BUTTERFLY EFFECT

BUTTERFLY EFFECT

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?

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







 



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.



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. 

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.

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.)