Playscript

…And Leave Him There

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man......Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

…And Leave Him There

SCRIPT CONVENTIONS:

  1. Text of four sizes appears in the script:

12 point plain text indicates narration

11 point plain text indicates verse

10 point plain text indicates song lyrics

9 point italic text indicates staging suggestions

  1. Indentation, also, is used to indicate the type of text: narration is set margin to margin, verse is indented two tabs and song lyrics are centred.
  1. Staging suggestions are enclosed in round brackets at the point where they occur.
  2. At the beginning of the play, two paramedics are seen wheeling a gurney SR to SL. At the end of the play, they wheel the gurney SL to SR. The action of the play takes place between these movements. Therefore, there are no breaks in the script and no interval; although, I have indicated where an appropriate break might be inserted should an interval be needed for reasons such as commercial or contractual considerations.
  3. THE PLAYERS           The Narrator: A man of about fifty years of age

A Young Woman about twenty five years of age

A Young Man also about twenty five years of age

  • Production Note: The play was written with adaptability and scalability in mind: this version is a three-hander for the commercial stage. Although the directions indicate the presence of a live band and elaborate stage sets, it could be mounted without the band and with a more minimal set. Larger forces; for instance, a variety of singers and reciters would lead to a more expansive feel and bring the Narrator into greater prominence. A radio version needs little amendment and a film/TV/animated adaptation would be possible, given the nature of this work. BM

___________________________PLAY BEGINS___________________________

(Music in background, instrumental, from “Coda”. The setting is in Manhattan in the spacious living area of an apartment in midtown; the date is 11 September 2001. It is a few hours before the event that changed the history of the 21st Century. The stage is open at the outset- no real sense of location. There are ramps and flies that can be shifted. The sets are fluid. There may be a playing platform for a live band if the production allows, who are sometimes behind a scrim, sometimes in view. The band, as well as playing and singing, may be incorporated into the action of the play, including the verse sections. Two paramedics push an unoccupied gurney across the stage, in a hurry. There are strobe effects and we see the movement jerkily. Strobe off as the gurney and its pushers exit unseen. Then, there is a spot within a diffuse spot into which the Narrator moves, downstage, off-centre. There is a rocking chair downstage, side stage are a variety of movable surfaces and shelves. Should the stage allow, tabs can fly to open up or narrow the width of the playing area. The Narrator is carrying a glass of water and he is wearing a dressing gown and slippers. During the play the gown and slippers he wears will change. A partition, for quick changes on stage, should be part of the set. DSC is a large, tall and wide picture window from which can be seen a familiar cityscape. Skyscrapers fill the window but we cannot see the tops of the largest skyscrapers in the centre because there is a fashionable blind which comes down covering the top third of the window)

I have lived in harbour cities in that global abstraction that we call the West: on both sides of the Atlantic- Belfast on the Eastern edge; New York on the other- and also that Emerald City of the Antipodes- Sydney. Alas, although I would have loved to complete the trans-oceanic set, San Francisco or L.A. were never to be locales in which I have lived…ah, well! He pauses, takes a chased silver pillbox with three or four compartments from his pocket which he flicks open. He raises it to his mouth and washes a pill down with a drink of water and returns the pillbox to his dressing gown pocket.) As a child I met a courteous merchant marine captain named Schnell who knew and revered Hitler. This was in 1959; he had, no doubt, dined out on this for years. As, indeed, have I … (He breaks and crosses to a table the follow-spot brings into view. He sets the glass on the table beside a partly-open book.) That’s done: the introductory dance, that is. I suppose you wonder why you should stay- even pay- to listen to this. I know of those men and women, artists all, who put their all into whatever genre they are presenting- the laundry lists, the diaristic agonies, the close-up of tears, the unendurably sad sobbing of violins. I will not do this. I am much too cold a fish for that. I have been told this. I have been told this. My wife, in fact, compared me to a fish as she left for JFK ten days ago. “Don’t drink like a fish when I’m gone- and don’t forget-you have the infusion at the clinic”. But she did leave me with this. (He takes from his pocket a small device with a red button.) Ha! The panic button! Not so long ago, I thought it was just a saying. Strange. (He puts it away again) Where was I? The violins…the violins. Yes!  Nor will I emulate those monsters of ego who tell you nothing but can show everything: who surround themselves with great paintings, priceless first editions, antique furniture and all the uncountable, unimaginable accoutrements of culture in their landmark chateaux, schlosses, castles and penthouses. The sort of people you love to know about even though you may hate everything they have achieved and everything they stand for. You know, I’m just like you, so, it may be a kindness of fate that a recent windfall has come late enough to save me from myself. For I think, I think, that if such great good fortune had come my way earlier- I would have been a monster too. But more of that later. . we are only at the beginning of our journey, after all. (He looks down at his dressing gown, which is a plain, light-coloured affair, plucking at it fastidiously.) I think therefore I am. Descartes. Yes? Don’t flinch; I will not bombard you with Wittgensteinian profundities and obfuscatory perambulations around abstruse philosophical topologies only negotiable by a poindexter with the agility of a mountain-goat harbouring a penchant for semiotics. No! I inhabit a much more moderate tract of intellectual real-estate. I am what you may call- a middle-brow sort of person. No threat, no threat at all. That which I have is, for most part, borrowed rather than grown or owned. But to get back to the courteous captain. As a child of about…oh, I was eight or nine, I listened with only the vaguest comprehension to the table-talk. The table talk.  We were on an oil-tanker, in mid-Atlantic, on our way to a vacation that the oil-company insisted the families of its employees took every two years. My father had many contacts among the merchant marine and he had arranged passage from Aruba to Southampton for his family on this occasion during our sojourn in the tropics. As guests of the captain, we were at his table. There was, as well as my sisters and mother, another guest; a young man of mixed race who showed to me on deck one day a miniature camera that was one of his proudest possessions. As I say, I have only the vaguest recollections of the content and import of the captain’s conversation. What registered then, and has never left me, is the icy contempt with which he treated that young man whose name, I regret to say, I do not remember. Captain Schnell would lavish old-world courtesy on my mother; he would smile at me and my sisters indulgently. But as for the young man of mixed race- and what a stupid and vacuous phrase that is- there is only one human race after all. And here, in this place, in this space, I think we can all agree on that. But in that other space, that other time, on that oil tanker in mid-Atlantic- the captain was never rude. He was always punctilious in passing the soup tureen and so on- but everybody knew, everybody knew, the young man included, that captain Schnell despised the young-not-quite-white-man who must have had connections the captain could not refuse. So why did I forget his name? Maybe, it’s been the weight of several decades: the sluice, no, no, the torrent of information that has poured in through my senses- only five, by the traditional way of counting them. All that noise and light; the odour, taste and texture of life itself. Maybe it was that I didn’t care enough then and perhaps don’t really care enough now- or am I being too honest? Can one be too honest? And still, forgetfulness fills us with such terror. I don’t really understand- but, then, I don’t have to- I’m not an explicator, explainer, philosopher. Perhaps something of an observer. (At this point he walks downstage and scans the audience slowly.) And from time to time I scratch that itch that some call the need to create. An observer, then, with a need to relieve the itch.  The conceit is not unusual but probably borrowed even though it fits so easily, so naturally. That’s me done with introspection- for now, anyway. I’ve always preferred stories-(He crosses to the table and picks up the dog-eared paperback.)  a good read over the worthy canonical tomes you can find under the heading: self-improvement. And, indeed, I’m always surprised to find people who think that I’m educated, even erudite. Having encountered and, in a couple of instances, been friends with people who are- I know my place, my pleasure, my role, if you want to be reductive about it. I scavenge…collect enticing bits and pieces, turn them over close to my face in wonder, then notice something glinting just over there, and either drop what I am examining or stuff it in a pocket (He places the book in a pocket.) as I clamber over, it may well be, the secret of the universe as I reach for the next shining artefact, leaving the real prize untouched.  (He takes the pillbox from his pocket and looks at it…) This metaphor, too, is, in all likelihood, borrowed. From now on take it as read that much of what transpires has not been voiced in the universe for the first time. Of course, I have enough vanity left to tell you that I will feel disconsolate, for however short a time, if you conclude, as did a professor after reading his student’s plagiarised essay: this work is both original and good but, unfortunately for you, the good bits aren’t original and the original bits aren’t any good. The icy captain Schnell stirred my interest in history. But have you read a history book recently; so heavy, doesn’t fit in the pocket or the mind very easily. Scavengers only rarely have the time. Much better is to slip a poem or a song snugly into the memory and take it out, when leisure allows, and set it beside some other small treasure that you have found along the way. (He replaces the pillbox and takes out the paperback quickly finding the page.) Let me demonstrate what I mean. . (He takes a rectangular reading magnifier from his pocket. He needs this to make out the words and images of almost every book or picture he looks at.) On the authority of Edwin Brock I have learned that…(Cross-fade, lights down on the Narrator as, advancing across the stage, comes a no-nonsense woman, dressed in clinical whites, perhaps with a clipboard, carrying a slim, silver pen which is used to tick off points on the clipboard. She will appear in later scenes. The click of the pen as the points are enumerated should be audible. Bring in progressively more elaborate set aspects as the play progresses. At the start the set is quite bare; by page 20 it is expressionistic, even surreal.)

from Five Ways to Kill a Man– Edwin Brock

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man

you can make him carry a plank of wood

to the top of a hill and nail him to it…

Or you can take a length of steel,

shaped and chased in a traditional way,

and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears,

…you may, if the wind

allows, blow gas at him…

…you may fly

miles above your victim and dispose of him by

pressing one small switch…

…Simpler, direct, and much more neat

is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle

of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

(She clicks the pen decisively: lights fade as she exits. A kaleidoscope of colours swirl on a scrim as the opening notes and chords of the song begin. As the song begins we see behind the scrim the shadow of the singer. This figure is the young man dressed in fascistic black and silver. Fly the scrim as the song gets under way to spot another figure dressed in motley; a clown-king, a harlequin, (in fact the young woman after a quick change) who enters. Sound FX of crowds cheering during song chorus words “ooh, ahh”, modulating to crowds screaming on the last chorus.)     

The Emperor of Ice Cream

Wallace wrote a poem and put it in a glass jar

Placed it on a hillside deep inside Tennessee

Ah don’t you know that Sunday can be wearing

Strolling in a peignoir mulling on the mystery

Where is that sweet man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

Plot against the giant young girls if you’re able

Summon him with bright cloths whisper in his fleshy ear

But first make sure those sweet smells really check him

Or he will detect your schemes and growl lights out shades down

Recall that nice man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

Look at fat Jocundus staring at a tumbler

Watch the politicians playing cards their fat cigars

Become their batons beating lazy jig-time

As macabre mice dance dreaming of democracy

Send back that white man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

Place a loaf of bread beside a scenic window

Cover up with paint the view that lies beyond the crust

But when you hear the sound of marching feet

It’s time to face the beast the mask is off you’ve lost

Here is that feared man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

(During the final chorus the clown crosses to the singer, takes the radio mic (singer exits) and hands it to the Narrator, which he takes without surprise. The clown sits cross-legged and “his” head sinks. The Narrator switches the mic off, after speaking the first sentence, during which time there are echo and phasing effects. His gown is now white with blue piping.)

A much younger man wrote that song in the mid-seventies: sitting in a Sydney park under the antipodean sun, reading the poetry of Wallace Stevens, watching his two young children playing; a refugee from the cauldron that was Belfast- the first of the harbour cities to give a shape to his life, the place he sought out as a teen for its music and the sweet, sweet girl who was to become his partner for what has been now over thirty years. And now circumstances have forced her to be his warder- (You realise I’m talking about myself here- third-person pretension, I think it’s called?) I have an addictive personality, I am told, and I have to be watched for my own good. And because she isn’t here to watch- she has left this device for me to use if I go over the edge (He takes out the panic device again)…wherever and whatever that may be. Apparently it will summon help: the ever dependable Eddie downstairs or some paramedical service. Ha! Help! Help…  Australia, then, was the land of the long weekend, bland but safe. Oh, I know that horrors lurked. But not for us any more – or rather, the beast was safely out of sight for another ten years or so. It was strange to reflect that less than ten years before, I had been part of that sixties’ optimism- all the entrenched bigotries were being swept away by the scornful laughter of rejection as youthful shock-troops kitted out by Carnaby Street and waving the incoherent manifestos of various pop philosophers stormed the tired ramparts of- what else- The Establishment. And 1968 was the annus mirabilis- a time when, throughout most of the western world, change seemed not only possible and desirable but inevitable and imminent. But, in Belfast, other, less fashionably dressed, players were in the game. They, too, had the establishment in their sights. But with them that expression was not figurative. It all went sour very quickly. Anyone who has lived through the experience of a civil society collapsing can attest to this. One day, it seems, all is well, nothing but mundane concerns clouding the horizon. The next day the sun doesn’t rise because, in Yeats’ memorable lines, the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity. And what was I during the cataclysm? Neither best nor worst. Was I lukewarm, perhaps? To be spewed out of destiny’s mouth! (Replacing the device in a pocket, he now takes out a flask, sips from it, rolling the liquid around) Destiny’s mouthwash perhaps? Once upon a time I would have riffed on that conceit- turned it into a song-lyric, short story or, more likely, barroom bluster. Now I find it a chore merely to recount. (During the opening bars of the song the clown comes to life and starts to dance around the Narrator- The clown, dances DSC and begins to sing. The Narrator crosses to a partition which allows him to quickly change gowns and slippers. From, presumably, a small bar-fridge he takes a tomato, and from a tastefully arrayed set of knives he selects a shining blade with which he proceeds to slice the tomato on an adjacent surface. He clicks on a kettle; we see a coffee mug next to it. The choreography should be arranged to highlight the appropriate moments to bring the Narrator and his actions into view. His gown is now blood-red, as are his slippers.)

Harlequin’s Poles

Harlequin dances round the poles in the hall

We dance along singing his song

And now we’re falling

Harlequin glances at the writing on the wall

He speeds the dance we’re in a trance

We hear him calling

He seems such a nice guy

With his painted on smile

Hope he’s going to stay a while

Harlequin chances on some people won’t heed him at all

He takes their lives with his long knives

And now they’re fallen

He seemed such a nice guy

With his painted on smile

As the bodies pile up high

Harlequin dances round the poles in the hall

We dance along trapped in his song

And now we’re fallen

(Exit clown. Light fx of swirling smoke on scrim. The Narrator moves downstage holding his mug of coffee. We note he has finished his tomato and his first words may be somewhat muffled as he swallows the remnants of his collation. He warms his hands on the mug and speaks quietly to the audience.)

I had a friend, once upon a time, who lived in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney. From a new house with bloodwood timber floors and views across a wilderness of eucalypts, he only had to step outside to walk for hours in any direction through one of the most glorious landscapes the world can offer. But he was bored; dissatisfied with his lot. You see, entering into his fifth decade, he had never experienced history. I reminded him of the ancient Chinese curse that wishes the enemy a life in interesting times. Drink your steaming, gourmet coffee (He looks sardonically at his own sad beverage.) as the sun burns the early morning mist off the mountains, I said, and read about it from the comfort of your hillside retreat. You teach in a multicultural school in the city. Do you wonder why that seventeen-year old Croatian girl’s eyes are full of pain? Remember the expulsion of the Afghani youth whose behaviour was seriously alarming? It’s safer to read about the Taliban’s treatment of dissidents than experience it. Too young to have seen service in Vietnam, he had at least one student in each of his classes as a consequence of Australia’s involvement. A good person, he had helped repair the damage done to some of those who, in fact, had the misfortune to be living in places undergoing interesting times. And he had worked and scrimped and saved with his beautiful wife to build the beautiful house of their dreams to share with their two beautiful children. But he was bored; dissatisfied with his lot. So, he set out to experience history. We threw them a going-away party and our kids played together in the backyard as we drank a wonderful red wine around an open fire, yellow-box wood was burning in the brazier and I can smell it still. He was killed by separatists outside a model school… somewhere in the Himalayas as I recall, burned to death in his car with his wife and two pre-teen daughters as they were arriving to start the new school year. (During this time he has been downstage, pacing, drinking his coffee. He crosses to the side and places his cup down. He returns with a spray-bottle, as he continues speaking he sprays, from time to time, a sizeable bonsai garden set in a trough suspended from chains that may be flown in. From the audience p.o.v. the hanging basket should be shaped as a half-vesica, a miniature island with small bonsai plants and rock formations) As I watched our kids playing in that Sydney backyard I was reminded of playing on the patios of Aruba- the adults would drink and talk and never think our little ears were listening. But they were. For a few years, it was evident that a change was coming. My dad would talk about the new crew he was training up; my mum would ask “But when will they…?” “Shhh, Big ears is just over there…” In 1964 we returned to Northern Ireland, for the last time from the sunny sojourn that was my childhood; from the Lotus Land that was the small Caribbean island of Aruba where my father had worked for twenty five years as a tug-master for the oil company founded by old man Rockefeller, one of the icons of Capitalism. From time to time, to break the monotony, I would rummage about in the attic of a rainy day- and the small coastal village of Cushendall had more than its share of these that year, as I remember it. There was, in an old, green steamer trunk, brass-bound with an ornate hasp and decaying leather handles, piles of newspapers, copies of The Irish News from the years of the Second World War. And I began to read: there in black and white was the frisson of living in exciting times. A newspaper that doesn’t know if it will publish the next day, courtesy of a German bomb, has rather more focus than the indulged rags of peaceful epochs. A bit like a man facing execution- as Doctor Johnston said- it concentrates the mind wonderfully. At any rate, this was history. My father and mother were in its pages, in very, very, small print- he hadn’t been a general at Stalingrad but has watched a U-Boat blow a friend out of the water, literally. Strange how glibly that phrase “blown out of the water” falls from the mouths of those who have never been closer to conflict than raised voices, a shove or a drunken slap. They were on the Maracaibo run bringing crude oil from Venezuela to the oil-refinery in Aruba. He never spoke about it to me- it was part of the family legend and some things you knew better than to broach. My mother, meanwhile, an ocean away, helped console the shattered survivors of the Luftwaffe’s attacks on Belfast. They made monsters in those days, and even the ordinary people seemed larger-than-life. But I was born into the next age, the Age of Anxiety. In the early sixties, Castro was a renegade on the rampage not too far to the north- but somehow comic with his beard and cigar, a Latin Groucho Marx rather than the more imposing German Karl. However, the missile crisis sparked nervous cocktail conversations in the patios of expatriate Americans: You can bet the refinery will be hit! (He aims his spray gun at the audience “shooting” them in a wide arc.) The periodicals were full of details of how to build bomb shelters. The commie bastards would, of course, be utterly destroyed. MAD was more than a magazine title, in those days. That magazine, by the way, provoked in me spasms of hysterical laughter one day in 1961- I don’t remember what, in particular, set me off but I remember my mother regarding me oddly as I pointed gasping and shrieking at the source of my merriment. In memory it seems to be in vivid colour even though I know the magazine didn’t abandon the black and white form for decades after that. The other magazine I remember from the time was US News and World Report which, unlike MAD, featured prominently on the periodicals display in the High School library. And, from that sober source I learned about an invisible, mysterious killer- Radiation delivered in its hellish sacramental form- Fallout. (He points the spray gun vertically overhead and sprays, lighting should show the droplets falling around him.) My learning was from the printed page. In 1945 on a clear August day the people of a Japanese harbour city learned about it much more directly (Lights out, The Narrator exits as the drone of a B-29 fills the theatre and fades. Brilliant strobe flash, bright, tight spot picks up the young woman dressed in white who speaks the poem; other effects or none as your conception of the piece dictates)

from The Shadow– Toge Sankichi  

That morning

a flash tens of thousands of degrees hot

burned it all of a sudden onto the thick slab of granite:

someone’s trunk.

Burned onto the step, cracked and watery red,

the mark of the blood that flowed as intestines melted to mush:

a shadow.

 

Ah! if you are from Hiroshima

and on that morning,

amid indescribable flash and heat and smoke,

were buffeted in the whirlpool of the glare of the flames, the shadow of the cloud,

crawled about dragging skin that was peeling off,

so transformed that even your wife and children

would not have known you,

this shadow

is etched in tragic memory

and will never fade.

(She turns and watches as the singer, the young man dressed in a bomber jacket WWII vintage, begins to sing.)

Airman

When I was a young boy on the farm

I didn’t believe that bad men could win in the end

I thought evil was stealing cars

Or getting drunk and wrecking dimly lit bars

But then the depression rolled along

The bank foreclosed the family took to the road

I joined the Army Air Corps just in time

To go to war and then go out of my mind

Above the clouds lies the land of our dreams

They say everything is beautiful

But it ain’t what it seems

We gathered in early light the wind was chill

A general made a speech we yawned half asleep

Thunder of engines rocked the dawn

A few hours later a city was gone

Above the clouds lies the land of our dreams

They say everything is beautiful

But it ain’t what it seems

Above the clouds lies the land of our dreams

They say everything is beautiful

But it ain’t what it seems

(The singer and reciter see each other, pace slowly until they are face to face. They look into one another’s eyes, then walk slowly side by side upstage and the Narrator walks downstage between them. The singer-pilot pauses, reaches in his pocket and hands a small black oblong object to the Narrator who advances towards the audience as the others exit.)

I first held a switchblade in 1962. We were bored. All those movies of youthful rebellion, the stories of the streets brought back by boys from New York City or Chicago fed our hunger for connection in the tropical nights. Sneaking out was a test of manhood. While our parents snored we would slip away to an assigned meeting place among the cactus and coral. We would throw eggs or almonds at passing police trucks, steal Coca Cola from crates in the backyards of bungalows and crash parties of younger or uncool kids. I remember the shock on the faces of teachers shortly after we showed up at the High School Halloween dance dressed in jeans, black jackets and white, white T-shirts. It was prize-giving time. The scariest costume or theme was supposed to win. We swaggered up, five of us, stood in a semicircle before the judges, who, as the younger and less powerful members of the teaching staff, had been allocated supervision duty for the night. They smiled indulgently… how could we hope to compete with the assortment of ghouls, ghosts and goblins standing about in the hall? On a signal we each produced our knives. The click (He presses the button on his held object and the blade swings out.) as the blades locked in place was executed with the precision of a US Marine honour guard hefting arms. We didn’t win. Our shiny blades were confiscated and we got detention for a month. We were that Junior High’s coolest gang and we were bad- in a middle-class, pampered, sort of way. Innocent, really, now that I look back on it. We were never going to be a match for the real-life counterparts of The Sharks and The Jets: West Side Story was causing a sensation at the time. And, of course, we were not even in the same universe as those teenage gangs who called themselves the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the seventies. The lesson I learned as I served my detention time was that the wielders of authority decide who is going to win, regardless of what the rules may say, even when they solemnly intone that everyone has to abide by them… especially then : (He crosses to side-stage. There is a bookshelf with a variety of tomes. He looks silently at the array during the song. Occasionally, he extracts one and looks at the title on the spine before replacing it. The young man sings.)

Outlaws

He never walked in Sherwood Forest

Or twirled a six-gun in the west

But here on the line live his people confined

They love the outlaw

Take Robin Hood or Billy the Kid

Not much in common but they lived

Outside the law hold our children enthralled

They play the outlaw

So raise your glasses to the Sheriff

Cheer Marshal Garrett till you’re hoarse

The people outside you scorn and deride

They toast the outlaw

Who do you turn to when times get rough

When the keepers and the guardians are corrupt

Oh oh oh oh

Oh oh oh oh

Don’t point to facts they have no force

A body count brings no remorse

Just look past the eyes of the zombie inside

We need our outlaws

(Exit the singer. The Narrator now selects a slim yearbook and may look through it from time to time as he approaches the audience talking. In it he sees photographs of himself and his friends and scenes of some of the activities described.)

The following year I took my Dad’s Chevvy for a drive. It was 1963 and I was feeling a bit of an outlaw. I’ve always looked younger than my age and among the well-fed North Americans I was the Irish runt- always the smallest in my class. In yearbook after yearbook I’m that really small kid at the end on the left-hand side. The police sergeant smiled as he handed the keys back to my father saying that at first he thought the car was driving itself. It was time to bail out. A criminal life was not for me. It’s hard to sustain the persona of an underworld czar when your victims only laugh at your exploits. But, hey, it was the sixties, and rebellion didn’t have to take the form of serious law-breaking. There was a new music being born. And I started to listen. An older girl who could actually drive legally- she was sixteen- showed me a Martin guitar. She was raving about the coffee house folk scene back in the States. Her name was Mary Ann and she, with her friends Bonnie and Cheryl, took a shine to me and my friends. They adopted us as mascots and drove us around, gave us beers and smokes and complained about their boyfriends. They were seriously cool chicks; they read widely, knew about art and music and told us that women actually dug men with brains above the pelvic region. Not that this stopped them whistling at the senior basketball team at practice and singing rude songs, the content of which would make a rugby team blush She didn’t need liberating, Mary Ann. Bright academically, really striking in looks, (although, funnily enough it isn’t reflected in her yearbook photographs) she laughed at the teachers at the school and called them greys- even though they were mostly in their thirties and selected for their above average academic record. I almost cried when I told her that I had to leave to return to Ireland. She laughed, gave me a cigarette and handed me a bottle of Amstel beer. She leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Don’t go grey.”  (He touches his receding grey hair) Now, I never thought she was advocating that I dye my hair in later years. It took me years to realise that she and her friends were an extraordinarily deviant group, but deviant, only in the sense that they were just about as far from the conventional 60s norm as you can get. Then, I just took it as read that the other half of the human race, in whom I was just starting to take hormonal notice, were wise and witty and funny beyond anything that we could come up with. (The Narrator stands downstage to one side looking at a page of the yearbook as the young woman- advances. She accompanies her recitation with large gestures, jazz-ballet style. Obvious light effects will suggest themselves but it’s OK to resist them. On the line “people will stare forever” the narrator gazes spellbound at the young woman.)

I Would Like to be a Dot in a Painting by Miro– Moniza Alvi

I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.

.

Barely distinguishable from other dots,

it’s true, but quite uniquely placed.

And from my dark centre

I’d survey the beauty of the linescape

and wonder- would it be worthwhile

to roll myself towards the lemon stripe,

Centrally poised, and push my curves

against its edge, to get myself

a little extra attention?

But it’s fine where I am.

I’ll never make out what’s going on

around me, and that’s the joy of it.

The fact that I’m not a perfect circle

makes me more interesting in this world.

People will stare forever-

Even the most unemotional get excited.

So here I am on the edge of animation,

a dream, a dance, a fantastic construction,

A child’s adventure.

And nothing in this tawny sky

Can get too close or move too far away

(The Narrator walks towards her but never gets too close. The young woman exits appropriately and the Narrator returns and replaces the yearbook on the shelf. He mixes himself a drink. It’s a stiff one, he shouldn’t really be having it. Stage business here, as elsewhere should not, unless dramatically necessary, impede the fluidity of the play’s unfolding.)

I have never forgotten Mary Ann. I would like to think that she took her iconoclastic insouciance into her future life. If she still lives, and if she, by some magic of mathematical chance, hears me now, can I say, Mary Ann- I took your advice, I didn’t go grey or tried not to- I read (present tense) read (past tense) widely, listened to music from everywhere I could manage, sought out art and sculpture and tried, even if in a small way, to create. Although, I would be the first to concede- I will never be among the pantheon of your artistic heroes. But, as I said, I read voraciously and still can’t resist a big, really big, Art Folio or an extravagantly outré exhibition- and Manhattan is just the place to be for that! Music still has me enthralled, and I have gorged on jazz and rock and experimental and classical over the past months of my Big Apple residency and I still haven’t been satiated and, alas, I think something else will intervene before that happens. Oh, I never will forget her laughter at a world that was horrible and risible at the same time. Her laughter was the sound, you know, the music that made me first look at life with a clear, cold eye. I have basked in the glow of memories such as those starlit car-rides out through the police gates, guarding the segregated housing of the employees of the oil company, into the more anarchic multiracial streets of San Nicholas- a mini-Manhattan in it’s own way- and I have derived strength from something created in those few short months that has endured to this day. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem, The Self-Unseeing, where he set out that universal truth: that it is only long after the event that we can actually appreciate the significance of our actions and of the people in our lives. Not long after I had the privilege of knowing you, Maryanne, (and, also, Cheryl and Bonnie) I was heading towards a new life in the Old World. Tired old Europe and tired old Ireland was to be the setting of the next phase of my life: the gates of Eden closed as we drove to the airport, my older brother and I, to take a flight that was heading north to Miami and New York, then east, over the Atlantic, towards the emerald isle. As we soared above the clouds, I persuaded my brother to order a vodka and coke for himself, which I drank. He didn’t drink at the time and, reflecting on this small episode, you might well wonder how the diminutive youth could be so persuasive. Years later I asked him about it and he said that I had an appeal, then, that was hard to resist. His use of the past tense hurt somewhat. We lose so much, as we grow older, don’t we? I wasn’t trailing clouds of glory, but the fumes of that spirit, high above the Atlantic, helped to kill the pain. I knew I was leaving the walled garden, that Eden, in Aruba and that the coming years would be…well, I was to find out: (He crosses to a shelf of books and takes one, returning to his rocking chair. He carries his drink which he places on a small table beside the chair. During the song-sung by the young man- he reads the book with intensity- but closes it, with a sigh before the song ends.)

Cannery Row

With Mack and the boys out on Cannery Row

Laid into the wine jug we sat

On a log placed outside the Flophouse and Grill

We watched the sun painting the hill

As the armchair romantic sinks into his dream

He forgets that his life is constrained

How he wrestled and lost with a thing that was dead

How emptiness entered his head

A handful of notes won’t buy you the soul

That you traded for being assured

For the pages must turn then the book’s cast aside

Another you has just died

My cheek on one shoulder I walk past the shelves

Of the library just before dark

I needed to borrow a chart for the mind

I had lost and was searching to find

Then to the Mojo Motel book a table for two

The Moonglow quintet plays requests and old

Standards for you it’s true

Home again we make mechanical love and you

Say it was okay

But Mack and the boys are still living it up

And the Doc has returned from the tide

And those good working girls are preparing to go

To the party on Cannery Row

Yes Mack and the boys are still living it up

And the Doc has returned from the tide

And those good looking girls are already at

The party on Cannery Row

(The singer exits. The Narrator places now empty glass on a surface, side stage, and he replaces the book on a shelf.)

One of my first discoveries in the Old World was the existence of old people. Aruba was an expatriate society with one purpose only: to refine the crude oil from Venezuela and send it off to the gas guzzlers of the American Dream. Hence, it was an artificial social construct using any index you might select. Even the water was, in a sense, artificial. It didn’t fall from the sky or run in rivers but was piped in from a desalinisation plant and was more valuable than the crude oil. I recall where an employee of the company, actually one of the rising young executives, was summarily dismissed for tampering with his water meter. Through youthful eyes all the adults were old- but, in reality, they were mostly in their thirties or forties. Really old people, like my parents, had attained the impossible age of fifty- younger than I am now. The houses, schools, clubs, boats, cars, clothes, toys, tools, furniture, fittings, fixtures- all new. Set down by American Capital on a small desert island only a generation before. Aruba, at that time, was owned by Holland but the Americans built a refinery and constructed a quasi-colonial enclave- we actually called it the Colony- on one end of the island which was walled off from the rest of the island, the gates manned by armed police to ensure its isolation. The food also was, for most part, freighted in and sold from a commissary. Now, Ireland was different. When my father returned upon his retirement from the company- I had preceded him and my mother to start boarding school some months before- he took me up a narrow, rutted, lane in the country to visit his stepmother. It was a small one-storey Irish cottage with whitewashed walls and thatched roof. The wooden half-door was open and inside was an open fire with an iron kettle swung over it. There was an open dresser with gleaming crockery, an old wooden bench and a dog asleep on a rug. Decades later I was to visit a theme park in the south of Ireland with an almost identical cottage, outside and in. My father knocked and we entered. A small, stooped, wizened woman with deep fissures in her face smiled faintly at us as she hobbled out of a darkened room off to one side of the main living area. This was his step-mother. After introductions, he told me to go play by the stream that ran close by, while they talked. There I had one of those almost preternatural encounters that puzzles me to this day: across the stream was a tinker lad- one of the travelling people of Ireland. Commonly called the Gypsies, they are the subject of prejudice wherever they go. He called across the stream to me but I could not understand what he was saying. He repeated his words- still no comprehension. The next thing I remember, we were throwing stones at one another. Then I heard my father call my name; the tinker-lad dropped the stone he was about to throw, laughed, and disappeared into the bushes lining the stream. I walked back feeling, feeling…and the feeling persists to this day…somehow cheated. When we were settled in the car I asked my father about his real mother, but he answered only that she had died when he was a small boy. It wasn’t until thirty five years later that I was to receive a fuller account. I saw old people on the streets, at Mass, when I visited relatives, or in attendance at the funerals and wakes that were a not unusual feature of country life in the Glens of Antrim: I ought, in short, to have been inoculated by the…Methusaleh-isation of my life in a society with a more natural demographic spread than the one I had been living in but remember being shocked to the core by the evidence of rampant geriatric carnality encountered when I worked for a summer on the Isle of Man at a holiday camp a few years after my return. I was sixteen years old and, for the first time in my life, truly on my own, away from the influence of adults who had an interest in or responsibility for me. I had completed my O- Levels and flew to that strange island in the middle of the Irish Sea with Sean Flynn, a friend from school a year older than me. He was a day boy who travelled by bus from Ballymena and I travelled by bus from Cushendall- a day boy too, apart from a few months boarding- of which, more later. But to get back to the rampant geriatric carnality- which I wish I possessed in greater measure- the easy English sexuality in the mid-sixties was somewhat in advance of the Irish kind practised in the repressed Catholic country parish I lived in. One night, returning to my cabin after washing the pots and pans in the cavernous kitchen which catered for the happy campers, I heard low grunts and thumps coming from the other side of my very basic sleeping quarters. Thinking it was a dog at the garbage cans placed there, I rounded the corner to confront Ernie and Madge engaged in what I was later to learn was called a knee-trembler. Ernie was a janitor, married to Edna who was head of the cleaners at the camp. Madge was one of the cooks in the kitchen. What was said to me was short but not incongruent with the activity I had so inconsiderately interrupted. Whispering my revelation to Sean, after I had prodded him awake upon my stunned return, I was puzzled by his failure to fall out of his bunk at the enormity I had just related: But Jesus, Sean, I said, they’ve both got grey hair! (The Narrator has grey or greying hair.) Sean just yawned. Sean, yawn- ah…anyway, Sean didn’t think much of a previous… epiphany… I had related it only months before, when we were planning our Isle of Man adventure in the study hall of the college. After I returned from Aruba I was shoe-horned into a prestigious boarding college that my parents had arranged for me to attend. I was domiciled in St Marys one of the Houses of the college. It was the most recent addition to the boarding accommodation of this august institution- at least that’s what we were told- the college, in fact, was a relatively recent response of the Catholic bishops who were determined to use education as the wedge to overcome the sectarianism of the Northern Ireland statelet. And so, a castle overlooking the Irish Sea was bought and filled with callow Catholic boys. And it grew, and overseas students helped to fund its expansion, the latest of which was St Marys which was a three-storey honey-brick construction. It was, unlike the more communal arrangements of the other Houses, a single-room complex. One room and one student. No dormitory living for us! And the priest who had charge of it had, on what my memory can only remember as Walpurgis Night, been called away suddenly to a family emergency. Don’t ask me how it got out. But seeping through the walls of our individual minimalist rooms- seeping through the walls was the information- we’re on our own. WE’RE ON OUR OWN! I had been caned just that day by that very same holy man, that guardian of our Catholicity, that warder in charge of St Marys. It happened this way: we were up on the slopes overlooking the Irish Sea, up above the college, four friends and I, playing poker and smoking, and we missed curfew. So, as we trooped into St Marys, the four recalcitrants and I, Father Grinsin was waiting with his thin instrument at the door. Ten times the cane hissed and thwacked- one on each hand. With pride, I can relate that not one of us yelped in pain. We sucked it in. But, you know, I can still feel it to this day. I was sitting at my desk, reading and taking notes on the novel we were studying in English, rubbing my smarting palms between my legs. I was really getting bored by Ralph and Piggy so when the seeping seeped into me-I was ready. Knock, knock, who’s theeere!  I opened my door and was hit in the face by a wet mop. Fabulous. Was I ever waiting for this! I charged out of the room and pursued my attacker down the corridor. He dropped the mop and I ripped the handle out and threw it at him. It sailed past his head and stuck in a prefect’s door at the end of the passageway. It was brilliant! The door opened and I screamed an obscenity and the door shut. Ha! Water bombs, pillow fights, beds upturned, it was brilliant! Although we didn’t say brilliant back then. Brill was the in-word at the time. It was Brill. The strangest thing was…there were no repercussions to speak of. We all just tidied away as best we could (mind you, the place was still a bit of a shithouse!) and, when Grinsin returned the next day and conferred with his prefects and the powers-that-be, well, nothing. It was as though nothing has ever taken place. We all agreed that it had not, really, happened! But the boys of St Marys were guilt-tripped big-time. The prefects were scathing over the next while as they condemned our utter disregard for the proprieties, for besmirching Grinsin’s grief, for sullying the memory of an old, old man who had lived an exemplary life and brought Father Grinsin into the world to look over us. Yeah, right- I thought then, and now… And Sean Flynn yawned then too, when I related the details of glorious anarchy- or is that just memory playing its delicious tricks (The young woman ironically declaims the poem.)

from Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death– Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death

not a clean and inbetween

the sheets holywater death

not a famous-last -words

peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73

and in constant good tumour

may I be mown down at dawn

by a bright red sports car

on my way home

from an allnight party…

Or when I’m 104

and banned from the Cavern

may my mistress

catching me in bed with her daughter

…cut me up into little pieces

and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death

not a free from sin tiptoe in

candle wax and waning death

not a curtains drawn by angels borne

“what a nice way to go” death

(It should not be as obvious as a paroxysm of coughing, but the Narrator is drained by the effort and he crosses side stage where he sits on the rocking chair. He takes his pillbox out and, reluctant to get up and cross to where he can get water, pulls from another pocket a hip-flask with which to wash down his medication. From time to time he may take a medicinal swig during the song. The band plays unseen behind the scrim- the young man sings- onto which are projected vignettes, images, symbols, etc mimicking memory. The young woman appears during choruses, watched by the Narrator.)

Everybody’s Story

Oh if I start to talk today

Of all the wonders of my youth

Pour me another glass of wine

And let me go rambling through

Those memory lanes again

I’ve been a resident for years

Thank you for filling out the forms

I know you want to hear my news

But I’d rather ramble through

Those memory lanes again

Yeah everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

Everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

I won’t forget you in my will

I will not alter it at all

You are my son I wish you well

Now please let me ramble through

Those memory lanes again

Next time you come bring in the kids

I still remember their soft smiles

If you won’t do that bring some wine

And let me go rambling through

Those memory lanes again

Yeah everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

Oh everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

(The singer exits. The Narrator, who is, after all, only about sixty although his illness may have aged him somewhat- during the final choruses crosses to the bar fridge and prepares himself another drink. The young woman watches, then exits. He crosses to the shelves and takes down a photograph. This is a family grouping. He holds the framed photograph and looks at it, then sets it down, picks up his drink and confides in the audience.)

Small children have an affinity with those the all-conquering youth generation and their go-getting parents call old. They respond to the easy tolerance and gentle understanding of their grandparents. Alas, I didn’t experience this at first hand as both sets of grandparents had died before I was born.  And I regret that I am not fated to become an indulgent grandad surrounded by the progeny of my progeny. But I have one grandson, one link to the universe beyond, the only way in which my being can truly live into the future. My God, how I quake at the idea that anything will happen to him before he…I don’t buy, and never have, that hogwash that claims all parents as evil, warping pathologies in the development of their children. The strident attacks on the supposedly artificial nuclear family by ideologues of left and right never quite rang true- the generation gap, for me and lots of people I know, was not a yawning chasm boiling with hellfire, but a difference, not all that astounding, comprising difference in age, experience and changing culture and expectations. As the kids of Seroe Colorado Junior High in Aruba would have responded, as they did to any fatuity: Duhhh!! Of course, what I have said is a generalisation and I was to encounter in the stories of other people’s lives a vast, often dark, forest where fiends do, indeed, lurk. However, the tabloids of paper and TV would have us believe that behind every vicarage curtain a satanic coven meets and …you know as well as I the variety of paranoia peddled, the range of hypotheses hyped by those who profess an interest, not all of it well-intentioned, in the care of children. As young parents, we were anxious to do the right thing, and, like so many of our generation we read the Spock child-rearing manual with the same avidity that theological students use scouring Scripture for the meaning of existence. I wish I had found out earlier than I did that we would have been better employed assimilating the words of wisdom uttered by the pointy-eared Vulcan of the same name. Appropriately enough, Star Trek lives on. As do so many innocent and enabling fictions. . (This might be a good point where the separateness of Narrator space, Recital space and Musical space- the three main playing constructs and their conventionally discrete roles- is subverted. There is an opportunity here for the Narrator to sing the next song which is simple and undemanding: a lullaby, in fact. The director may feel that the preservation of the separate spaces is to be kept. The alcohol is taking effect, but larger than might be expected in a veteran imbiber.)

Cycle of Love

Me mother told me the greatest pack of lies when I was young

Not an ugly duckling I but the finest whitest swan

Me father was complicit in this conspiracy of love

He swore by the sun and moon and stars up above

That I was special

I’m grown up now and married and it should come as no surprise

To our children we have told the same old pack of lies

Knowing that they all add up to something that is true

Knowing that most people know this is nothing new

Our kids are special

The cycle of love rolls through the years

The cycle of love cuts through the tears

The cycle of love rolls on and on…forever

I have to smile sometimes when I am walking far and near

As I pass a family these words I often hear

You are no ugly duckling but the finest whitest swan

You are the moon and stars above you are the shining sun

Oh you are special

The cycle of love rolls through the years

The cycle of love cuts through the tears

The cycle of love rolls on and on…forever

The cycle of love rolls through the years

The cycle of love cuts through the tears

The cycle of love rolls on and on and on…forever

(The Narrator crosses to the bench and sets down his glass. From a shelf he picks up a small, oval cameo brooch, looks at it and advances, yet again, on the audience.)

In our house in Cushendall, my father set up, in a front room overlooking the lawns, his beloved hi-fi gear, B&O of course…his AKAI reel to reel, state of the art when he proudly purchased it a couple of years before- a retirement present to himself, perhaps?… his writing desk and chess sets and comfortable chairs. An ornately carved chest smelling of camphor gleamed dully in one corner and, around the walls photographs in polished wooden frames peopled by grimly countenanced Victorian and Edwardian gents and ladies. Two photographs in oval frames on adjacent walls, stared into space at right angles to one another. One his father, an imposing moustachioed man in his sea-captain’s uniform; the other a pale and delicate young woman in a ruffled blouse closed at the neck with a cameo brooch – his birth mother. (He looks, for a couple of beats, at the cameo brooch in his hand. The audience can draw what conclusions they wish.) He was comfortable with reminders, not of his twenty five years in the sun, but with the mute artefacts that recalled the early years of the century. (He walks back and replaces the cameo brooch on the shelf as the young woman, dressed in raffish Edwardian male garb, breezes on stage. She is cheery and rubs her hands briskly as she instructs the audience. The Narrator clutches his gut and walks offstage. When he reappears he will be wearing a much finer gown and slippers suggesting emperor-like opulence)

from History of the Twentieth Century– Joseph Brodsky

Nineteen-fourteen! Oh, nineteen-fourteen!

Ah, some years shouldn’t be let out of quarantine!

Well, this is one of them. Things get raw:

In Paris, the editor of Figaro

is shot dead by the wife of the French finance

minister, for printing this lady’s/ steamy letters to

-ah, who cares!…

…a socialist and pacifist

of all times, Jean Jaures. He who shook his fist

at the Parliament urging hot heads to cool it,

dies, as he dines, by some bigot’s bullet

in a cafe. Ah, those early, single

shots of Nineteen-fourteen! ah, the index finger

of an assassin! ah white puffs in the blue acrylic!…

There is something pastoral, nay! idyllic

about these murders. About that Irish enema

the Brits suffer in Dublin again. And about Panama

Canal’s grand opening. Or about that doc

and his open heart surgery on his dog…

Well, to make these things disappear forever,

the Archduke is arriving at Sarajevo;

and there is in the crowd that unshaven, timid

youth, with his handgun…

(In the last four lines the air seems to go out of her and she walks slowly offstage. The Narrator is not in sight, and the now deflated young woman pauses on her way and looks at the cameo left on the shelf by the Narrator as the opening notes of the song fill the theatre. There is only a singer-guitarist on the playing platform; any vocal support for choruses is from unseen band-members. He walks downstage playing the intro on his acoustic guitar, which should be amplified in wireless fashion, if possible, and sings into a mic. This is the young man. Delete guitar references for non-players.)

Rose

Your name was rarely mentioned Rose when I was growing up

A closed book on a high shelf unopened and uncut

A picture in an oval frame that’s staring into space

Waiting for a mention and waiting for a place

Inside our family history then just the other day

A letter from my nephew came and swept some dark away

Telling of internment in that war to end all wars

And your return to Ireland with anguished mental scars

Rose runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose oh Rose

In ‘14 you were happy gave domestic life the slip

Sailing with your husband as he captained his fine ship

To the port of Hamburg oh did you find release

Did you find what you were after and did you find some peace

Why did you take that fateful trip into the jaws of war

Why did you leave those young boys behind on Ireland’s shore

The answers all are buried now and sunk into the clay

Or hidden is a dusty file that’s yet to see the day

Rose runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose oh Rose

Forgive me Rose if I have used your pain to write this song

People I respect tell me they wonder if I’m wrong

To use you to fill a drunken room with feeble sound

Have I desecrated what was once your holy ground

But Rose I am your grandson and surely I should know

The people I have come from so that I might show

My children that there is a point no matter what the cost

Nothing that’s remembered is ever really lost

Rose runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose

Runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose Rose

(Exit the singer. Fly in emblems representing Mammon; also, 1984-ish formulae such as LOVE=HATE; PEACE=WAR. The set should now be transforming and becomes garish, resembling a tawdry game-show. The Narrator reappears, we really can’t have him advancing on the audience yet again, but to have him rise from under the stage or have him flown in seems, well…excessive. The dressing gown and slippers of the Narrator suggest opulence and decadence.)

The texts from those times are as dated as the flock wallpaper of an Edwardian drawing room. The inheritors of modernism, those pop mavens, working in animation, the written word, sound and stone as well as on canvas have made everything glowing and immediate. Simple, bold, fluorescent statements replace the mandarin meanderings of those sonorous artistic aristocrats of the first tranche of the twentieth century. Purple prose and blue blood is replaced by an apotheosis in green- Warhol’s wall of dollar bills becomes the central image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of our imagination. Radix malorum est cupiditas- croaks the Pardoner- the love of money is the root of all evil. Well, those roots have spread under the foundations of our civilisation. So what’s new? Maybe nothing, there have been greed and violence as well as selfless love and self-denial since Adam was a lad. I’m not a pundit; I can’t predict what my cat will do next never mind the whole damned shebang. But I know that the language has been ripped back to reveal…what? Orwell was wrong; it wasn’t the thought police of a totalitarian state that eviscerated expression. We did it to ourselves, pursuing the dream, once called American. It responds only to monosyllables or those articulated words that it sanctions: words like Proactive, Functionality, Multitasking, Consumerism. And in the race the swift make sure there is nothing left for those who lag too far behind. Not even what our predecessors would have called language. (The Narrator watches as the young woman, dressed in a very contemporary fashion, makes yet another entrance.)

from The Lads– Eleanor Brown

The lads, the lads, away the lads;

we are the Boys, who make this Noise: hoo, ha; hoo, ha;

a-way, awayawayaway, a-way, away;

ere we go, ere we go, ere we go;

we are the Boys, who make this Noise;

hoo ha;

Away the lads, I love your poetry,

It strips the artform down to nakedness,

distilling it to spirituous drops

of utter poetry.

I like the way you shout it all so loud,

revelling in the shamelessness

of its repetitiousness; the way it never stops

delighting

you. You’ve every right to be proud

of your few, brief, oral formulae-

any of which will do for Match of the Day,

on Friday night, Lads’ Night Out,

lagering up and fighting-

you are the lads. You’ve every right to shout.

(As the band rips into the riff of the next song the young woman responds enthusiastically. So taken by the ambience is she that she joins the singer in the chorus, becomes, in fact, a member of the band. The young man, who is the singer, and indeed the whole band, is dressed, at this point, in post-punk style- she won’t look out of place, really.)

All I Did

I was born to a mother there was a father somewhere

I had brothers and sisters we hung out sometimes

And all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Had some schooling I was fooling nobody not even me

Left with nothing no nothing except the one thing that I could do

So all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

I got married had a family a boy and girl they were the world

Then they left me I said nothing nothing much that I could say

And all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Kept on living for some reason but no reason that I could find

Kept on breathing but not believing that there was any point to it

And all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Now I’m dying but I ain’t trying for your sympathy or gain

At least I won’t have to keep on taking what I’ve been taking for so long

Cause all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Yeah all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

(Fade or fly out the garish fx of a game show. In the final chorus the spot picks up the Narrator who has lifted again the family photograph from the shelf and returns to the rocking chair where he sits. As the noise, mercifully, if we are to believe the expression of the Narrator, fades he speaks, quietly at first. As the narration proceeds he, becomes a little agitated, gets up and paces a bit, but sits again in the rocking chair from where he will softly recite the sonnet.) 

Any attempt to be a cartographer of the present is bound to fail; there are too many fracture-lines running in a crazy pattern. The hammer blow delivered to the ancien regime by the first great war was followed by others in quick succession; depression, global war, the atomic apocalypse, explosions of technology and population. But it all gets back to a solitary brain (that may or may not contain the mind) carried around in a body (that may or may not contain a soul). Watching newsreel footage of the masses recorded in their moments of revolution, despair and jubilation distances you from the obvious truth- there, that face, just about to disappear behind the police horse’s flank- looked just like your son the last time you saw him as he waved a cheery good-bye…can it be fifteen years already? (He looks for a couple of beats at the photograph before, reluctantly almost, he places it in a pocket of his dressing gown.) Name, fame, the celebrity game is just so much blather. We are all used to yet another icon exposed on the breakfast news as venal or sad or pathetic- just like us really. I remember when the great cynic of English poetry in this- or rather, the previous, century, Philip Larkin was taken off in one of those ships with black sails. Almost before the vessel had vanished around a misty bend of the River Styx we were breathlessly informed that the poet had a collection of what was described as repulsive pornography, and as for the content of his diaries…well! But I will always think softly of him, not because of his life or works but an anecdote concerning him. He was, as I recall, driving back towards his home in Hull along the motorway, listening to the radio and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the windshield wipers when he had to pull onto the hard shoulder, blinded by tears, because, on the radio, someone had begun reciting a sonnet by Wordsworth. (The narrator starts to recite- on the second line he turns to see the young woman to whom he addresses the rest of the sonnet.  She moves about the stage oblivious. The young man appears towards the end of the recitation and moves downstage to be in place for the song.)

Surprised by Joy– William Wordsworth

Surprised by joy- impatient as the Wind

I turned to share the transport- Oh! with whom

But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,

That spot which no vicissitudes can find?

Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind-

But how could I forget thee? Through what power,

Even for the least division of an hour,

Have I been so beguiled as to be blind

To my most grievous loss!- That thought’s return

Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,

Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,

Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;

That neither present time, nor years unborn

Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

(The band plays, the young man sings, the Narrator rocks slowly, listening. The young woman moves offstage. The set brightens, but not garishly.)

Surprised By Joy

I’m playing in a band with a few good friends

Nothing very grand but we like our sound

We play Irish music and we sing Irish songs

Anything that takes our fancy as it comes along

We play on weekends after dark

Sometimes we make it sometimes miss the mark

But we do the best we can we enjoy the crack

We hope you enjoyed it too sure maybe we’ll be back

I dreamed one night that I was playing slack

The chords were just as rough as guts I was sweating blood

A guitar chimed in behind me and straightened out the line

I hadn’t heard that sound since 1989

I was surprised by joy to hear my long lost boy

Playing right behind me as he hadn’t played in years

I turned around to smile at him but there was no one there

Just a long note dying and a shadow in the air

I was surprised by joy

I was surprised by joy to hear my long lost boy

Playing right behind me as he hadn’t played in years

I turned around to smile at him but there was no one there

Just a long note dying and a shadow in the air

I was surprised…

(The Narrator speaks softly, almost to himself, the first eight words. He rises and continues, speaking to the audience at times, and looking backwards into his head at others. The set should now be at its most rococo.)

Surprised by joy…it’s been a long time… The eighties were an awful time and an awesome time, too, I suppose. Never mind the crumbling of communism, the Falklands war, the marriage of Diana and Charles and all the other headline events. The dislocations in world history meant little to me. I had hammer-blows enough in the personal sphere to absorb. Unemployment, loss of my father, then mother, serious injury of my younger son, then the loss of my firstborn son began my personal catalogue of horrors and they filled my world during the decade of- what did the eighties mean to you? To me it was global ping-pong: living in Sydney, then Belfast then back to Sydney as the hammer-blows rained down. Not even the…windfall that came my way so recently has provided solace- the cold wind still keeps blowing through me. The larger events were only on TV and newspapers- not real for me at all. And as I mourned my son I remembered my brushes with death as a younger male. Note to mothers, we all think, as teenage boys, that we will live forever, no matter what we do. When I was about twelve, or maybe thirteen, I built a raft. My friends and I lived in and on and near the water. Why not? The blue, coral-fringed lagoons of Aruba were paradise for us. Swimming and snorkelling and spear fishing and catching moray eels on hand lines, yanking them out of their coral caves and spinning them round our heads and breaking their backs on the sharp coral ridges above the surface at low water… filled our days… and beach parties under the stars, and watching from the beach the fireworks display set on barges out in the lagoon on the fourth of July, punctuated our nights- such was the influence of the water fringing that small island of my early youth. One Saturday morning we cycled to a seldom-used beach; there we built a flotilla of rafts. Flotsam and jetsam. We dragged pallets washed in to the shore and shoved driftwood and a variety of containers into them. Three of us, like tropical Huck Finns, launched the unlikely craft into the water. We laughed and joked with one another as the current carried us along the coast. But we started to drift further apart under the influence of the current and waves and the differences in the seaworthiness of our individual rafts. I lagged further behind- not being much of a marine designer. My friends has rounded the point on the coastal current while I…well, I had been daydreaming, looking towards the distant coast of Venezuela wondering what life was like there, and when next I checked my bearings, discovered I was much further from the shore than I had been only, it seemed , moments before. As I vacillated, wondering whether to attempt the swim to the shore, it seemed to rush into the distance. Desert island adventure? No, just fear. The raft bobbed and spun in the choppy offshore sea and I clung to it feeling sick. Alone in the sun I had time enough to recall the drowned, native, fisherman brought in a few months before to the boat-slip near the club. My first sight of a dead body, I had watched, as his friends tried frantically to empty his lungs and bring him back to life- but only froth and mucus for all their labour. He had dived off the boat to try to clear the anchor but his leg had become entangled in the rope and he was dead before they could cut him free. A matter of minutes, they said. Not for the last time, I promised God, with whom, then, I was on speaking terms…I promised Him not to be so stupid again…if only. The denouement? Well, I’m still here. Mr Flaherty, a big noise in the company, whose son, Steve, I hung out with occasionally, had a cabin cruiser that he used to take friends, other big-guns from the States, out fishing. Coming back from a successful morning’s hunt for aquatic game, I guess he pulled another prize from the water. Although, judging from what he said to me and repeated to my parents on the phone that night, I was valued at much less than the fish in the icebox of his boat. It was an early brush with metaphysics and the larger questions, I think they are called. I do prefer the way that artists address these larger questions- professional preachers and career carers (He sits again on the rocking chair.) usually leave me cheering for the grim reaper. . (The young woman dressed casually in bush clothes, a little threadbare, and a battered old hat, perhaps, saunters on to the stage. She addresses the audience first but notices the Narrator and addresses him as well during his recital. On the words “rococo of being your own still centre” she looks at the motionless Narrator )

from The Quality of Sprawl– Les Murray

Sprawl is the quality

of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce

into a farm utility truck, and sprawl

is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts

to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,

of driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.

It is the rococo of being your own still centre,

It is never lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes:

that’s idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.

Nor can it be bought with the ash of million-dollar deeds.

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch

bisecting an obstructive official’s desk with a chainsaw.

Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal

though it’s often intransigent..

Sprawl gets up the nose of many kinds of people

(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don’t include it…

No, sprawl is full-gloss murals on a council-house wall.

Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.

Reprimanded and dismissed

it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail

of possibility. It may have to leave the earth…

Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek

and thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

(She nods a cheerio to the narrator, replaces her hat and saunters downstage. When she hears the opening chords of the song she stops and listens, nodding appreciatively. The Narrator crosses to the side of stage and mixes himself another drink. She exits as the Narrator returns to the chair downstage. Rococo fx start to fade as the young man sings.)

Patrimony

Ain’t left a will there’s nothing much here

That can’t be divided easy

Some things I been some things I am

Are not very likely to please you

What I have left are tokens at best

A battered guitar and a sackful of rhymes

Hope you can make more of them now

Than I was able before you

And if you can prevail

Escape the swinging flail

That knocks you down

To the ground

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

Wear this cloth cap it represents what

Our forebears had to put up with

Put on these boots walk in the shoes

Your father tried to get by with

Take this gold ring place on the finger

Of someone who loves you and can bring

Into your life the gifts of the time

Which will never leave you

And if you can prevail

Escape the swinging flail

That knocks you down

To the ground

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

Now go outside gaze at the moon

Whistle a tune that comes easy

Walk through the trees and take your ease

By a stream that is running beside you

Splash in the waves laugh at the clouds

Smell the wildflowers kick up the sand

And if you can watch the sunrise

Painting the sky up above you

And if you can prevail

Escape the swinging flail

That knocks you down

To the ground

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

(*Possible break in the production Now appear images of guns and associated symbols in stark silhouette, a revolver, an Armalite, target, cross-hairs, flown and/or projected. Alternatively, there should be one huge silhouette of an Armalite. The set is now more industrial/mechanical. Steel and lots of right angles The Narrator, drink in hand, addresses the audience. His dressing gown is a multicoloured affair, bright Mambo-like colours and designs- a contrast to the fascistic set.)

The gun. I would not have one in my house. Even a replica to hang tastefully on the wall. Although I used to love them. Playing Cowboys and Indians, I wanted to be with the cowboys in every game because they had guns only- not those environmentally-friendly, if deadly, bows and arrows. An early memory, before we returned to Aruba in the mid-fifties. The Irish News had an account of the dying gasp of the, then, latest occurrence of IRA insurgence. I cheered at the headline of a policeman being shot. Through the pores, you see… my father was outraged, and my mother joined in the deprecation of my childish glee. They had memories enough of the Black and Tans’ predations in Ireland in those grim years after the First World War and the rivers of blood that flowed in the forties. Suitably chastened, I took care to conceal my love of that quintessentially twentieth century icon. In Aruba, borrowing American friends’ BB rifles, I was a crack shot, killing lizards and iguanas before my age was in double digits. Under the sea, I would impale reef fish with a rubber propelled spear-gun which I concealed under the house. Kids love blood. Some more than others. I remember being on the receiving end of a BB gun. We were down at Rodgers’ Field where we played baseball and soccer and held track meets. Steve, the friend I mentioned earlier, had brought along a relative nicknamed Gordo who was visiting from the States; a gangly, bespectacled guy who had scabs on his arms that he picked at all the time. We had Steve’s BB gun and were taking pot-shots at this and that. Steve dared me to climb one of the lighting poles that surrounded the field. Kids still do that? Dare one another to do stupid things? Course they do. I stood on Steve’s shoulders and reached for the first metal rung, swung up and began the precarious ascent. The rungs were meant for adults rather than a runt like me. I reached the top and stood inside the lighting platform, arms raised in triumph. Ting! There was a noise, but I ignored it and started the even more precarious descent. Ting! Again that noise.  Tingchik! I grabbed at my eye- was it a bee sting? There was blood on my fingers, not much, but blood nonetheless. I looked down. Steve was trying to take the BB gun from Gordo. Gordo just pushed him to the ground and raised the gun in my direction and pumped it for another shot. It took less than a couple of minutes for me to complete the descent but it felt longer as, eyes tightly shut, a succession of BBs hit the pole, my arm, my neck,  my leg. I ran enraged towards Gordo, Steve just stood there looking stunned. I swung at Gordo but he had a much longer reach and landed a punch that put me on my back, winded. “Why? Why?” I gasped, crying. “I wanted to see if I could make you fall”.   Perhaps it was that episode, perhaps it was “the decade of love, man,” but I began to lose my zest for blood-letting in the sixties. On reflection, though, it may have had something to do with reality. In the summer of 1969, five years after returning to Ireland from Aruba, I was dreaming in the country, deep in the Glens of Antrim. Lazing the days away, reading Lord Byron and generally being an aesthete, I thought that it would be fun to be among the decadent boyos of the fin de siecle of Pater and Wilde and…I heard it on the radio. Bombay Street in Belfast had been burned out the night before. The latest instalment of the Troubles had begun in earnest. The college I had just completed my initial year of tertiary education at, in Andersonstown at the top of the Falls Road, Belfast, put out a call for volunteers. Emergency housing had to be found for those residents of the lower Falls who had the misfortune to live, at that interesting time, too close to the Shankill Road. The civil service bureaucrats could not, or maybe would not, respond to the unprecedented demand. I packed a bag and caught the train to Belfast. Other students, too, had responded to the call. My psychology lecturer, at our initial briefing, told us solemnly that, first names were OK for the emergency but that the appropriate academic formalities would have to be maintained when lectures resumed in September. No buses then, all burned out, and barricades going up in all the streets, and Radio Free Belfast, and me, dazed by drink after trying to forget how I had to process, via forms that drain humanity, the sad detritus of lives caught in the terrible text of yet another colourful page of history. I remember walking late at night towards the centre of town, along the Donegall Road, past corrugated iron ramparts, knowing that I might be in the cross-hairs of a gun-sight. Knowing that it would be something more potent than a BB gun. I wasn’t brave. Just, young, confused and, generally, drunk. Evacuating people from North Queen Street and running them in a shonky motor over unapproved roads and across the border to an Irish army camp in Donegal, I feared the B Specials, bogeymen to our generation as the Black and Tans had been to my parents. The next few years, a phantasmagoria. Who, but an optimist, or someone not terribly well in touch with the real, would marry? But I did, and rented a house, as a student, off the Whiterock Road. My wife pregnant, clambering over barricades to get to work, one day called into a corner shop and was pushed unceremoniously to the floor as a rubber bullet crashed through the pane of glass in the front door and ricocheted among the tinned goods. We had that rubber bullet as a memento on the mantelpiece for a while: damned if I know what happened to it. I, protective husband that I was, remonstrated with the local women that night, that I would not let my wife go out on bin-lid duty- this was the early warning technology of the savvy citizens to warn the local brigade of British Army patrols, and she, returning to the corner shop the next day, encountering a wall of silence as she was motioned silently to the counter to buy her bread and milk and sugar. My propensity for daydreaming nearly killed me. I was walking through a back lane towards our digs from one of my last lectures, pyschometrics I think it was, when I became cognisant of an alien voice. A British soldier, my age, was pointing a gun at my head, shaking, as his hands clenched his SLR. I hadn’t heard his repeated calls to stop. I think what saved me from a beating, or worse, was my accent- not at all typical of Belfast- when I explained that my mind was elsewhere. Elsewhere, was Australia. Gunfire was in the air, as my father picked us up to take us for a few weeks back to the relative peace of the Glens of Antrim before we flew to the land of OZ. It was 1972. Even there, the gun. I remember being with friends from Belfast, in the outback of New South Wales shortly after we had arrived. They were hunting wild pigs and kangaroos. I took with me a guitar, an orange box with rusty wires, really, and on the first day’s hunting, I was given, should I want to join in the sport, a .22 with a telescopic sight. A pop-gun, next to their more potent armaments. A feral sow broke cover; she was running heavily, sway-bellied with, with,… and, as I raised the gun, I saw, through the scope, the dust pop off her flank as the rounds pierced her…I have never fired or held a gun since that day. (He walks quickly to side stage, slams the glass down and grips the edge shaking as the young woman enters. She notices a calendar hung on a surface near the Narrator and runs her fingers over it. She addresses her remarks to the bent head of the Narrator at first.)

The Calendar-Goran Simic

I heard the fall of a leaf from a calendar.

It was the leaf for the month of March.

The calendar belongs to a girl I know.

She spends each day checking the calendar

and watching her belly grow.

Whatever is in her womb

was nailed there by drunken soldiers in some camp.

It is something that feeds

on terrible images and a terrible silence.

What fills the images?

Her bloodstained dress, perhaps,

fluttering from a pole like a flag?

What breaks the silence?

The fall of the month of March?

The footstep of her tormentor- his face

the child’s face, the face she will see

every day, every month, every year

for the rest of her life?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

All I heard was the fall of a leaf from a calendar.

(She exits. Stage darkens; we hear the opening notes of the next song. The young man appears in a bright spot and sings.)                 

Oblivion Mountain

I lived on Oblivion Mountain

Not far from the town of Neverwas

The road to Nowhere passes by here

Ends in the valley of Despair

Then aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- came

I loved on Oblivion Mountain

A woman with a name you couldn’t say

My children played and sang here

Games and tunes all the livelong day

Then aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- came

They died on Oblivion Mountain

Expiring in full colour just for you

They died on Oblivion Mountain

Before the ad break on the evening news

When aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- came

I hide on Oblivion Mountain

Watching a TV crew below

And I can’t pay my last respects

Till they pack their fancy gear and go

With the aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- go

I’m leaving Oblivion Mountain

Leaving my happiness behind

Searching for a lonely place

Where I will never wake up and find

Aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- again

(An insistent beeping is heard after the song finishes and the stage goes completely black. Exit singer. Lights up side stage as the Narrator takes out a watch-alarm and presses a button to silence it. He is still shaking a bit and he fumbles with the pillbox as he takes another tablet which he washes down with a bit of water. On a surface, a small wall decoration is spot-lit. It is a small, cobalt-blue guitar very high gloss- preferably a purpose built one that can take some punishment in the next scene where it will be bashed on the stage and otherwise misused-  which he takes down and carries to the chair downstage. His gown is now prison-orange with a stainless steel chain encircling his waist. His slippers are nondescript.)

Oh, yes…the nineties showed us a thing or two about barbarity and violence. And the strangest thing is: who cares? The victims; certainly, those who can still feel anything. Their family and friends, obviously. But for the rest of us- with a few exceptions of course- you perhaps?- it is all something happening in electronic space, which unlike the Newtonian construct, is not vast, empty and silent, for most part, but babbling and buzzing and bedazzling: a welter of sound and image and exhortation to buybuybuybuybuy…I, meanwhile, was drifting on my raft, spinning in the choppy seas of that last turbulent decade, as my calendar pages dropped, year by year, waiting for a boat to appear to fish me from the confused waters. My raft, now, as then, an unlikely craft. Buoyed by my family, a few good friends, and, flotation devices that I assert, though others may demur, saved my sanity: my guitar and literature and music. . (Enter the young woman dressed in fifties’-corporate-America style. She wears a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and she crosses to where the Narrator is sitting bent over his guitar. In this section the Narrator shares the recitation which is shown by the underlined sections of the verse. On the sixth couplet the Narrator is hauled out of the chair and used as a prop- as is the guitar- for the recitation. He is returned to his chair at couplet 11.)

          from The Man With the Blue Guitar– Wallace Stevens

The man bent over his guitar,

A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, “You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are

Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,

A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar

Of things exactly as they are.”…

Ah, but to play man number one,

To drive the dagger in his heart,

To lay his brain upon the board

And pick the acrid colors out,

To nail his thought across the door,

Its wings spread wide to rain and snow,

To strike his living hi and ho

To tick it, tock it, turn it true,

To bang it from a savage blue

Jangling the metal of the strings…

So that’s life, then: things as they are?

It picks its way on the blue guitar.

A million people on one string?

And all their manner in the thing,

And all their manner, right and wrong,

And all their manner, weak and strong?

The feelings crazily, craftily call,

Like a buzzing of flies in autumn air,

And that’s life, then: things as they are,

This buzzing of the blue guitar.

(The reciter helps the Narrator to his feet and they walk offstage as the band begins to play behind a scrim projected onto which is a sequence which could be abstract, the point of which is the conjoining and interaction of two separate yet complementary entities. During the song- sung by the young man- the young woman walks on stage, giving vocal support in the choruses. If possible, she should accompany on bodhran. She exits as the scrim flies towards the end of the song.)

Let Them Not Fade Away

When I was younger I heard the two sounds

Both of them spoke to my soul

One was electric the other unplugged

Together they made me feel whole

Hendrix the Beatles the Beach Boys the Stones

The Who and that Belfast band Them

My Generation Hey Joe Little Deuce Coupe

Ticket to Ride Gloria

Fade away let them not fade away

Fade away let them not fade away

LA and London Chicago New York

The accents were strange to my ear

But as I listened to Ireland’s heart

Heard the voices I needed to hear

The Clancys and Makem The Dubliners Planxty

The pipers and fiddlers too

Reels jigs and hornpipes The Irish Rover

And only our rivers run free

Fade away let them not fade away

Fade away let them not fade away

Now my kids go to dance parties and raves

Talk of techno and hip-hop and rap

Yet funny enough they don’t put down my stuff

Saying that’s just Dad’s old-fashioned crap

I guess they must see what it means to me

And I guess they feel something themselves

If I don’t connect with their music

I’m just like my parents before me

Fade away let them not fade away

Fade away let them not fade away

(Scrim flies just before the end of the song and we see the Narrator with the band as he joins in the last chorus and we watch the Narrator as he steps down from the playing platform and walks downstage wearing a gown of wavy grey lines.)

But everything does fade. Even protons will evaporate at the dark, cold, close. Still, innocent and enabling fictions do keep entropy at bay- or maybe just seem to. As sunset fell on the twentieth century and the light began to fade, so did my eyesight. Advancing age may or may not bring sagacity, but it certainly brings illness. The body, now surplus to evolutionary requirements- procreation and nurturing of the next bunch completed- forgets to tell certain cells to switch on and forgets to tell others to switch off. Hence the proliferation of nose-hair and the thinning of bones. We become experts at our own demise. I thought it comical, years ago, watching my father and mother reading to one another the obituary columns of The Irish News, ticking off friends and acquaintances, deciding whether to send a Mass card, letter of condolence or go to the funeral. Etiquette in this matter was as precise and necessary as that of an Oriental court. My aunt, lying under her quilt covers, knowing death was a matter of weeks away, dictated to her hapless husband and children the minutiae of her passing, she didn’t want a shroud of traditional brown to be her final covering but one of cerulean blue. It was important, and it was done. But death had no dominion in that fabled decade from the mid-fifties to mid-sixties in the fairy-tale that was an Aruban childhood. With the single exception of the native fisherman, so easily taken by the sea, I can bring to mind no other death. There must have been, of course, but in that dispensation that was Pax Americana, it was as if the triumph of the Dream had banished death. It was excusable that we felt this was the case- but that American foreign policy makers seemed to accept it as dogma too ensured that shortly after, the Dream collapsed in Vietnam. But, then, risk-taking was de rigueur for us. Exploring caves and abandoned mines, climbing cliffs, racing cars and bikes, running down the sloped roof of the beach-hut at Rodgers Beach, leaping out and over ragged coral teeth and into water a couple of feet deep, turning in midair so that the sand didn’t break leg-bones but bruised, instead our arses- this was fun, fun, fun. And as I cast back in memory, it is a solitary vision that now emerges from the deep- it seems so real that I can feel it kinaesthically.  Am I floating? (He closes his eyes and extends his arms, swaying as he starts to walk across the stage) Above-ground pipes criss-crossed the colony. The island was composed of coral and rock, you see. The pipes carried water from the island’s desalination plant- a world class unit everyone was proud to boast- the pipes carried water into the houses built for the oil company executives. The pipes were paired- one for drinking water, one for brackish water. I loved to use the pipes as a highway, balancing effortlessly as barefoot I traversed the coral and cactus rough-land that surrounded the houses and tended gardens of Seroe Colorado. Bare feet feeling the warmth of the sun, feeling the rush of liquid life.  I never fell off. Not once. Not once. Life was glorious light, but, (He has crossed to DSC and now opens his eyes and surveys the audience) and this is borrowed … shades of the prison-house began to close upon the growing boy. Now the light glows only in memory, and maybe brighter because of that. . (He crosses to the side, takes out his pillbox, looks at it, and sets it on a shelf as he prepares himself another drink. He stands looking into a mirror that is now revealed. As this stage business proceeds a couple of guitarists- the young woman and young man-walk downstage with their guitars and a couple of stools, they are dressed identically. The songs here are a diptych, one plays and sings the first song, while the other accompanies, the other plays and sings the second as the first now plays accompaniment. The Narrator looks at himself in the mirror.)

Everything Goes/ Restless Paces

All of my life

I’ve been searching for the light

And I just don’t get it at all

In the wings await the call

To walk on to the stage

Across the front page

Singing stories of the age

The curtain comes down

The crowd streams out

And I sweep up in the hall

Stack chairs against the wall

Collect a meagre wage

From an old guy backstage

If he knows I’m real I cannot gauge

And I just don’t understand

Why I stay in a shadowed land

Where the fare is bleak and bland

And there’s no upper hand

But everything goes

Nothing remains you know

And there’s nothing to it at all

As you await the fall

Rage rage

Inside time’s cage

Now with eternity engage

And I just don’t understand

Why I stay in a shadowed land

Where the fare is bleak and bland

And there’s no upper hand

I just don’t understand

No I just don’t understand

Oh has it come to this?

Laying down the gift

That I thought to keep for awhile

Like my true love’s kiss

How my spirits lift

Every thought and feeling had some style

Oh for years you put my heart through its restless paces

Leading me at times to lonely places

Didn’t know when we’d go

What would be on show

But I know I am thankful for these graces

There were times when I saw you fade away

But I found you again along the way

Yes for years you put my heart through its restless paces

Leading me at times to lonely places

Didn’t know when we’d go

What would be on show

But I know I am thankful for these graces

Yes I know I’m still thankful for these graces

Yeah

(The singers walk off stage carrying their guitars and stools as the Narrator resumes.)

The scientists are wrong. Just as we found out, some time ago, that the priests are wrong. The experts are wrong: the town planners, the educationalists, the pundits, the technologists- all wrong. Which makes me uncomfortable. The pharmaceutical companies, long the villains of the piece, have kept me alive for some years. At last count I consume eighteen different pills, ten in the morning and eight at night. To say nothing about the latest nauseating liquid concoction they are testing on me. To be beholden to those we despise is a delicious irony, wouldn’t you say? But why should they expect gratitude, after all, they have our money. During one of my spells of unemployment, at the beginning of the eighties it was, I remember watching a documentary on the BBC. East German scientists, in the days when there were two Germanys, were performing experiments on rats to find a cure for homosexuality. And they were caricatures of what we imagine mad scientists to be; white coats, music-hall German-accented English, and steel-framed glinting glasses. I had been drinking at the time. (He has taken out his hip flask and now takes a long swig from it. He ruefully recalls his last comment.) I remember checking the TV guide next day to determine whether I had been hallucinating. And it was there. I didn’t feel reassured. If real-life was serving up stuff like this, then real-life was deeply pathological. No, I didn’t feel reassured at all. I always turn to the poets to tell me what is really real. (The Narrator takes the family photograph out of his dressing gown pocket and looks at it, resuming his rocking chair, as the young man walks onstage, addressing the audience.)

The Scientists are Wrong– Abba Kovner

They’re wrong, the scientists. The universe wasn’t created

billions of years ago.

The universe is created every day.

The scientists are wrong to claim

the universe was created from one primordial

substance.

The world is created every day

from various substances with nothing in common.

Only the relative proportion of their masses,

like the elements of sorrow and hope,

make them companions

and curbstones. I’m sorry

I have to get up, in all modesty, and disagree

with what is so sure and recognised by experts:

that there is no speed faster than the speed of light,

when I and my lighted flesh

just noticed something else right here-

whose speed is even greater than the speed of light

and which also returns,

though not in a straight line, because of the curve of the universe

or because of the innocence of God.

And if we connect all this to an equation, according to the rules, maybe

it will make sense that I refuse to believe that her voice

and everything I always cherished

and everything so real and suddenly

lost

is actually lost forever.

(The young man walks off as the Narrator, still looking at the photograph, falls to his knees and rocks back and forth. Scrim flies as the band plays the next song. A spot picks out the young woman standing motionless across the stage.)

Rats

I’m down on my knees to pray

But experts tell me give it away

We’ve something here to set you free

Of all your problems banish the blues

You’re in the twentieth century

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

So throw away the Tao Te Ching

It will never teach you anything

The Bible is a fairy-tale

There is nothing in it that you can use

For a solution that never fails

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

The wise men of the past are wrong

They were only stringing you along

They were searching in the desert sun

For truth instead of looking in test tubes

So leave them now and have some fun

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

I’m down on my knees to pray

But people tell me give it away

We’ve something here to set you free

Of all your problems banish the blues

You’re in the twentieth century

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

(The young woman kneels and sings the last words of the song “the answer” to the Narrator and then exits The Narrator gets painfully to his feet. It is obvious by now that he is struggling with his illness, and losing.)

The answer. Always less important than the questions and assumptions preceding it. In the beginning was the word. And I’ll bet it was punctuated with a question mark. And I’ll ask a question: who here can remember a world without TV? I can: through a quirk of fate that washed me up on a small desert island that did not have access, in my formative years, with the cathode ray tube that has beamed its reality into homes across the western world since before most of us were born. Books and life and people formed me. And film- a gracious washing of a huge screen with larger-than-life colour and character and story while we sat, a community of aficionados, bound in the gentle dark by popcorn and projectiles- those bits of candy fired in unseeable arcs to bounce off the heads of enemies or strangers. But TV is mundane, squatting in the corner killing conversation and inventing worlds of soap and game-shows and sponsored sport. Thankfully I am too old now to speculate on its latest morphing into the active matrix screen on laptops and a billion pixels on computer monitors. Being no expert I can confidently assert- this is not an advance. No question mark. Therefore suspect .(He smiles as the young man, now in the guise of a suave, world-weary cosmopolitan dude languidly walks over next to the Narrator who nods in agreement with the thesis of the verse.) 

from A Way of Life- Howard Nemerov

It’s been going on a long time.

For instance, these two guys, not saying much, who slog

Through sun and sand, fleeing the scene of their crime,

Till one turns, without a sound, and smacks

His buddy flat with the flat of an axe.

Which cuts down on the dialogue

Some, but is viewed rather as normal than sad

By me, as I wait for the next ad.

It seems to me it’s been quite a while

Since the last vision of blonde loveliness

Vanished, her shampoo and shower and general style

Replaced by this lean young lunk-

head parading along with a gun in his back to confess

How yestereve, being drunk

And in a state of existential despair,

He beat up his grandma and pawned her invalid chair.

But here at last is a pale beauty

Smoking a filter beside a mountain stream,

Brief interlude, before the conflict of love and duty

Gets moving again, as sheriff and posse expound,

Between jail and saloon, the American Dream

Where Justice, after considerable horsing around,

Turns out to be Mercy; when the villain is knocked off,

A kindly uncle offers syrup for my cough.

(Well, wouldn’t you know it, the Narrator does begin to cough, nothing very dramatic, and the suave man looks at the audience then points to the Narrator with a there-you-go! gesture, who is pouring the nauseating syrup into a measuring cup as the band strikes up again. He carries the cup back to his rocking chair and sits, sipping his concoction. The young woman sings. On the words ”bolt down what is offered” The Narrator, again, clutches his stomach and exits.)

Pandora’s Box

Sitting in the half light watching shadows

I can hear the sirens serenading sailors

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

I saw three sprightly children run to Mama

Shots rang out and they were shapeless bundles

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

I joined the panic dwarfs in a chorus

Glad to see the asses’ ears flap so wildly

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

Supping with the Cyclops is so easy

Scew your mind shut hold your nose and bolt down what is offered

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

You can sit in the half light and watch shadows

Singing with the sirens to the sailors

Pandora is a vision

Agony is art

You can feed here if you choose

Be a vampire

Pandora is a vision

Agony is art

You can feed here if you choose

Be a vampire

(The Narrator has returned side stage where he throws down his medicine cup and opens a bottle of stout. He pours some into a small glass and moves back towards the audience. His dressing gown is now black and silver- is he a Magus?)

Horror movies, the howling werewolf, black-cloaked vampires with preternatural strength, swamp monsters, assorted trolls, goblins and giants from grim folk tales peopled?…no, creatured my hungry, youthful imagination fed by books and movies that seem quaint today beside the chic- ironic, yet puerile, slayer in designer clothes wisecracking to befuddled, barely-comprehending adults as demons explode in colourful pixels against the point of her post modern wooden stake. Another generation’s hunger for information about the dark side is nourished by a flashier special- effects menu than was available to mine. And those years of feeding at the table of horrors wasn’t preparation enough to enable me to comprehend the real horrors that lurked in recent history. I remember when Eichmann was captured by the Israelis and tried in Jerusalem. I looked in vain for the mark of the Beast on those bland features. I had read The Scourge of the Swastika and stared at stark photographs of black-booted sinisters, some smoking nonchalantly, standing over pits of murdered people. Could this bespectacled clerk be the author of so many deaths? Yes. At the behest of his Master. In concert with others of his bureaucratic kind who were in on the secret. Aided and abetted by the minor functionaries who enable the infrastructure of modern society. Made possible, finally, because so many people could look away and later deny any knowledge. But the answer still doesn’t make sense. All our resources of language, all our intelligence, sensibilities, sensitivities, imagination fall short of the task. And even our greatest poets despair at delineating the horror that was the Holocaust- still the pattern par excellence for the bland-featured sociopaths who have a plan that doesn’t include so many on this earth and whose solution is every bit as final as that proposed at the Wanersee Conference so many years ago. (The Narrator resumes his chair. The next poem should be a tour de force. The young man and young woman who have been onstage previously recite the poem. If possible, they are on different levels. The verse is spoken in unison in places and assigned to alternating voices in others. The Narrator may be seen at times in his black and silver gown. Stage actions for him are a possibility, but he will exit at some point to change into his final garb.)

The Fugue of Death– Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall

we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night

drink it and drink it

we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete

he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he whistles his dogs up

he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in the earth

he commands us now on with the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink in the mornings at noon we drink you at nightfall

drink you and drink you

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete

Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there

He shouts stab deeper in earth you there you others you sing and you play

he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are his eyes

stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at nightfall

drink you and drink you

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He shouts play sweeter death’s music death comes as a master from Germany

he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you shall climb to the sky

then you’ll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie there

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at noon death comes as a master from Germany

we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and drink you

a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are blue

with a bullet of lead he will hit the mark he will hit you

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a grave

he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith

(The young couple remain on stage and sing: one takes the verse, the other the chorus.)

Paul

The forest gave to you a necklace of hands

The aspen tree reminds you of your mother’s hair

Now you are young as a bird dropped dead in March snow

Your poetry sings out like a phoenix from the flare

I want to know if I can save my soul

Or if I am losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

You drank the black milk and tasted ashes on your tongue

You played with serpents and you heard the fugue of death

You said the night needs no stars mouths full of silence

You sank as fish watched rising the spheres of your last breath

I want to know if I can save my soul

Or if I am losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

How many people have been covered by the night

Eyes burned out in the cradle by a hell-black sun

Yes I have been a blind guest those words you uttered

Let there be light an order this century undone

I want to know if I can save my soul

Or if I am losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Lose…

(The singers exit. The Narrator stands, swaying unsteadily. He finds his equilibrium before he starts to speak. We notice that his gown and slippers have reverted to those he was wearing at the play’s opening.)

I have supped full of horrors. And I am glad that my dish has been, largely, vicarious. My mind is not filled with the scorpions tyrants have to contend with nightly. C.S. Lewis, author of those innocent, those enabling fictions, the Narnia tales, also wrote The Screwtape Letters during the dark years of the Second World War. His readers, avid for more insights into the Satanic mind, were disappointed when he called it quits. He could no longer bear the burden of dwelling imaginatively in those dark regions. He feared for his very soul. And rightly so. Human life needs light and love and natural things and if this means a quotidian existence where one has to forgo the depths of Faustian knowledge and the heights of Elysian experience, then, so be it. Limits are, often, not so much limiting, as lifesaving, after all. (He is very tired. He stands behind his chair and grips the back for support as the young woman quietly speaks from the other side of the stage. She is speaking to him.)

from Prayer– Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer

utters itself. So, a woman will lift

her head from the sieve of her hands and stare

at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth

enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;

then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth

in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

(She turns and walks off. The Narrator, still holding the back of the chair looks after her before addressing the audience.)

Although I cannot pray, a prayer uttered itself, when I started to remember a childhood, when I started to take a part in the childhood of my children, and, although I doubt I will be given the gift of participating in the childhood of my children’s children, I was content. I was set down in the middle of the twentieth century and I got out of it alive, I thought. Silly me. (The narrator sings the next song. The young couple, dressed for ballroom dancing appear and dance during the song. At first they are not together, then they dance arm in arm. In the bridge section the woman pirouettes off stage leaving the young man alone. He stares after her and then dances with an imaginary partner in the final chorus, leaving the stage alone.)

The Ballroom of Romance

Drivin’ in the car

No aim at all and we’re so far from home

We pass the ballroom where I recall

I said to you

May I have this dance with you

I’m in the mood for true love

So let’s dance the polka

Let’s take a waltz

Around the ballroom of romance

So many years ago outside this place

Footloose and fancy free then I saw your face

I followed you in to the sound of a big band playing

Shall we return then to visit the shrine

Where I first asked you if you would be mine

As the band was swinging three-four time

The hall is now empty but the music’s intact

Burned in my memory so there is no lack

Of what we need so again I ask you

May I have this dance with you

I’m in the mood for true love

So let’s dance the polka

Let’s take a waltz

Around the ballroom of romance

And still I hear the big band playing

Songs that bade our hearts be true

And I can still remember praying

That I’d spend my life with you

May I have this dance with you

I’m in the mood for true love

So let’s dance the polka

Let’s take a waltz

Around the ballroom of romance

The ballroom of romance

(The Narrator, with real difficulty, leaves the support offered by his chair and slowly approaches the audience.)

How can we know the dancer from the dance? Yeats asked this question in a poem written a lifetime ago. My question is: What is left of the dance when the dancer has gone away? Islands have been the defining settings of my life: not formed in the great central land masses of the Americas or Eurasia. Ireland, Aruba, the Isle of Man, the island continent of Australia- which is huge- but small in some very important ways: there is less variation in custom and language across the length and breadth of that ancient land than between adjacent glens in the land of my birth. And finally to this island that is, according to its inhabitants, the world- Manhattan. Finally. Finality. I won’t be leaving this place: Manhattan. I have come to value the energy (which I possess in declining quantities), the expansive optimism (which I once possessed) the sense that everything is do-able (which I know, in my case, is a fallacy). I wish for my family to … Be careful what you wish for, they say. From my mid-forties, I had started to deteriorate physically- not surprising, I had led an indulgent life. And so the taking of an increasing repertoire of tablets at breakfast-time began. And how I railed against my admittedly deserved fate. How I wished I no longer had to work, toad-like, to bring home the bacon. And I prayed. Did I in a drunken fugue invoke the Master of Lies to answer them? I prayed for a little more time for doing the things that I wanted to really do and a little money to…to… When I learned I had won almost $20 million on Lotto, I passed out. Everyone laughed. Why is it that we laugh when we see people fall down? Gordo certainly would have laughed had I fallen from that lighting pole. Best go for a check up, though. Better safe than sorry. Sorry, the doctor said. I have some bad news. I had just made it out of the 20th Century only to learn that I had less than a year to live. Give or take. Maybe two years maybe two months- who can tell! Live it up, some said. What can’t you do now? Well, I can’t buy time, apparently. Amazing what we do to save ourselves when there’s a definite use-by date? Didn’t give up the smokes and booze, didn’t take up exercise, didn’t follow all that good advice that doctors love to dispense. Before the diagnosis. And did I fall for the schemes of the cruel hoaxers who prey on those peri-mortem mortals? I did. But I caught myself on, as the saying goes, before my credulous longing for life, more life, had bled too much from my now voluminous bank accounts. And I came back to the more-or-less real world. And my research led me to the institute here in Manhattan where miracles are not for sale, but quality of life is- ; bade farewell to Sydney, flew to England where we booked a cruise, my wife and I, and crossed the Atlantic. I now have the wherewithal to indulge a long-held wish to live in Manhattan. And I’ve seen the Yankees play! A dream come true from…long ago, you know, I played for the Yankees, in the Little League in Aruba, yeah, we called ourselves the Yankees, and we wore similar stripes and caps. God, how I loved that uniform.  I was put in to bat because I was small, and, hunched over, created a miniscule shoulder to knee slot for the opposing pitcher! I could see and hit the ball too, in those long ago days- nights mostly, under the lights at Rodgers Field near the Esso Club, one of which I almost fell off courtesy of that psycho Gordo. There is a certain irony in the sombre fact that that I am here to die. There is no cure, but I can purchase a delay in the pain that is coming as surely as the sun will rise.  (He pulls out his flask and takes another swig. He considers the flask holding it up for examination) Can I make a bit of a confession? I’m not sticking strictly to protocol here. Eddie, the ever-accommodating Eddie, has put me in touch with another doctor who has had some, ah, problems with the pernickety accreditation boards here in the city. He has been most helpful in augmenting the approved analgesic regime. But, whether above-board or under the table- it costs quite a bit. (I wonder, do my kids think that I am in thrall to those new bumper-stickers that have begun to appear over the last while; you know, the ones about blowing the children’s inheritance? As a baby boomer I am a part of the most selfish generation in history- according to some.) Don’t worry kids there’ll be enough left over after I’ve finished throwing all that cash at the black something that is hurtling towards me.) (He addresses the audience) It’s coming for you too. But you don’t believe it do you? Not really. Yes, we booked an ocean cruise on one of those majestic liners- and not by accident either; you see, I had made this crossing before- I first crossed the Atlantic back in 1956 on that famous Cunard liner The Queen Mary when my mother took me and my sisters to re-join my father in Aruba after a visit home for her to connect with my older brothers who were staying with my aunt on the family farm. I loved that ship. I still remember getting into an elevator with my sisters- we were exploring, as I recall. Some drunken guy tousled my hair and predicted that I would someday be president of the USA. But I don’t think they’ll change the constitution- just for me. And even if they did…I will, though, see my wife tomorrow evening.  She has been away, (He holds up the flask) and this mouse has been at play. She flew back to Australia to visit our grandson for his birthday. Ha! She thinks that she will surprise me when she- TAH-DAA- comes through that door, bringing my daughter and my only grandson. (Alas, my genes and chromosomes lament, that I have not more.) She doesn’t know that I know that they have landed a couple of hours ago and are checked in at the airport hotel. I only wish we had the space to put them all up here. I miss my wife, I miss my daughter, but there is a hunger in me for a sight, sound, touch, and smell of my grandson- I miss him more than I know how to elucidate…They’ll do a spot of sightseeing before coming here. Eddie, he’s more than just the doorman downstairs- he’s part of the fabric of this building, where we have purchased this cosy little apartment. Eddie confided to me that earlier tonight, as I embarked on my usual evening constitutional, that he has arranged an early morning view of Manhattan for them all from the tallest point in the city- the miracle of the internet, eh?. He knows everyone worth knowing, apparently. I must feign surprise, I suppose, when they burst into this room, as they surely will, in just a few short hours, telling me I must, when my current treatment is completed, take in the wondrous views to be had from the mighty towers of Mammon. And Mammon has enabled me to live in this tower and how good it is! So why do I feel that I shouldn’t have this luck when so many…Catholic guilt, I guess. I wrote a poem once, when I was feeling low. I was fifteen. I had read Byron’s Darkness and I had a darkness of my own to convey (although, how dark, really is the world of a teenage boy- black as pitch at the time; but now, I scorn their emo agonies- Oh Lord! I’ve turned into an old fogey, God help me!). I have kept with me very, very little of my poetic or prosaic output. Indeed, before we came here, I consigned to long-term storage boxes of…ephemera… I supposed it should be called. At one stage, as I contemplated mortality screaming around the curve, coming straight for me, I thought I would finally put it all together in a big book- get it published. Hell, I can now afford to publish it privately and buy enough copies to get it on some hack reviewer’s list. Then I thought a better thought. And so, I have kept nothing, well almost. This I kept, (He pulls a piece of paper from his gown pocket) I was fifteen; I thought the world existed only for me. But even then, somehow, heard the blackness roaring just beyond the limits of perception. Allow me to read to you. It is the poem I wrote at the advanced age of fifteen years! It is called Explication.

Like a poem carved upon an ancient bone

Dug out of an ash-pit,

An outline of a heart in bog-oak

Dragged up and into the open air,

The remnants of an ancient tune

Whistling through the shaking leaves

Of the last stand of native trees

Left on a fissured plain,

Let my voice, telling of love

And letdowns, carry across

The fields of time spread

To the shimmering edges

Of eternity fringed with

A sparkling circlet of stars

Before they wink out

One by one,

Swallowed by the incurious

Blankness beyond.

Now what on earth did I know then, all those decades ago, to write such words? It was as though that fifteen-year old boy reached through the fabric of time and space into this room and into this heart to find them. Words. So many, many words: so few worth reading…writing…hearing…speaking (Sfx sound of wind and waves and seabirds calling, creaking of timber of a ship under sail.) I love the sea and I love the ships that sail on it so, I suppose, it is no surprise that I love The Tempest where all the drowned sailors and seafarers are discovered safe and well. The girl on the desolate island finds true love and is restored to her princely patrimony, the imprisoned spirits of light are set free and even the monster gets to keep his island with the admonition that he should mend his ways. The magic of theatre. The magic of books. The triumph of the imagination. (He returns to the chair, very tired, sits) And what is left to tell? (He tries to rise again but has to sit back, painfully, on his chair. He takes out the panic button, it drops to the floor) Too much. (He starts to rock, and as the rocking stops; across the stage, the paramedics push their gurney, a platform with which to remove the expiring Narrator. The band plays the final song to end the play. The paramedics- the young man and woman- take off their coats and sing the song. One takes verse 1 the other verse 2. The young man crosses to the window DSC and pulls a cord to raise the blind. It is dawn, and we recognise the silhouettes of the twin towers now. They share the singing in the choruses. By this point the set has returned to its original, or starker, condition.)

Coda

Something came into my cell today

Feels like the wind

The wind that blows through solid walls

And confining doors

Something touched my wound and made it well

Feels like the hand

The hand that leads the dispossessed

To the Promised Land

And I don’t want to feel the pain

To grieve in the dark again

If you go away please take me with you

And I don’t want to feel the pain

To wake to the dark again

If you go away please take me with you

(Tabs have flown in to mask the Narrator and the gurney. On the final notes the singers, resume their paramedic coats and, as the strobe effects start out again, we see the form of the narrator on the gurney as it is pushed offstage. The stage is now bare. We hear fx of a radio, static, station ID, a New York voice announces: “It is a wonderful, brisk fall morning here in Manhattan, Saturday, September 11, Two Thousand and One- the sun is shining and it’s soooo good to be alive” static as the broadcast fades quickly as the sound of a large jetliner swells. The twin towers are all that can be seen out through the windows)

The curtain call could be: Music- tabs on version of “Coda”. The young man and young woman enter, hand in hand, take their bows, turn and watch the Narrator who enters to centre stage where he takes his bows. If there is a live band, fly scrim to reveal them as they are acknowledged. Three actors take final bow- tabs off.)

—————————————————————————————————

Because the action of the play happens in the short interval between the gurney’s traverse of the stage- as the narrator slips out of this life and is taken away- the props can be as elaborate and expressionistic as expense allows or as sparse as the budget demands. Similarly, the use of multiple images and screens are possible to punctuate and illustrate elements of the narration, song and poetry.

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