay. I might need help getting things re-organized. There is some stuff in here I might be able to use, I think. (Sits at the computer again.) PATRICIA Oh. Well. I guess I could. All right. Let me see. . . (Stands behind playwright and looks over her shoulder at the screen.) PLAYWRIGHT (Looks up at Patricia.) Well? Any thoughts? (Curtain.)
the world, the flesh
An unexpected poem.
the world, the flesh They did it to me when I was too young to resist: in my name they renounced my skin, my heart, my lungs, my sex, my brain, my little fingers. They renounced my senses, my fears, my hungers, my animal urgency. They renounced the world. The deserts and trees, mountains and seas, everyone who crawls and swims and flies: denizens of the dirt, tigers and dogs and whales. They don’t have souls the story goes, and all that matters is what isn’t. When the trout lily leaves emerged, when the bears came out of their winter dens, when the buds swelled on the maples, every spring we remembered our renunciation. How strange when the empty tomb recalls the garden and the flesh. I repent. I reclaim all I was taught, along with the devil, to renounce. Beginning with this patch of ground where rotting trunks flower out their fruits, where robins overturn the unraked leaves and acorns sprout along the edges of the unmown grass.
Start Talking, continued. . .
PLAYWRIGHT (Typing furiously.) Good, good, good. Hang on. I need to get this down. “A job, not a passion . . .” PATRICIA Give me a break. ALEX Wait a minute, Mom, I didn’t know that. I just think Gram is cool and you aren’t. What did you want to be when you were my age? PATRICIA Oh, a singer, if you must know. Singer-songwriter. I had a nice voice and I wrote some pieces that were very well received at open mics, and a local company wanted to make a tape. JOAN I didn’t know that. PATRICIA I never told you. You were always working on a book and you always had that Do Not Disturb Under Pain of Death sign on your study door. ALEX Gram? Really? JOAN Yes, Alex. It’s true. Trisha, I’m sorry. I am so sorry. It’s just that after your father left I was determined to make something of myself. I had to get the academic world to take me seriously, —to show him that folklore was every bit as important as organic chemistry. PLAYWRIGHT Wait, wait, wait. . . . I can’t keep up. What did you say after the “Do not disturb” sign business? PATRICIA Wow. I never thought about that. You were in competition with Dad? JOAN Did I ever tell you why he left? PLAYWRIGHT No, no. Stop. Stop right there. That’s all I need to know about you right now. PATRICIA But. . . PLAYWRIGHT No. I mean it. So. Joan came out of my undones, and I guess Patricia is, in a way, a kind of offspring of that. I am super organized and controlling, too, but for other reasons. ALEX What reasons? PLAYWRIGHT None of your business. But okay. You, Alex. I wanted a relationship with a grandmother, so I invented one. One of my grandmothers died before I was born, and the other died when I was seven and she lived in Cleveland and I only saw her three times. So I always wanted a grandmother. RED Wow. Did you invent Grandmother for the same reason? PLAYWRIGHT Probably sort of, but I think she’s a little more complicated than that. When I became a grandmother, I got to thinking that maybe the best thing a grandmother can do for the kids is be an example of someone who can do what she wants, in her own way. So, Red, your grandmother came about for that reason. She loves you dearly, and. . . RED Yeah, when I come over, she’s always busy at her easel and I have to wait till she’s at a good place to stop before she talks to me. GRANDMOTHER (To Red.) And you had an easel in my studio, remember? At least, in one of the drafts. Or maybe that was in the story version. Whatever happened to that, Playwright? PLAYWRIGHT Oh, you’re right. I’d forgotten. I think it was in the story. Better put it back in. Hang on a minute.(She types.) JOAN Grandmother, I’m curious. Would you rather be eaten by a wolf or the sun? Fenris, of course, eats the sun, so if you are in the sun, he’d eat both. GRANDMOTHER The sun itself works better for me. You see, in the first couple of pages of our play, I told Red that I was trying to find out the exact color of the sun, and one day—at least in one version— I vanished. So Red came over as usual with that horrible bag of granola bars and yogurt from my daughter, and I wasn’t there. I think nobody, even the Playwright, knew what had happened to me. But since you ask, I’d prefer the sun. It’s simpler, and stays with the grandmother-as-artist idea better, don’t you think? The search for color? JOAN Maybe. But I am intrigued by the idea of introducing the Nordic myth, and, of course, the wolf who is in the original Red Riding Hood tale, but it does complicate things. PLAYWRIGHT Okay, okay. Enough already. Who’s next? PATRICIA I think that’s all of us. PAT Ahem. PATRICIA Oh, right. Playwright, what about Pat? And why, pray tell, do we have the same name? We’re hardly the same character. PLAYWRIGHT (Looking up, long thinking.) Same name. Hm. Okay. As I recall, ages ago I did “The Artist’s Way” and I had to come up with five imaginary selves. And I called one of them Patricia. She was an office manager, or something like that. Very efficient. Basically you. Huh. I’d forgotten that. The subconscious is rather fascinating isn’t it? And Pat. Well, who knows? I do know a really sensible woman named Pat, but I didn’t meet her till after I started this whole story. It just suited her. PAT But hey. I mean, you said back there I was Hecate or whoever. I don’t know who she is. JOAN She’s a goddess. Witches summoned her. She was the goddess of crossroads, and magic. In the Demeter myth, she . . PAT Hold your horses there. Crossroads? That’s the name of the greenhouse I own. In the novel and play both. So that’s why. But still. How come a greenhouse for, whatever, a witch’s goddess? PLAYWRIGHT I don’t know, Pat. I really don’t remember. Why don’t you tell me? What are you doing in my head? PAT Jesus. Search me. You’re in charge, right? Supposed to be anyhow.
START TALKING part 3
This is being revised now because some of my playwright colleagues think it’s worth working on. But I’ll keep posting the original draft.
PLAYWRIGHT Great. Make-believe people asking me questions. Okay. Go ahead JOAN Where did I come from? PATRICIA Yeah, that’s a really good question. I suggest you go around the table and tell each one of us where we came from. PLAYWRIGHT In what way will that help me with these—TWO—plays I’m trying to write? GRANDMOTHER Who knows? That’s the fun of art, isn’t it? LAURA And why didn’t you invite me? PATRICIA All right, all right. Playwright, where did we come from? And there’s three plays, whether you like it or not. PLAYWRIGHT Okay, okay. You win. But I’m not going to go around the table. I’m going to start with Laura because she’s the oldest. LAURA You’re kidding, right? I’m only twenty-four. PLAYWRIGHT No. I’m not kidding. You’re the oldest in literary time. So. I don’t have a daughter, right? I have a son, who never gave us any kind of serious trouble. So one day I got to thinking, if we’d had a daughter, what would she be like. The opposite, is what I thought. LAURA So I’m your anti-son? PLAYWRIGHT Yup. LAURA Really. PLAYWRIGHT Yup. Conceived on a journal page early one morning about twenty years ago. LAURA So I dropped out of school, did drugs, ran away, got pregnant by a street person, had an abortion. . PLAYWRIGHT . . . you had the baby, remember, but he died. . . LAURA Oh yeah. I forgot. Anyhow then you made me run away and join a circus and get shot by a clown. PLAYWRIGHT Except in the play you weren’t going to get shot. LAURA I thought I would. PLAYWRIGHT I never got that far in the play. You only just ran away before I gave it up. LAURA I hope I get shot. It’s more dramatic. PLAYWRIGHT Well, if that’s what you want to believe, believe it. Because I’m not going to write it. You’re history. PATRICIA Could we please stick to the subject? What about Annie? ANNIE If Laura’s your anti-son, am I your anti-self? PLAYWRIGHT Crap. I don’t know. I made you up. I just don’t know. ANNIE I let Laura get away with everything. I thought everything she did was wonderful. I never disciplined her at all. After her father died. . . PLAYWRIGHT Well, yeah. The point, I mean, the point I was trying to make, was something about the unlived lives of parents. If you’d been a Latin scholar after all, if you’d had a life outside motherhood, things with Laura might have been different, don’t you see? PAT There it is. What-ifs. You can’t do what-ifs all the time. It’s what I kept trying to tell you. It’s why the damn novel didn’t work. PLAYWRIGHT Thanks, Pat. At least I got you right. PATRICIA What do you mean by that? You got me right, I think. PLAYWRIGHT Yeah, yeah, I guess so. You are a controlling bitch. PATRICIA Thank you. I do my best. JOAN Wait a minute, here. Are you saying that the rest of us aren’t what you call “right”? I beg your pardon. We are absolutely doing what you created us to do, in the very limited space you’ve given us. Alex and I have had only four pages so far. PLAYWRIGHT I know, I know. Which is why I called this meeting. I need to know you better. I guess what I mean by Pat and Patricia being right is that their voices are really clear to me, and have been from the beginning. It’s the rest of you I’m not sure about. You, for instance, Joan. Are you ironic, or straight-forward? Stern? I was thinking you were rather stern, but now I’m not sure. PATRICIA Speaking of my being a controlling bitch, how about your going back to telling us where we came from. You could keep going with Joan. PLAYWRIGHT I could, couldn’t I? Okay. Let’s see. I think Joan may be the scholar I wasn’t. The anthropologist, folklorist, classicist. ANNIE Oh. Maybe that explains me, too! PLAYWRIGHT Please be quiet, Annie. Yeah, I’ve always been interested in those things but never really did anything but dabble. And I’ve been interested lately in the connections between people, especially women, and trees, and looking for those myths. What intrigues me so far, is that in most of the cases, the woman became a tree to escape something. You all know about Daphne, of course, but then there was a woman in a San tale. . . PATRICIA All right, all right. We don’t need to know all this, do we? Just that Joan is a could-have-been of yours. Next? JOAN No, wait a minute. This is good for me to know. Now I’m wondering if you, Patricia, have a “could-have-been” in your past that makes you so bitchy. Did I hold you back from something? Did I fail to encourage you? PATRICIA Did you fail to encourage me? Mother! Are you kidding? You hardly even noticed me, you were so busy with all your research. Early on, I decided I wouldn’t do that stuff. I’d find a job that was just that, a job. Not a passion. And I’d be involved in my daughter’s life, and I have been. ALEX I’ll say.
Meanwhile, back at the Dollhouse
Start Talking, Part 3
The first speech is overlapped from part 2. PLAYWRIGHT Shit. Okay. (Calling to stage hand.) Another chair! (Stage hand appears with a chair, opens it. Annie sits next to Patricia.) As I was saying. Annie is Laura’s mother. Laura was a character in a novel, a long time ago, in which she ran away to the circus and was shot by a clown. I should have left her there, bleeding in the sawdust, but no, I resurrected her in a play that did not work. At all. And now for some reason known only unto Laura, Annie, her poor mother, has to deal with her again. Annie, I’m sorry. ANNIE I still don’t know what’s going on, but then, I guess I never did. Who are these people? PLAYWRIGHT Characters from plays I’m working on. I’m not working on yours, so I didn’t invite you. Or Laura. ANNIE Oh. Or Pat? Is Pat coming? Pat? (Pat enters, carrying a chair, which she sets up next to the grandmothers.) PLAYWRIGHT Geezum. Is there no such thing as creative control? PAT Yup, and we’ve got it. Introduce us, please. PLAYWRIGHT Okay. Pat, Annie, Laura, meet Grandmother and Red from one play I’ve started, and Joan and her daughter Patricia and her grandchild Alex from another. This is Pat, everyone. She ran the greenhouse that Annie worked in. She kept tryng to talk sense into her. Huh. Come to think of it, that stupid play was an attempt at mythology, too. It was so long ago, I’d forgotten. PAT Mythology? You mean like some fairy tale? I thought all our stuff was pretty real. PLAYWRIGHT Not exactly a fairy tale. It was about Demeter and Persephone. You were Hecate. PAT Who? LAURA Oh wow! I’m Persephone! (Stands and starts dancing.) PLAYWRIGHT Sit down and shut up, Laura. ANNIE Persephone didn’t die in the myth. She just went underground for half the year. I mean, back when I was a Classics major, I. . . PLAYWRIGHT All right, all right. Let’s start again. You all now have a basic idea of where everybody comes from, right? Laura, sit. LAURA (Sits.) Wow, you are so demanding. PLAYWRIGHT Right. I am. So, everybody keep talking. Except Laura and Annie. You know all you need to about them. PAT Three grannies, three kids, two daughters. Looks good to me. PATRICIA I really want to hear what Laura and Annie have to say. And Pat, of course. ALEX Me too. (The sound of general agreement,) PLAYWRIGHT From the land of the dead. Oh, whatever. I give up. LAURA Well, if it’s all grannies and daughters, this is about you and your daughter, isn’t it? PLAYWRIGHT I don’t have a daughter. I said that already. Before you got here. LAURA Oh. But you are a daughter, right? So it’s about you and your mother. PLAYWRIGHT No. No it isn’t. My mother was nothing like yours. She was strict. Nothing at all like Annie. LAURA But I still think. . . PLAYWRIGHT You know what, Laura? I don’t care what you think. You’re wrong. Whatever you say is just plain wrong. ANNIE I don’t think that’s fair to poor Laura. I mean, you created her. PAT She has a point. PLAYWRIGHT But I want to listen to the other characters here, the ones I actually invited. Patricia, help me out. PATRICIA I agree with Pat. Look, you’re making three plays. . PLAYWRIGHT Two, damn it. The one Laura’s in is trashed. A failure. It’s in the wastebasket. PATRICIA Well, however many, they’re all about mothers and daughters. PLAYWRIGHT No. They’re about grandmothers and grandchildren. The mothers are incidental. RED That’s what you think. PLAYWRIGHT What? Really? RED Yeah. I mean, if it weren’t for the mothers, we wouldn’t be, like, so attached to our grandmothers, right? PLAYWRIGHT But your mother isn’t in the play at all. RED Yeah, but. Grandmother’s an artist, right, and she does whatever she wants. And my mother isn’t an artist. She’s like, very sensible, or something, in an organic kind of way. And she doesn’t get how it is with me and Grandmother. And that’s why me and Grandmother get along so good. ALEX Yeah, yeah. Like me and Gram. Mom doesn’t get it at all. I mean, look at her. PATRICIA You have no idea, Alex, what it’s like to deal with a mother like mine. ALEX Nope. Just what it’s like to deal with a mother like mine. PAT Jesus. And I thought our play was complicated. But at least ours doesn’t have a grandmother in it. ALEX But you’re a Gram, right? I mean, you’re old enough, no offence. Were you kinda like a grandmother to Laura? PLAYWRIGHT I really, really don’t want to talk about Laura. LAURA Why not? Do you find me threatening? PLAYWRIGHT This isn’t about me. GRANDMOTHER Of course it is. All art is about the artist. JOAN You wanted us to talk, so we’re talking. How about we ask you some questions? PLAYWRIGHT Great. Make-believe people asking me questions. Okay. Go ahead.
REPORT: March 8, 2022, 6:30 a.m.
REPORT: MARCH 8, 2022, 6:30 A.M. I don’t yet know the news from afar. Here, the backyard is a sheet of ice. In the low spot in the drive, the gravel has washed away, leaving a narrow ditch. Before sunrise, the sky is gray and yellow. All the undones of autumn poke through the grubby snow. A rabbit scrounges for seed under the bird feeder. The dog looks out the window and begins to scream at a squirrel. Coffee’s good. The north wind is rising.
Start Talking, part 2
This is the second part of the exercise I wrote, using vague characters from plays I was stuck on. Or with.
JOAN Ha. Well then. Yes, Patricia, we do laugh at you behind your back. And like Grandmother and Red, Alex and I “eat funny” just as you suspect. And she/he/they is indeed in cahoots with me. PATRICIA You haven’t said your name yet. Or what you think you’re supposed to be doing. JOAN Oh, well. I beg your humble pardon. You said my name, I believe. PATRICIA Did I? JOAN And you think I’m dotty. I am Joan. I am a retired academic folklorist and I would like very much to learn how to turn into a tree. GRANDMOTHER A tree? That sounds exciting. JOAN Yes. A tree. The alternative to being put into some dreadful kind of place by my charming daughter here, who is all efficient in her little suit. PATRICIA A tree? Well, that just goes to show that it’s not safe for you to be living alone anymore. I’m going to see an attorney, and. . . ALEX Mom! Gram’s fine. She’s just fine. I should know because I see her a lot more than you do. At least, I’ve seen her for what, Gram? Three pages? JOAN Four. ALEX See? We didn’t even know what you looked like. PATRICIA Well I must say, I certainly did not expect any child of mine to appear in public looking like, like. . . ALEX What? A typical teenager? What did you expect? An Instagram poser? A Tik-Tok celebrity? PATRICIA Oh for heaven’s sake. Stop running your mouth and introduce yourself. ALEX I’m Alex. I don’t really know my mother, yet, but I do know Joan, my Gram. I like her a lot. I didn’t think I disliked my mother anymore than any kid does, but now that I’ve met her and see what a jerk she is, well, I don’t think I like her. If I were Gram, I’d want to turn into a tree, too. (Laura enters, graceful, dramatic. She stand by the table, smiling. There’s a silence while they all look at her.) LAURA Wow, you started without me. (Reacting to the silence.) What? PLAYWRIGHT I didn’t invite you. LAURA Really? Well, I’d have thought that my relationship with my mother was the point of this whole thing. PLAYWRIGHT It isn’t. These are plays about folklore, about mythology. Not at all about you. LAURA Come on, everything’s about me, and you know it. I want a chair. Where’s a chair? (Turns toward entrance.) Hey you back there! I want a chair! (Stagehand enters with a folding chair, opens it and sets it up.) LAURA Not this kind. It’s not good for my back. I’m a dancer, you know? I have to be careful of my back. PLAYWRIGHT Fuck your back. I don’t want you here, but since you are, you can sit down and shut up. LAURA (Sits.) I thought you wanted us to talk. PLAYWRIGHT Not. You. Just be quiet. ANNIE (Enters, harried, looks around until she sees Laura.) There you are, Laura. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I thought you were in Florida, with the circus. PLAYWRIGHT Oh, terrific. LAURA I was, but then this happened. (Gesturing toward the group.) ANNIE And what is this? Would someone please tell me what’s going on? PLAYWRIGHT Okay. Everyone, this is Annie. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, she’s Laura’s mother. Laura is, or she was. .. LAURA I think I should speak for myself. PLAYWRIGHT No. You shouldn’t. Shut up. I’ve thrown you away so many times. I don’t want to hear your smug, self-indulged voice ever again. LAURA Whoa. Bad energy there. PLAYWRIGHT (Rising and threatening.) I’ll give you bad energy. . . ANNIE What’s going on? Laura, what are we doing here? Who are these people? PLAYWRIGHT Shit. Okay. (Calling to stage hand.) Another chair! (Stage hand appears with a chair, opens it. Annie sits next to Patricia.) As I was saying. Annie is Laura’s mother. Laura was a character in a novel, a long time ago, in which she ran away to the circus and was shot by a clown. I should have left her there, bleeding in the sawdust, but no, I resurrected her in a play that did not work. At all. And now for some reason known only unto Laura, Annie, her poor mother, has to deal with her again. Annie, I’m sorry.
And it looks as if the wombat, the puppy, and the guinea pig are taking over the guest room!
Start Talking: a scrap of it
I've been looking for a new play and started a couple that didn't work. So I invited the characters to sit down and talk. This is the beginning of what happened next. START TALKING A Play in One Act Mary F. C. Pratt CHARACTERS PLAYWRIGHT Older woman. JOAN Older woman, a folklorist PATRICIA Joan’s daughter, a businesswoman in a “little suit.” ALEX Joan’s grandchild, Patricia’s child, a teenager. Garbed rebelliously. GRANDMOTHER Older Woman, an artist. RED Grandmother’s grandchild, ten or twelve years old, wearing a red hoodie. LAURA Annie’s daughter, a circus performer, in her late twenties, arty and self-centered. ANNIE Laura’s Mother, middle-aged. Vague and worried. PAT Annie’s boss, an Older Woman who owns a greenhouse. Outspoken, tough. Work clothes. STAGEHAND Unspeaking. SETTING Bare stage, a table, six chairs. Folding chairs available backstage. At Rise: Playwright is sitting at the table working at a computer. Joan, Patricia and Alex, and Grandmother and Red enter in their family groups, silently. After some jockeying around, the grandmothers sit together, the grandchildren sit together. There is space around Patricia. PLAYWRIGHT (Looking around the table.) Okay. Everybody’s here. Good. So start talking. GRANDMOTHER So what do you want us to talk about? What do you want to know? I’ve got work to do. I don’t have all day. PLAYWRIGHT Talk about whatever. Who are you? You say you’ve got work to do? So tell me about it. I don’t have all day, either. I want to kick-start at least one of these plays. So talk. (All start babbling at once.) PATRICIA Wait, wait. Everybody stop. This is ridiculous. Somebody needs to organize it. PLAYWRIGHT Fine, fine. Go for it. PATRICIA All right. We’ll go around the table and introduce ourselves. Say your name and something about what you think you’re supposed to be doing, at least so far. PLAYWRIGHT (A snort, a guffaw—some kind of dismissive noise.) PATRICIA So I’ll start. I’m Patricia. You can probably tell by my clothes that I am a successful business woman. PLAYWRIGHT What business are you in? PATRICIA I have absolutely no idea. Now do you want me to talk or not? PLAYWRIGHT Yes, yes, yes. PATRICIA Then if you’ll be quiet, I’ll get on with it. May I? PLAYWRIGHT Yeah. Go ahead. PATRICIA All right then. As I said, I’m Patricia. Joan is my mother and Alex is my child. I think my mother is getting dotty and should be in some kind of assisted living. So far, I live offstage, on the telephone. I haven’t even had any lines yet. GRANDMOTHER And you’re already a character with distinctive clothes. That’s impressive. PLAYWRIGHT Huh. It is, actually. PATRICIA If you’ve finished interrupting? All right. I am suspicious that Alex is in cahoots with Joan. Perhaps they even laugh at me behind my back. Next? GRANDMOTHER I bet they do. PATRICIA What? They do what? GRANDMOTHER Laugh at you. Behind your back. I know I do. PATRICIA What are you talking about? You don’t even know me. You’re not in my play. GRANDMOTHER Thank God. But in my play my grandchild and I laugh at his/her/their mother, who is my daughter, all the time. PATRICIA What’s up with that, Playwright? Do you laugh at your daughter? PLAYWRIGHT I don’t have a daughter. But this isn’t about me. Talk. PATRICIA We are talking. Next? You. . .(Points at Red.) RED That would be me. I’m Red. You can tell, maybe by the shirt. Anyhow, I’m a kid and I live in a play that’s supposed to be, like, a rewrite of Red Riding Hood, or something. Maybe I’m trying to rescue Grandmother from the sun? Not like she’s sunbathing, I mean, but maybe she got eaten by the sun? Or maybe some wolf eats the sun? Grandmother talked about that a little bit. Or something. It’s all pretty, like, vague or something. I knock on the door a lot. GRANDMOTHER Right. (To Playwright.) And that vagueness is getting tiresome, if you want to know the truth, which, as an artist I assume you do? PLAYWRIGHT I certainly aspire to the truth, yes. And it is getting tiresome for me, too, which is why you’re all here. So keep going. GRANDMOTHER Well then. I am Grandmother. And as she/he/they said, I think it’s a Red Riding Hood riff, but I don’t think it’s very successful so far, though I do like being an artist instead of a pathetic old bedridden lady, and I like throwing out the natural foods crap my daughter makes Red bring to me, and I like feeding her/him/them coffee and chocolate bars instead. I do hope you can make something out of that bit, at least. JOAN You do that, too? Throw out the stuff your daughter sends you? PATRICIA Mother, it isn’t your turn yet. JOAN Oh for goodness’ sake, Patricia. I’m next at the table. GRANDMOTHER Yes, Patricia. For goodness’ sake. (Turns to Joan.) And I’ve done my bit, so go ahead. JOAN (To Grandmother.) Thank you. When this is over, we need to talk. (To all.) In the meantime, I’m in an embryonic play with my grandchild Alex, and with, or possibly despite, my daughter Patricia, who, until now, has, mercifully, been offstage and silent. (Examines Patricia.) So that’s what you look like. Nice suit. PATRICIA No need for personal comments, Mother. JOAN I beg to differ. Playwright, personal comments allowed? PLAYWRIGHT Oh, please!
Years ago now, the first Dollhouse family thought about moving. They looked at a couple of houses, but the first was a bit crooked. The second one was nice and had a deck, but after seeing the guys on the stairs, they decided it was too creepy.
A PHOTO OF BORIS
A PHOTO OF BORIS They posed him against a background of drapery, stood him on the seat of a chair with curved arms. His hair was parted and neatly combed. He wore a dark jacket with two rows of buttons, dark button-trimmed trousers, and sturdy shoes. They put a hoop—-larger than himself—-around his neck. The fingers of one hand curled around it. In the other, he held a short stick of the sort used by bigger boys to turn a hoop along a road. His expression was serious, puzzled, maybe alarmed: Why do they want me standing here, with a hoop around my neck? On the back, a line of my Grandmother’s illegible scrawl —I think in German—-and one word, set apart: “Boris.” There is no Boris in the family tree. The photo was attached with dots of glue to a page in a cheap photo album discovered in a box in a closet among my mother’s things. It was Grandma’s. Perhaps Mother never looked at it. She never showed it to us. The cover was broken, the pages crumbling. I know how paper can decay. I pried all the photos out. Most were not labeled. Grandma knew who they were: People in the Old Country around a table, people haying on the farm in East Germany where Johann ended up after the war, a uniformed man who might be the German cousin who went down with his ship in 1945. Only a few were labeled— Onkel Herman, Onkel Hans’s wife, Pa and Frieda. And Boris. I thought to toss it with the unlabeled photos— the sort of nameless photos that pile up, that we pass on endlessly. But I cannot discard Boris. What was he doing there, in Grandma’s album, with Johann and August and Wanda, Great-grandfather Joseph, Tante Helen, and Grandma herself, stout in her printed dress, standing with the nameless Sunday School teachers in front of the Cleveland Lutheran Church.
When I was three, my father made a dollhouse for me. It was furnished with plastic furniture that was lost or broken long ago. The dollhouse ended up stored in various basements and attics until I was in my thirties, and thought it would be fun to restore and refurnish it. I have no skills, so I asked Dad if he would help me. “No,” he said. “It’s not a very good dollhouse. I’ve learned a lot since I made it.” So I tried fixing it up myself, and Dad made me a new one, beautifully shingled, and furnished with little furniture that he made. My mother made bedding and curtains. The Dollhouse family–Father, Mother, Boy and Baby, moved into the New Dollhouse, which lived on top of a cupboard in the dining room. I also started getting Fancy furniture for the Old Dollhouse, and Grandpa and Grandma Dollhouse moved in. The Old Dollhouse lived in my study, on the floor. There were originally some problems with that, at you can see, below.
Then the grandchildren came along–the human ones, that is– and when they were the right age, the Old Dollhouse was moved to their house, and of course Father, Mother and Boy moved, too. I built an addition to the New Dollhouse, and now Grandpa and Grandma live there, with a combination of Dad’s furniture and Fancy furniture. They have an attic and a Guest Room where the Other Dollhouse Family–presumably Grandpa and Grandma’s daughter and her husband and children (Pa, Ma, Brother and Sister)– stay when they come to visit. This is why there are occasional photos of the original Dollhouses, who are happily settled in New York State.
Dollhouses: Taking the Tree Out
As usual, the Dollhouses are a bit slow taking down their Christmas decorations.
Since I don’t seem to be writing poetry these days, and since my forthcoming play seems to be on hold, due to the conditions in NYC, I thought I’d post some photos of the Dollhouses.
The Attic is a mess.
Sea Eagle What will I see today doing the Christmas baking and walking on the icy road with the dog and my friend who is lonely for her children? The sea eagle has been seen in Massachusetts, 5000 miles from home. What is he lonely for? And what will he see?
An old poem: Witch Hunt
An Old Poem: Witch Hunt
This was originally done as a performance piece.
Such was the darkness of that day, the tortures and lamentations of the afflicted, and the power of former precedence, that we walked in the clouds, and could not see our way. The Rev. John Hale Sarah Good, hanged Susannah Martin, hanged Elizabeth Proctor, reprieved Rebecca Jacobs, acquitted Martha Corey, hanged Mary Bradbury, reprieved Rebecca Nurse, hanged Alice Parker, hanged John Proctor, hanged Ann Pudeator, hanged Giles Corey, pressed under stones Martha Carrier, hanged Bridget Bishop, hanged Elizabeth Howe, hanged Abigail Hobbs, reprieved Wilmot Reed, hanged Sarah Wilds, hanged Ann Foster, reprieved, Mary Easty, hanged Mary Lacey Sr., reprieved George Burroughs, hanged Margaret Scott, hanged George Jacobs, Sr., hanged Abigail Faulkner Sr., reprieved John Willard, hanged Rebecca Eames, reprieved Sarah Buckley, acquitted Samuel Wardwell, hanged Mary Witheridge, acquitted Mary Parker, hanged Dorcas Hoar, reprieved Is three hundred years so long ago? Can you see the village? Saltworks, warehouse, wharf and fish flakes cod ketches in from the Newfoundland banks trading ships in from Barbados or Surinam The gabled clapboard houses, steep-roofed I saw her on the beam suckling her yellow bird betwixt her fingers small windows to keep out the cold there is a black man whispering in her ear board fences to keep the cattle out meeting house to keep the devil out O yonder is Goodman Proctor & his wife & Goody Nurse & Goody Corey & Goody Cloise & Goody Child. Goodman Proctor is going to choke me. church yard to keep the dead inside gallows built sturdy on Gallows Hill they both did torture me a great many times because I would not yield to their Hellish temptations Can you hear the village? Sea wind and tide rumble Barking dog, brown wren scolding in the eaves gossip in the gardens, on the streets, children about their business to and fro the learned preacher enlightening his flock I would advise you to repentance, for the devil is bringing you out Kettles hiss and bubble, spinning wheels tick and whir I have seen sights & been scared. I have been very wicked. I hope I shall be better: if God will keep me. And in the night dark calls of whippoorwill and owl, cat wail, fox yap What a dreadful Sight are You! An Old Woman, an Old Servant of the Devil! ‘ Tis an horrible Thing! moanings of birth and love and death scream of a rabbit caught. What sin hath god found out in me unrepented of that he should Lay such an Affliction upon me In my old Age? Can you smell the village? stew of rabbit and winter roots herbs in the dooryards, hanging from the beams sea scent--salt and drying cod I never had to do with witchcraft since I was born. I am a Gospell Woman. Ye are all against me and I cannot help it. sweat and urine, blood and shit The LORD doth terrible things amongst us, by lengthening the Chain of the Roaring Lion, in an Extraordinary manner; so that the Devil is come down in great wrath. Human nature has not changed. They might lie for ought I know We are wary creatures crouched in caves. Outside our civilized circles wild eyes glitter in the night Were you to serve the Devil ten years? Tell how many. voices of the dispossessed murmur under every window they drum and dance in the dense black desert praying to their devil, plotting our demise. There is evil, evil all outside, all around. Do not you see these children & women are rational & sober as their neighbours when your hands are fastened? Human nature has not changed. Being Conscious of My own Innocency I Humbly Beg that I may have Liberty to Manifest it to the world Watch your children fight for space, watch the traffic, grocery check-out line, listen to the evening news, hear your own voice grow shrill. How comes the Devil so loathe to have any Testimony born against you? They said we were guilty of afflicting them. We knowing ourselves altogether innocent of this crime, we were all exceedingly astonished and amazed, and consternated and affrighted even out of our reason. With all gone wrong, with demons all round, the fault can not be mine. I will have, must have someone else to blame. God would not suffer so many good men to be in such an error about this, and you will be hanged if you do not confess. It is false! the Devil is a liar. It is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits. Where do you place your fear? I take God in heaven to be my witness, that I know nothing of it, no more than the child unborn In your heart, your bowels? Or do you wrap it tight and bury it like a corpse far away, outside yourself, That you were fled from Authority is an acknowledgment of guilt but yet notwithstanding we require you to confess the truth in this matter. in your neighbor’s yard, your neighbor’s soul? I am going upon the Ladder to be hanged for a Witch, but I am innocent. Can you see the village still? Boundaries broad, buildings tall, I am no more a Witch than you are a Wizard, and if you take away my Life, God will give you Blood to drink all the traffic sound and stench and still-- Is three hundred years so long ago? If it was the last time I was to speak I am innocent Note: The names of the accused are read throughout, in a monotone. words spoken by the accusers words spoken by the accused words spoken by the judges
Playaday: a break
Maybe I’ll do some more later. Twenty two seems like enough!
Each wears a costume in its color.
WHITE LIGHT Wears a voluminous translucent white robe, big enough to hold the others.
SETTING: Inside a rainbow. (What the heck? The purpose of writing these little bits is to open up the imagination.)
It’s mostly mine, you know. All of that. Grass, trees. Mostly mine.
You’re kidding, right? It’s mine all the way. All that water and those clouds.
Clouds are white.
No they aren’t. They’re yellow a lot of the time, and blue.
And orange. At sunset anyhow, and some sunrises.
Yeah, but. You guys might be common, but it’s being uncommon that’s cool. I mean, how often do I appear? Cardinals, a few red flowers, some of the stuff the people make. Special. I’m not common, I’m special. The one per cent.
However. I am, and have always been, royal. The majesty of my mountains, yes? The expense of the dye stuffs to color the garments of kinds and queens. Everybody knows that my title is “Royal.”
Well, I don’t care what you say. It’s mostly mine. Besides, if any of you gets mixed up with white, you turn into an icky pastel. Pink, peach. . . .
Okay, okay. Generalization. But Purple is lavender, which is hardly royal.
Of course it isn’t. But it isn’t me.
Any more than pink is me. I’m RED, right? Fire engines and sports cars and mittens and. .
And fires, right?
Hey, that’s mosly orange and yellow.
And fires are not our fault. Come on.
(Sings) “I’d rather be blue/ Thinking of you,/ I’d rather be blue/ Than be happy/ As somebody/ Else.”
(Enters with a flourish.)
Okay, everybody in! Come on, come on! Rain’s over, party’s over. In you go, in you go.
(The colors quickly scurry under White’s robes, which are closed. The curtain falls as White stands there, motionless, the others visible through the cloth.)
Playaday: About Coffee
#61—Write about coffee
A study. The playwright sits at the desk, drinking coffee. There is an electric drip-pot in easy reach.
(Staring at screen.)
Okay. A play about coffee. Sounds stupid to me, but at least it will pay. Who’d have thought that a coffee roaster would pay me to write a whole play about coffee? Huh. Featuring him. And his wife and his brother-in-law and his obnoxious teen-aged daughter. Well, okay. I can do this. Ten thousand bucks is ten thousand bucks, even though it feels like selling out. Let’s see now
(Types while talking.)
A Coffee Roaster. Forty-ish, tall, handsome. Jeans and a buffalo-check shirt.
Wife. Slim, blonde ponytail. Fleece and spandex and expensive running shoes.
Brother-in-law: (Sits back and stares at the screen.)
Okay. That’s all type cast, right? They’re just playing themselves here. And if I were to do the slacker brother-in-law, he’d be an asshole, because he is. Okay. Redo. Let’s see.
An asshole. No. Come on. Think ten thousand bucks. Characters. Miranda: Teenager. Blue mohawk, tattoos, torn jeans. Coffee addict. Paula: her mother. Plump, tired, mom jeans and sweatshirt with sequins. Jeff: her father. A coffee roaster. Shabby, unshaven but not in a cool way. Brad: her uncle—mother’s brother. A Guy in a Suit who wants to take over the coffee business.
(Sits back.) Nope. That would work, wouldn’t it? As a play? But not as a ten thousand dollar production about the company. Okay. Third time’s the charm.
A King. Forty-ish, tall, handsome. Fairy-tale style robes and crown. A Queen: Fairy tale style. A Princess: Dressed like a princess but with bare feet. A Knight: Heavy armor, with a mask.
Ha! That way I get to see him clunking around. Good. And, let’s see. The barefoot princess will discover coffee bushes and the King will wonder what to do with them and the Queen will figure out how to roast the beans and the Knight will clank around. Or maybe he could be a jester instead? Okay. Work, work. Ten thousand dollars, here we come.
Playaday: Forget Matilda
RYAN—middle-aged male, conventional clothing, red sneakers
SYLVIA—old female, conventional clothing, red sneakers
Setting: A bare stage, two chairs.
(Ryan enters, sits, looks at the audience in despair.)
It’s over. Three months of my life, in vain. I tried and tried and it didn’t work and she left. I don’t know what to do. I simply don’t know what to do. How can I go on?
(Sylvia enters, stands looking at him for a minute, pulls up the other chair and sits down, facing him.)
Who are you?
I’m Sylvia. Who are you, oh miserable man?
Why should I tell you?
Because I saw you sitting here and I’m going to help you.
Why should you help me?
Because it’s what I do. I’m a general helper. I wander around looking for people to help and I help them.
I don’t know you at all. I’ve never seen you before. Why should I tell you my troubles?
Because you don’t know me and you’ve never seen me before, that’s why. Nothing like a stranger. I have no stake in what happens to you because I’m not your family and I’m not your friend, and I didn’t cause your troubles. Right? So tell me.
Okay. I guess that makes some kind of sense.
Of course it does. Tell me.
And she is?
My girlfriend. My ex-girlfriend. I thought she was the one, you know? Everything was going so well. And then she, welll, she just up and told me that she was moving to California, of all places, because she got a good job offer there. So I said I’d find a job there, too, and go with her, and she said not to bother. And she just got up and walked away. That was it. What can I do?
Seems pretty clear to me.
Well, she spared you all kinds of agony. She made it really, really clear that whatever you had going with her is over.
So what do I do?
Forget her? That’s your advice?
Yup. Forget Matilda and get on with your life. ‘Bye now. No need to thank me.
Forget her? I guess that never occured to me. Well, okay. I guess I can do that. Forget Matilda. Good.
(He closes his eyes for a minute, breathes deeply.)
There. That’s done.
(Stands, shakes himself, and exits.)
Playaday: What you’ve forgotten
Linda—a retired nurse
Nancy—a disaffected priest
Vicky—a retired lawyer
Sharon—a massage therapist
Setting: A coffee shop. They are all seated around the table.
I hate it that I can’t remember things. Yesterday it was my glasses. I took them off when I came home from running errands because they were fogged up from the mask and the cold, and I put them somewhere. And when I sat down to read the paper, I realized I didn’t have them on my face. So I looked on the table in the front all. Not there. KItchen counter. Not there. Then I asked Sharon if she’d seen them.
I asked her if she left them in the car. Well, no.
I went out to check. Retraced my steps. And realized I had checked email on my computer and I always take my glasses off to look at the screen. But they weren’t on my desk. Then Binky came in and walked across the keyboard. Damned cat is determined to leave his mark on everything I do.
Hey! He’s old. He just wants attention.
Sorta like me.
Ha! Like all of us.
It’s been a long time since I”ve walked across a keyboard. Maybe I should try that.
So you obviously found them, since they’re on your face now.
Yeah. Turns out Binky had somehow knocked them on the floor, and I couldn’t see them on the carpet. Geez. I’m getting pathetic.
Bob and I got an idea awhile ago. We could get a big, big basket and put everything in it. That way we could always find things. Keys, glasses, mail, coffee cups, water bottles, gloves, hats, library books. . .
I love it. But how big would the basket have to be?
Mine would have to be the size of my house. And I live alone.
Huh. I might try that, actually. A basket by the door.
Let us know if it works. Vicky can’t find her calendar now that it’s not on her phone.
But that’s probably okay. it’s not like I do anything but have coffee with you people.
Speaking of which—gotta go. Same time next week?
Yup. See you then.