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: Savoring Senses

#115—What can I love and savor through my senses?


CHARACTERS

HUMAN
HAWK 
BEAR
BAT
MOLE

Setting: The edge of a forest. A semi-circle with Human in the center

HUMAN
All right, you guys. I’ve brought you here because I want to know what your worlds are like. So tell me.

HAWK
Oh, I can see. I can see miles and miles. My world is clear and far and full. And silent, but for the wind.

BEAR
And my world is dark and snuffly, full of musk and meat, grubs, berries, apples, acorns, the edible treasures you throw into cans and hang in feeders. And you, always you, and your dogs, all around.

BAT
Nothing but sound. Sharp and hard. Buzzings and screamings and the dullnesses of clotheslines and grass. The hollowness of openings in boxes and towers and holes in walls.

MOLE
Thick, wet, dry, crumbly, slick, live and soft, dark and hard. Edible, poison. Spring, sharp. Air near the tops.

ALL BUT HUMAN
And you, Human? Tell us your world.

HUMAN
Not as clear or far, but enough for me. Flowers an dfood, just enough. Wind and music and th evoices of my friends. Not every rustle and click and snap. The smooth sheets and stones, the rough of pavement and sand. And, too, the sweet of peach and bitter of coffee. The salt of cheese, the comfort of bread. The taste of coming snow. The sense of who I am.

Also written among the thrum and bustle of our son’s family. I did not write one on the 14th, in the car on the way home.


Playaday: Most Feared

Prompt #74—what do you most fear?

CHARACTERS

DOG

MOUSE

DEER

OWL

Setting—the edge of a forest.

MOUSE

(Enters, creeping, searching the ground and looking up.)

Food. Something here. Seeds. Over there. Gotta find. Dry grass. Little holes. Winter coming. Need snow. Cover, cover, cover. Owls. Foxes. Hungry. Melting. Freezing. Sky. Oh, sky. Nothing. Shelter, need shelter. But food. Seeds. Over here. Owls at night. Hawks. Foxes. Need food. Winter coming.

(Exits, scurrying.)

DEER

(Enters wary, sniffing, listening.)

Not time yet, but they’re coming. Every tree on the edge of every clearing, every clump of grass and brush can hold a death. Listen, listen, move with care. Alert, stay alert. Not time yet, but soon. The leaves have fallen, my breath blows a mist. It will be soon.

DOG

(Enters, looking around.)

Where are they? Where did they go? I went too far, maybe. There was a rabbit and a squirrel and some deer and something I don’t know, and I followed and I followed and they were still behind me and now I don’t know. I could hear them calling but now I can’t hear them and maybe they’re lost. I don’t want to lose them. What would they do, lost in the woods. How would they find their way home. The wind is wrong. I can’t hear them, I can’t smell them. What shall I do? Go this way? Turn back? I don’t know, I don’t know. Where are they? Where are they?

(Exits.)

OWL

(Enters silently, calmly. Stands still and looks around for a long time, then moves on.)

03. Playaday: Snufkin

Prompt # 111:  SNUFKIN

CHARACTERS

Snufkin:  a free-spirited character in the Moomintroll world

Interviewer

SETTING

Two chairs in a TV talk show set

At Rise:

The Interviewer is seated and the other chair is empty.

INTERVIEWER
Good evening. Tonight our special guest is Snufkin, known to Moomintroll fans as the enigmatic, free-spirited wanderer.  Snufkin spends summers with the Moomins, and when they get ready to hibernate, he goes south. What does he do in the winter, and where does he go? These are questions that—perhaps—we’ll hear the answers to. Please welcome our guest, Snufkin.

(Snufkin enters. Interviewer rises, they shake hands, sit.)

INTERVIEWER

Welcome, Snufkin. I must say it’s a delight to meet you in person. I’ve read so much about you.

SNUFKIN

I imagine.

INTERVIEWER
Well, the question tonight on everyone’s mind is: Where do you go in the winter, when the Moomins are hibernating?

SNUFKIN

Here and there. 

INTERVIEWER

We all know that the coast of Finland is cold in the winter, which is why the Moomins hibernate. I assume that, not being a Moomin, you prefer a warmer climate in winter?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

I can see that you’re not eager to reveal your secret. I expect you’d be overwhelmed with your fans if they knew where you were.

SNUFKIN

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends.

INTERVIEWER
On what?

SNUFKIN

On the fan. On where I decide to be.

INTERVIEWER
I see. Well, can you tell us what you do?

SNUFKIN

Maybe.

INTERVIEWER
Do you live in your tent? Do you fish? Do you play your mouth organ?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

I understand that you compose new tunes on your mouth organ. Do you compose while you are in the south?

SNUFKIN

It depends.

INTERVIEWER

On what?

SNUFKIN

On the tune.

INTERVIEWER
Do you have your mouth organ with you?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

Could you delight our audience with a tune?

SNUFKIN

Maybe. It depends.

INTERVIEWER

(Exasperated.)

On what?

SNUFKIN

Do they know how to listen?

INTERVIEWER

(To audience.)

Do you know how to listen?

AUDIENCE

Yes.

SNUFKIN

All right then.

(Takes mouth organ from his pocket and plays a tune. As he plays, the interviewer stands and begins to dance, eventually dancing down into the audience. They form a chain and dance out of the theater. Snufkin keeps playing until they are all gone, then puts his mouth organ in his pocket and exits.)

02. Playaday: An Ultimatum

Number Six:  An Ultimatum

Characters:

Carol, a Good Witch

Betsy, a Bad Witch

Hansel and Gretel, non-speaking

Setting:  The inside of a small cottage. The witches sit at a table, drinking tea.

CAROL

All I’m saying, Betsy, is that you’d best be careful. One thing leads to another, if you don’t watch out.

BETSY

But frightening children is so much fun, Carol. You know that.

CAROL

There’s a big difference between lurking in the forest and cackling at the kids and luring them into a cottage and threatening to eat them, is all I’m saying.

BETSY

Oh come on. I’d never eat them. Children are so.  .  stringy. If I were to eat anybody, it would be an alderman.

CAROL

What do you mean, if  you were to eat anybody? Have you seriously considered it?

BETSY

Well yes. Haven’t you? It’s part of the lore, after all. Baba Yaga and so forth.

CAROL

I think you’ll find, my dear, that the Baba Yaga did not eat people. It was rumored that she did. It was part of the reputation that she maintained. But she was a good witch. She helped people.

BETSY

Helped people. Bah. What kind of witching is that?

CAROL

The right kind. Scare the bejeezus out of them and help them. That’s what we do.

BETSY

I don’t know about that.

CAROL

I’m worried about you, Betsy. I truly am. That gingerbread cottage is one thing, but the cage outside, and the big oven. . .

BETSY

All right, Carol. I’ll level with you. I’m tired of being a good witch. I’m tired of playing a role. I want to know what it’s like to be bad. My whole life I’ve been a goody two-shoes. Haven’t you ever wanterd to be bad? Really bad?

CAROL

No. No I haven’t. Scary, sure. That’s fun. But bad? Hurting people? No.

BETSY

So you are a goody two-shoes.

CAROL

Of course not. But I would never act on my worst imaginings.

BETSY

Have you ever imagined eating children?

CAROL

No. I have not. 

BETSY

What are your worst imaginings then?

CAROL

Using the full force of my wrath on people who hurt children. 

BETSY

But you wouldn’t eat them?

CAROL

No. And I’m not going to tell you what I’ve imagined doing to them. But Betsy—if you go through with this plan of yours and actually hurt some children, you will find out.

BETSY

I will, eh? And what will you do to me? If you’re a sissy “good witch” you don’t know what wrath is like.

CAROL

Oh, that’s what you think. Beware, Betsy, beware. It’s been building up inside me for a hundred years, this wrath, this raging at all the injustice on the earth and in the world. If it is unleashed it won’t be pretty. And believe me, it will be unleashed on you, if need be.

BETSY

Well, I don’t believe it. My power against yours? No contest. I’m off.

(Stands.)

I have to finish the gingerbread house. I won’t invite you to the feast.

CAROL

(Stands.)

One more chance, Betsy. If you don’t stop it, now, you will be consumed by the very fire you prepare.

(Betsy exits, cackling.)

CAROL

(Calling.)

Gretel, Hansel.

(The children enter.)

Go to the cottage. Remember all that I have taught you. Go with my protection. All will be well.

(The children bow, and exit.)

(Carol picks up her broomstick and follows.)

 

01. Playaday–The Ten Rules of Poetry

Since I’m mostly writing plays these days, I’m giving myself the assignment of writing a short one every day during November, using one of my old poetry prompts, chosen at random. This is the first one. We’ll see how it goes. Sorry about the format, but I’m too lazy to do all the indentations and stuff.

Prompt 36:  The Ten Rules of Poetry

Characters:

The Poet:  Any gender, thin, chain-smoking, dressed in black

The Cat:  Plump tiger with a slow voice

Setting: Small room, a desk covered in papers center. Crumpled papers all over the floor. An overstuffed chair, right, where the cat sprawls throughout.

Time: The present. Late afternoon.

At Rise:  The poet is seated at the desk, writing furiously by hand while the cat sits, watching its face. The poet crumples the paper and throws it on the floor.

POET

Damn, damn, damn and blast. There’s nothing here. Nothing at all. Nothing in my head, nothing in the world, nothing anywhere. I’m finished. I’m empty. I can’t write another damned thing. I’ve had it with poetry. I’m going to go get a real job as a, a, a counter person in a fast-food place. Or a shelf-stocker. Or something real. Anything but this.

CAT

(Yawns.)

Huh. That might be a good idea. It’s the third rule of poetry, you know.

POET

What? You’re a cat! You can talk?

CAT

Sure. 

POET
Why have you never spoken before?

CAT

Nothing to say.

POET

And now you have something?

CAT

Yeah. 

POET

Why now?

CAT

Mostly because I’m tired of navigating over all those bits of paper you heave all over the place. And you keep forgetting to fill my water bowl

POET
Oh. Sorry.

CAT

And, I know the rules of poetry, and it’s clear that you don’t.

POET

Well, what are they?

CAT

Come here and I’ll tell you. You can’t hear me if you’re sitting at that desk.

POET

Well, okay.

(Stands and goes to chair, looks down at Cat.)

CAT

Sit!

POET

But you’re in the chair.

CAT

Then hold me on your lap. Duh.

(Poet sits and arranges Cat on lap.)

POET

There. Happy?

CAT

Yes. Much better. You may stroke me while I talk.

POET

Whatever. 

CAT

Hisss.

POET

Okay, okay.

(Starts stroking Cat.)

Tell me the rules.

CAT

Don’t be in such a hurry.

POET

What?

CAT

That’s the first rule.

POET

What is?

CAT

Don’t be in such a hurry. I mean, what’s the rush? If the words are there, they’re there. If they aren’t, well. You can’t make them come by scurrying around. It’s like watching for a mouse, right? You got to wait.

POET
Okay. So what’s the second one?

CAT

Find your feet.

POET
My feet?

CAT

Yeah. Where are they? 

POET

Well, on the ends of my legs, as usual.

CAT

Right. But where are they really? On the floor or just hanging there? In socks and shoes? Where are they?

POET

Huh.

(Shifts and puts feet solidly on the floor.)

There.

CAT

Better.

POET

And what’s three?

CAT

I already told you. 

POET

I forgot.

CAT

Of course you did. 

POET

Sorry.

CAT

It’s okay. You didn’t know where your feet were.

POET
So what is it?

CAT

Hey, remember number one!

POET

Oh yeah. Well, in your good time.

(Short pause.)

CAT

Rule number three:  Do something real.

POET

Writing is real, isn’t it?

CAT

Well, it can be. But you gotta have stuff to write about. Just the stuff in your tortured head isn’t enough. Much to your surprise, it’s pretty boring to everybody but you.

POET

Oh.

CAT

Yeah. 

POET
So, what should I do?

CAT

Oh, anything. Go for a walk. Bake some muffins. Water the plants. Feed the cat, empty the litter box. . . 

POET
Oh. Sorry about that, too. (Shifts in the chair.) Shall I. . .?

CAT

Nah, it can wait for a few minutes. Remember rule number one.

POET
And what’s four?

CAT

Drink enough water. You don’t, you know. Coffee doesn’t count. Wine counts against you. Water. Good stuff, water. Cool and clear and pretty amazing, when you think about it.

POET

And I bet your bowl is empty.

CAT

Not entirely. But. . .

POET
Rule number one.

CAT

You got it. 

POET

Okay. Water.

CAT

You ready for five?

POET

Sure.

CAT

Okay. Stand up and stretch. Like this.

(Jumps off lap and stretches)

Now you.

POET

(Stands and stretches.)

CAT

Good. Now you can sit again.

(Poet sits, Cat sits on lap.)

Now do that every twenty minutes or so.

POET
Okay.

CAT

Stroke.

POET

Okay.

(Resumes stroking.)

CAT

Now this is a hard one. Maybe the hardest.

POET

I’m ready.

CAT

Quit caring.

POET

What??

CAT

Keep stroking.

POET
Sorry.  But life is all about caring. Caring about what happens, about how people feel, about the Earth and the state of the world, and . 

CAT

Yeah, yeah. All that stuff that you can’t fix. You brood and brood and it’s wrecking your brain. 

POET
But I can’t. . 

CAT

Okay. Modification. Care about what you can fix. Feed the cat, for instance. Call your mother.

POET
Oh shit.

CAT

Well, that’s something you can do, right? You can’t fix the oil companies. You can’t fix the economy. And thinking about all that makes you crazy and if you’re crazy you’re hard and mean and besides you can’t write. So call your mother.

POET
But. . 

CAT

I told you this is probably the hardest. So if you can’t, don’t sweat it. Stroke, please.

POET
Okay. Sorry.

CAT

Now an easier one. 

POET
Good.

CAT

Learn to stare.

POET
What?

CAT

You know that old poem: “What is this life if full of care/We have no time to stand and stare?”

POET
Never heard of it.

CAT

Of course not. It’s an old-fashioned rhyming one. But it’s true. 

POET
Stare?

CAT

Yeah. Have you ever watched me do it?

POET
You hardly ever do anything but eat and sleep.

CAT

Hissss.

POET

Sorry.

CAT

That’s the next one.

POET

What?

CAT

We’ll get to that. Now it’s rule seven. When I’m awake, I stare. A lot. Like this.

(Stares at audience for a long minute, while Poet adjusts position in order to see.)

There. Your turn.

POET
What, now?

CAT

No time like the present.

POET
Okay. Here goes.

(Stares at audience.)

CAT

Good, good. Told you it was easier. Now for rule eight. Ready?

POET
Ready.

CAT

If you’re bored, go to sleep.

POET

Sleep?

CAT

Yup. When you’re bored you try to get busy. You fiddle around and find dumb stuff to do. Play with your phone or something. Go to sleep instead. 

POET
Sometimes I go for a walk.

CAT

That’s good, that’s good. At least as good as sleeping. But you get the point, I think.

POET

I guess so.

CAT

Good. Now for nine, which is related.

POET
Okay.

CAT

Read less, sing more.

POET

Sing more?

CAT

Yeah. It makes good vibrations. Like this.

(Purring hum.)

Put your hand on my back. Feel that?

POET
Yeah.

CAT

Now you do it.

POET hums, breaks into a little song.

Wow. That does feel good.

CAT

Of course. And Rule Ten is absolutely related. 

POET
And it is?

CAT

Don’t forget to breathe.

POET

Ah!

CAT

You do, you know..

POET

I know.

CAT

So. What next?

POET

Well, I think I’ll get up and stretch and get a drink and fill your water bowl and clean your litter box and go for a walk. And later on, we’ll see.

CAT

That’s a start. Do you have any of those good cat treats?

POET
No. But I’ll get some.

CAT

Good. Meow.

REPORT: SEPTEMBER 29

Report: September 29

 

It was the Feast of St. Michael which means

that twelve years ago, my mother died.

The ivory billed woodpecker is extinct again

and the long dream of progress is over.

 

 

A friend called while I was making salad

to report a monarch 

on a goldenrod stalk.

What did I think she should do? 

 

 

We talked, and pondered

what we know. Orange,

thus inedible. Late emergent

or tired migrant does it matter?

 

 

She left it under a hosta 

with a nectar bouquet.

In the morning, it was gone,

we told ourselves, on its way