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.


BEARS

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.

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.