April prompt #33: ZIP DRIVE SPEAKS

Your zip-drive has started talking to you. What is it saying?

Ray’s #3

JUST WONDERING

Why keep things, archive your intimacies?  . .

Losing things can sometimes gain you a space in which to live.

~Edmund DeWaal, in The Hare with Amber Eyes

 

What, precisely,

is the point

of saving

it all?

April Prompt #7:THE CHEAP HOTEL

April #7

COMING HOME TO MOTHER’S DEATH BED:

THE HOTEL JUST OUTSIDE FLAGSTAFF

Janet’s #1–The Cheap Hotel

We drove all afternoon and into the night.

My God, Arizona is big.

 

Did we stop for supper?

I don’t remember.

 

Just that one road, on and on.

Mesas out there, black against the stars.

 

Beethoven’s ninth on the radio for awhile.

For some reason, I remember that.

 

Ode to Joy.

When we could not go on,

 

a motel with the desk next to the bar.

Pinpoints of light, nothing illuminated.

 

Carrying our bags through the parking lot.

What did that room look like?

 

It was dark.

We were on the road again before dawn.

ANNUNCIATION WITH GRANDMOTHERS

ANNUNCIATION WITH GRANDMOTHERS

 

1.

First, her mother prayed No

but there was nothing

she could do. All along

she knew.

She watched

the angel announcing,

heard her daughter’s consenting.

 

2.

Many things cannot be told:

What it’s like to fall in love

(though the poets try)

To hold your child

To feel the pressure

of the hand of god

To die.

 

3.

I can feel the pressure

of their hands.

When I awaken in the night,

afraid of how my life will be,

how hard my death,

I can hear them,

see them in the shadows

from the first light’s song

to the spiral winding home.

 

 

November Writing Challenge #9 with revisions of #6

This worked better than the story, which isn’t saying much:

 

November Writing Challenge #6—ACT I

Setting:  a church sanctuary, elaborate, Victorian/Gothic. Altar with hangings, candlesticks. A cross above, not quite in the center. A font stage left, with the cross on the lid tipped to the side. There is a door in the wall next to the altar, on the right side. A chair up against each side wall. Dimly lit, as a church would be without electric lights in the middle of an autumn morning.

Cast:

Father William, The New Priest—a fresh-faced young man. In clericals.

Martha, The Altar Guild Lady—a middle-aged woman, very efficient and brisk.

Father Grayson, The Old Priest—under the altar, which is moveable, and can be raised

lowered. He is spectral and wearing a black cassock.

Florist—not a speaking part

 

As the curtain opens, Father William and Martha are standing in front of the altar, continuing a conversation.

 

William: Martha, I told the vestry that I don’t want to make any changes in the building, but I do think that straightening out that cross isn’t extreme.  I think I should just get a step ladder and get up there and move it before the service tonight.

Martha: Oh, but then you’d have to step on the altar.

William:  I’d take the fair linen off, first, of course, and put down newspapers.

Martha:  That’s not what I meant, Father. Standing on the altar.  .  .

William:  I understand. But it’s off-center. And surely when it was hung in the first place, someone had to stand on the altar.

Martha:  Father Tomlinson often commented on that cross. He believed that it was hung that way for a purpose.

William: Perhaps it was. But I believe that purpose has been fulfilled, and I shall move it to the center. And while I’m up there, if you like, I’ll give the paneling a good rubdown with whatever polish you recommend. Would you mind taking the fair linen and other things off? I’m afraid I’m not good at that sort of thing.

Martha (somewhat mollified): Certainly I can remove the things properly. And I’ll fetch some polish. I have just the thing in the sacristy closet.  Exits

William:  I thought you might. He is visibly relieved.

Martha returns wearing a pair of white gloves. She hands a pair to him.

Martha:  You may help me with the candlesticks. Be careful. They’re heavy. Father Tomlinson didn’t like is ladies to move them without gloves.

He puts the gloves on, and each of them lifts a candlestick from the altar. They carry them through the door. When they have gone, the altar shifts slightly so that the cross appears to be in the center. They return, without gloves. Martha has a tube to roll up the fair linen, and she begins to do that while William stands back and watches. He looks at the cross, clearly puzzled.

William:  Martha, could you come over here for a minute? She leaves the rolling and stands beside him.

Is it my imagination, or is the cross in the center now?

Martha:  I believe it is. But wait. . . she goes back to the altar and looks at the floor. The altar has moved. Look!  William joins her and examines the floor.

William: Did we. . . bump it? When we removed the candlesticks?

Martha: I doubt it. Try moving it.  He tries, and fails. “Bumping it” is out of the question.

William: You’re right. Was there an earthquake? But—nothing else is out of place. We would have felt something. . .

Martha: The altar has a solid marble top. I doubt that an earthquake would move it at all.

William:  Well, I guess I don’t have to move the cross.

Martha:  But now the altar is off center.

William:  And since we can’t move that, it will have to stay that way. I suppose we can put the things back.  Martha unrolls the linen again, and smooths it, while William ponders, and examines the altar and the floor. They exit. While they are gone, the altar moves back to its original place. They enter, in white gloves, carrying candlesticks, which they put on the altar. William steps back.

William:  Martha. Look.  She joins him. They look at one another in puzzlement.  All right. I think we’d better leave this. No ladder, no moving, no polishing. I must think about this. Thank you for your help. It looks as if everything is all set for the service tomorrow night.

Martha:  Except the flowers. They’ll be delivered at six. You’ll be here. (not a question)

William: Yes. My first service. All Souls’ Day. (To himself) I must remember the list of names.

Martha:  It will be sad to hear Father Tomlinson’s name on that list this year.

William:  We’ll all be on that list one day, Martha. One thing we can be sure about.

Martha:  (darkly) Assuming there is still a church and a congregation. I do hope you can make a difference. Father Tomlinson tried, but he was not well.

William:  I’m sure he did his best. The Bishop would not have sent me here if he thought the situation without hope. Thank you for your good work. Everything looks very nice.

Martha: So I’ll go now.

William: And I’ll see you this evening.

Martha:  Of course. Good morning, Father.

William:  Good morning. . .

She exits, and he stands in front of the altar with his arms folded.  

William:  All right. Whoever you are, whatever you are, I know about you. The Bishop told me there was something amiss here, and there is. That cross, that crooked font, the organ that won’t stay in tune, the bell that won’t ring no matter how many times it’s rehung, the fact that no one has been baptized or married here for one hundred years. . .  I want this foolishness to stop. And I will get to the bottom of it. I know about you. I even think I know your name. I’m off to search for the missing vestry records. And if I must, if you will not repent, I will do an exorcism, old-fashioned though that may be. As he speaks, the cross falls off the wall.  So. You see the writing on the wall:  “Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.”  Your days are numbered.  Exits.

 

ACT 2

The curtain rises on the dark sanctuary. William enters, carrying a flashlight. He stands in front of the altar and shines the light on the crooked cross.

William: I do know your name.  I found the missing records, hidden, as the Bishop suspected they’d be. Well hidden, so no one in the parish has ever found them. Buried in the bottom of a trunk in the crawl space in the attic. You are in fact Henry Malachi Grayson, the third rector of this parish. You were not universally beloved, and in fact, the vestry minutes from that time indicate that the Bishop had been asked to remove you from this cure, but it was not necessary because one Sunday morning you were not here. You were not in the rectory. You were nowhere to be found. Letters were written to your remote cousins in New York, but they had not seen you. You disappered. You are the haunting. And I want you to come forth and tell me, now, in the name of Christ, why you are haunting this place?

There is a rustling, and Father Grayson, ghostly, appears from behind the dark altar. The lights go up enough to make things more visible.

Grayson: Murder.

William:  Whose murder?

Grayson:  Mine.

William:  He sits down in the chair opposite the font. Grayson stands in front of him.  Tell me. I command you.

Grayson: (As if reciting lines by rote.) They were too young and they did not belong here.

William:  Who?

Grayson: The people who came on that Saturday. The woman was with child.

William: Strangers?

Grayson: (testy) Of course they were strangers. I would not have turned away members of my own flock. I would have chastised them, of course, as was my duty, but I would not have turned them away.

William:  What did they ask of you?

Grayson:  Marriage, in the holy church.

William:  And you refused.

Grayson:  Of course I refused.  (back to rote recitation) The man had not been baptized, the girl had fallen away. The child was conceived in sin. The man was coarse and loud. When I told him that I would marry them only if he repented and was baptized, and only if they both repented of their sin, he picked up a candlestick—(pointing to the candlesticks on the altar) and struck me. I died.

William:  And what happened then? Where did they go? What did they do with your body?

Grayson: (contemptuous) I do not know. I was dead. And so here I am, unavenged, unshriven, forbidden the heavenly mansions until my corpse is discovered and anointed.

William:  Perhaps you should repent.

Grayson: Of what should I repent? I was murdered by a hooligan.

William:  Lack of charity, perhaps. Arrogance. Pride. Bearing False Witness. Maybe. . . lust. Maybe. . . fornication.

The ghost raises its arms in a classical sort of haunting position. William is unmoved.

William: That’s it, isn’t it? You seduced that girl and she conceived. The man with her was not her lover but her father. When you refused to acknowledge your fault, he struck you and you struck him. And there was murder—but not yours.  You’ve told yourself that story from your place in purgatory for so long that you’ve come to believe it.

Grayson:  This is outrage.

William:  Indeed it is. Where did you hide the bodies, Grayson? I command you to tell me.

Grayson: (snarling)  The altar. You fool, look behind the altar.

William (stands)  And you must move it.  I command you. If you want rest for your soul, Grayson, you must do this thing. And you must confess.

Grayson gestures and the altar rises. There are two skeletons curled on the floor.

William: And now, if you would be free, confess.

Grayson is clearly beaten. He kneels, sobbing.

Grayson:  Bless me father, for I have sinned.  William stands above him.  She and her father were drifers who came to me for help. She was naive and very pretty. I gave them money for food and lodging in a boarding house, and I gave her money for nice things and I took advantage of her. She conceived and told her father. They came to me, begging me to marry her. I refused. I said that she was a whore. Her father was a strong man. He struck me. I lifted a candlestick from the altar and struck him and he fell. The girl screamed. I struck her. I hid their corpses behind the altar and sealed the seams with pitch so there would be little smell. I took clothes from the poor box to wear, and I took what money I had, and I took a train out west, where no one knew me. I died of cholera, in a no account town in Ohio. And when I came before the judgement seat, I was sentenced to return to this place until I repented. And I did not repent, but told myself the lie I told you. I confess that I have sinned, and I humbly repent. Save me, father, save me.

William:  Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis.

The lights go out, the altar is lowered, and Grayson exits in the dark. William exits also. He reemerges from the sanctuary as the lights go on—as if he’d flicked a switch. The cross is in the center, and the lid on the font is righted. 

William: I’ll leave them. What better place for two sad souls than under an altar. May they rest in peace.  He looks at his watch.  It’s nearly six. And here come the flowers. I’m going to ring the bell.

Florist enters from the audience and he helps put the flowers on the altar, then exits through the audience while she/he continues to arrange them.

There is a sound of bells.

November Writing Challenge: #1

The challenge is to write a play every day, “Good.  Bad.  Whatever.” So here goes. (Bad, but what can one expect at 6 in the morning, what with EST returning, and all?)

 

NOVEMBER 1

The stage is empty, except for a tombstone carved with “Gladys Barnes” and dates that indicate she was ninety-two and died recently.

Cast:    Young Woman— in her mid-teens, doing a project for school

two old women—One and Two, carrying baskets

the ghost of Gladys (who is concealed at the beginning, behind the tombstone)

Enter Young Woman, carrying a notebook. She examines the stone, writing in her notebook, turns to the audience.

YW:  Ninety-two. Really, really old. No other stones around her, so I wonder if she was single, or had kids, or whatever. No flowers or flags or tacky stuff. No epitaph, but the modern ones don’t seem to have them. Just an old lady who died. I bet she had a pre-paid deal and bought her own stone. I wonder if she had it all figured out. She sure as hell had time to. Okay, on to the older graves. I need epitaphs and urns.  Exits.

Enter the two old women. They stop before the stone and stand quietly for a few seconds.

OW1 (touching the stone):  Dear Gladys. I miss her. Nothing is the same. It will never be the same again.

OW2:  Of course not. No one ever promised us that anything would ever be the same, whatever that means. But we’re not hear to moan around. We have work to do.

OW1:  I know. Yes. She reaches into her basket and removes a trowel. Slowly, paintfully, she bends over and starts digging in front of the grave, her back to the audience.

OW2: This had better work. Rosemary doesn’t take well to transplanting. She takes a small plant from her basket and hands it to OW1.

OW1:  Taking the plant and putting it in the ground.  If Gladys was right—if Gladys is right, it should work fine. She knew—knows— far more than we do about this sort of thing. And now she knows the truth.  She stands up, brushing off her hands.

OW2 takes a small lamp from her basket and lights it and sets it on the grave. She then takes a bell from her basket and rings it vigorously.  Both women chant, several times:

OW:  Return, return, we summon thee!

By bell and flame and rosemary tree.

Gladys Barnes, arise!

Gladys arises, looks at the others somewhat sternly.

Gladys: What took you so long? It’s been four—no, five—days.

OW1: We couldn’t find the bell.

G:  I left it right where I said I would.

OW2:  But it wasn’t there. It was under the sofa. It must have rolled there when they carried you out.

Gladys:  I don’t remember that. But I had other things to think about, so I’m not surprised.

OW1: And the important thing is, you’re out.

Gladys: Yes. At least for now. So shall we get on with it?

They join hands and circle the stone.  

Enter the Young Woman, unseen by the others.

YW:  Wow! Two old ladies kind of dancing on the grave. Really, really weird. I’m out of here.  She exits, and the others continue to dance.  Fade out.

INCONGRUOUS

I wrote this five years ago, just before my mother died.

 

 

INCONGRUOUS

 

My mother keeps falling down;

I can’t find my littlest flashlight.

 

The gray cat is suddenly dead;

I have poison parsnip burns.

 

My mother doesn’t always know where she is;

the moon in its first quarter is tangled in the oak.

 

We’re a month from the Equinox and

the low battery light on my mouse blinks red.

 

My mother doesn’t want to see the doctor.

When I was making supper, I burned the rice.

 

Weeds have spread through the garden bed;

do I still believe in god?

 

My mother didn’t recognize me this morning;

I took another photo of the setting sun.

 

Mice are picking at the ripening tomatoes and

Jupiter burns through the sky before dawn.

SHAPE SHIFTING

(an old one)

 

SHAPE SHIFTING

 

Last night for my dinner

I slit open a womb of squash,

scooped out the papery ivory eggs,

sliced a green-white onion body so wet and alive

the two halves would not  fit tight together.

I made a salad of living things,

infants of broccoli and radish;

dressed it with the blood of olive and grape.

 

The boundaries are not clear.

This morning the dog dug a nest of mice

out of long grass, swallowed the babies

like little pink pills.  They slid easy

down her throat: wriggling embryos

dissolving in her stomach,

becoming dog.

I commend them to their god.

 

And there was a time I read an article

about a wildlife biologist summoned

to investigate the death of a woman

by mountain lion.  It happens more often

than you’d think.  He tracked the beast,

found its cache in a litter of leaves.

He said, “I hate to tell you, but what was left

looked an awful lot like meat.”

 

 

Grolier Poetry Prize Runner-up, 2001

EVERYWHERE

EVERYWHERE

 

My mother was a canyon

the green river carved

through centuries of stone.

 

She was a long train winding

between red-mud hills,

wild cucumber springing from her tracks.

 

She was the sidewalk

outside an airport where

a solitary pigeon pecked at crumbs.

 

My mother became a cobble-stone

street slick with rain;

an impassive golden angel

 

watching me from her perch

above the Paris Opera as I dragged

my suitcase with its one broken

 

wheel.  My mother was

my grandmother’s derelict

house in Ostrowy

 

where the jackdaws never change,

calling “Kawka! Kawka!”

their ancient Polish name.

The Mary Poems, Part Four

THE MARY POEM: PART FOUR

FISHERWOMAN

The wife of Zebedee mends the nets–

her hands as rough as a fisherman’s hands.

My husband is too old, she says,

to go in the boat alone.

It is a wondrous thing, she says,

to go in a boat at night.

My sons will not return, she says,

and cuts a cord with her yellow teeth.

Our sons will not return.

But then she laughs and ties her knots:

They’ve promised me a golden crown.

AFTER SUPPER

My firstborn took my bread in his hands,

blessed it and tore it and gave it his name.

My bread, in my mouth, the flesh of my child.

And we sang, and the men went out.

After they had gone, we washed the plates and bowls and swept the room.

When there was nothing left in there,  I came out here to watch the moon.

She is empty.

A white hole in the sky.

I am a hole in earth.

Once I held the waters–oceans, rivers, the fountains and wells, every drop of dew–

Now I am empty.

Now I have done.

CRUCIFIXION

Forgive?

My son.

Fruit of my womb.

They condemned, betrayed and nailed–

my son,

my firstborn son.

Forgive?  Forgive?

Rebels gasp on their crosses,

soldiers kneel in the dust

tossing dice for the tunic–

can their mothers

forgive?

My son hangs

and promises paradise

to innocents duped by power,

and

here I stand.

You, Herod.

You, Pilate.

You, Chief Priest and Council,

all timid and zealous for your laws–

I curse

your laws.

I curse your power.

You.

By all the blood that women bleed,

by all the screams,

by all the fear and bruising,

by water and fire and stone,

by Adam’s skull,

this ground filling and filling

with blood–

The heavens are silent.

His Father in heaven

is silent.

Or he is dead.

It is all the same.

But I have spoken.

I thirst, but not for wine,

hunger, but not for bread.

Once I magnified eternity,

now nothing

but ravage and wrong.

My son.

Our body, broken.

All the wine is sour.

All the water, salt.

NIGHT

So many nights I have watched with the moon;

so many times, alone.

The moon is too silver, too bright.

Earth

should not be so beautiful.

The olive blossoms

should not smell so sweet.

The wind should not

touch my face so softly,

so softly.

LEAVEN

In my dark house

I am making bread.

We shall go to the tomb

when the cock crows in the garden,

when the sun has pushed aside the stone.