Her Political Body

Excerpt from Her Political Body Published in The Rachham Review (1989)

A woman is in a bar, coming out of what is still called a ladies’ room. She is wearing sneakers, a white blouse, and a tweed skirt. There was a cartoon in the stall. The cartoon showed a pants-suit looking at a closet full of naked women on hangers. The woman finds herself wishing she had been born in Canada. She imagines her mother laboring on a narrow bed. The bed springs creak and the howling outside comes from wind and wolves. The woman sits at the bar. Under the glossy but scarred wooden counter, she parts her knees. She has what men call good legs, meaning when she parts her knees, her upper thighs go with them. The bartender asks what she wants to drink. She doesn’t know. The usual? he asks, winking. She nods, though she’s certain she’s never been here before. She begins to speculate on the bartender’s private life. She wonders what falling in love would be like after all this time: she imagines water pouring through a dam. She would like to imagine herself and a group of her friends kidnapping the bartender, just for fun, but first she would have to imagine a group of friends, and this would take more time than she has. The woman wonders what her fingers will be doing in an hour’s time. She shifts on her barstool, unsticking her good legs from the red vinyl. She waits for the future to occur to her.

“An Emperor in Sheep’s Clothing” from Crystals of the Unforeseen

Excerpt from “An Emperor in Sheep’s Clothing” Published in Crystals of the Unforeseen published by Plain View Press (1999). 


GRAVEYARD FLOWERS

I
My Location

            By the time Milo came home that evening, I was located somewhere between second and third base in the erotic ballpark. When I told him that his wife had been to see me, my little boat of eroticism foundered in the turgid wash of his male determination not to understand or be understood.

He asked me if I was angry with him.

I said I didn’t see why I should be.

Then he began a long and tortured speech, half confession, half accusation, about how humiliating it must have been to discover that my “longtime and almost live-in lover” was not only unfaithful but married, how “betrayed” I must have felt to have his wife show up on my doorstep, “reeking of her origins.”

I felt myself getting really furious.

“Ah ha!” His satisfaction was, as always, transparent. “You are angry,” he said. “All the angrier because you’re pretending not to be.” He was trying to confuse me, which so enraged me I couldn’t figure out why he was trying to confuse me, which enraged me even more. Luckily, Milo was too intent on himself to notice much of me.

“What am I going to do?” he groaned at one point, throwing himself backward onto our water bed

“What do you mean?” I asked, seeing the question as a big red thumb in a bouquet of graveyard flowers.

“What do you mean, what do I mean? I can’t just keep on going as I was before!”

“I don’t see why not,” I objected. I stood by the night stand while Milo thrashed about on the bed, working himself up.

“I have to choose,” he said, hand over his eyes. “I have to act! To seize the bull by its horn!”

I began to be nervous.

II
William the Conqueror

There was silence for a moment, broken only by the moribund gurgling of the bed. “It took a great deal for her coming here today,” he said finally. There was unmistakable admiration in his voice.

“Gee,” I said, trying to balance on the barbed wire fence between sarcasm and sincerity. “You never talk that nice about me.”

He snorted. A pure thick barnyard sound that reminded me of his comment about her, that she smelled of her origins. There was something in all this very foreign to me. My Nantucket, white bread, mentioned-in-Moby-Dick family goes back to William the Conqueror. We’ve always smelled like conquerors of something.

“You’ve had it easy with me,” he said. “you didn’t even have to move. You just had to lie here on this heated waterbed of yours and wait for me to come.” Usually he laughs at his own jokes, but not this time. Even he knew it was too late for jokes. “Be honest,” he said finally. “You’ve had other lovers since me, right?” We both knew I didn’t have to answer. My fidelity was not the issue. But I wanted to answer for that very reason. I wanted something of me to be the issue. Better guilty than unimportant.

“Yes,” I said, moving past the foot of the bed to stand at the long mirror, smooth my hair, and look back at his watercolory reflection. He was pulling off his shirt, struggling out of his pants. “But they all have a lot more sense than to show up here and cause a scene.” My words astonished me. I had liked her, hadn’t I? I had admired her. And now I was using her to get him off the hook. (Whose hook it was, or how it had gotten there, I had no idea.)

III

Of Sperm and Bitter Grapes

            I turned back to him. Lying naked on his back now on the still-heaving waterbed, he wasn’t all that much to look at. Still, he did know how to use what he had to terrible advantage.

“That’s the thing of it,” he said, avoiding my eyes. “She loves me as you can’t—Love is something you and I have the great good sense to steer clear of.”

The remark was so typical of him, I got confused and angry all over again. He was so PushMePullYouish, first criticizing me for my failure to love him, then allying himself to me in that failure, making it part of the bond between us.

“You’re wrong,” I told him. “I could love you perfectly well if you were different.”

I thought of something I should have thought of from the beginning. “I don’t suppose you have children stashed somewhere?”

“No,” he said. ‘She wanted them, of course. I didn’t.”

“Because of the stillborn baby?”

“There was no stillborn baby,” Milo said. “Despite what the critics say, I occasionally manage to break out of my autobiographical confines.” He shrugged. “We went to a doctor a long time ago. I didn’t see the report but Zdena said there was something wrong with my sperm. Could have been bitter grapes”—he smiled his press conference smile— “but I don’t think so.”

“Well,” I said. “If it wasn’t bitter grapes, I guess it’s safe for me to go off the pill, then.”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, of course, as far as I’m concerned.”

 

IV
He Calls Me a Pervert

            We still managed to get ourselves into another argument. But it was one of our old, familiar arguments. When I saw he was getting the better of me, I shed my clothes and slid into bed.

“You don’t play fair,” he said.

“No,” I agreed. “I’m built like that.”

He put his hands on my breasts.

“Your hands are cold,” I said, as always.

“It’s my warm heart,” he answered on cue. “Do you mind?”

He slid his hands between my thighs. “How would you like it tonight, my gutter flutterby?”

“I want it to be quick,” I whispered. “As though it were nothing special. As though it were always the same.”

“What a little pervert you are,” he said.

I had to agree he was right.

 

Front Towards Enemy

Published in The Michigan Quarterly Review

(for Jeff)

…the fuck?
Guard, Martin. Ten minutes.
Huh? Oh, yeah. Thanks, Louis. He gripped the sides of his hammock and swung himself to the earth floor of the bunker…. I’m awake.
We’re on LP 3 tonight.
Right… He knew it was Louie’s responsibility, went with the territory, as they said, but it annoyed him, being reminded, prodded along like that, particularly by such a lilting, sing-song, little girl voice. It had been better before Louie’s promotion… Well, in some ways it had been better. Once, getting ready to leave the camp, the Montagnard had told him to make sure Moon Eater didn’t swallow the team while he was gone.
Moon Eater was the dragon superstition of the Vietnamese, never to be confused with Montagnards. Moon Eater could be frightened away only by consecrated firecrackers. Also, to cross water three times in one night meant contracting a repulsive and fatal disease.
If you could read my mind, love, he thought sardonically, addressing himself to the small, doe-eyed Montagnard, you would know why my voice last night sounded so apologetic.
Anything out there?
No. Only other carriers of capitalism.
Good.
His dream hung for a moment behind his eyes. A kind of film. He rubbed, and both the dream and Louie went away, as if by prearranged agreement. He yawned hugely, shook hiiself, and took the pair of dappled dark green and black tiger pants off one of the two hooks on the wall next to his hammock.
The dream had been about Sally. She had been pushing his mother, who sat stiffly in a gun-metal wheelchair. In that one image, he remembered more than he would have wanted. Usually, he came into this world, this twilight jungle zone, bringing nothing with him. A dead man resurrected.
He pulled the tiger pants on over his slim, hairless legs. Once, there had been a black and white movie in which somebody—Clark Gable?—gave his girlfriend a lecture about the different ways men got dressed.
Then came a black sleeveless t-shirt and another shirt of the same material as the pants. He pulled on white socks before sliding his feet into the canvas jungle boots, boots made heavy by the thin plates of steel in the soles. They were supposed to protect your feet against punji sticks.
He tugged a battered patrol cap on his head, buckled on a web belt and checked the equipment that hung from it—canteen, bayonet, flashlight, first-aid pouch and a length of blackened bicycle chain. Adjusting the belt around his hips, he took his M-16 off the other hook and walked down the row of hammocks… Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk/ Oh, don’t you wish that you could hear them ring? That will only happen when the fairies sing… Of all the mothers he knew or had heard about, she was the only one who had wanted girls and gotten boys.
Louie was waiting at the other side of the room. He handed Martin two small tins of gritty camouflage paste.
What’s the matter, Louie? Your hands too tired this morning?
Louie shrugged without looking up. You have been around long enough now to do your own, he said in his overly-precise, uncontracted English. Do a good job, though. It is bright out there.
Graduation, huh? But Louie wouldn’t look up, wouldn’t smile.
Martin took the tins and dipped two fingers in the larger of the two. He rubbed the dark green paste over his cheeks and neck. The second tin held burnt cork; he smeared that over his cheekbones and ears, avoiding any sort of regular pattern. Finished, he handed the tins back to Louis and submitted to his inspection.
You are learning, Louie said.
The voice was as neutral as water, the face as impassive as stone.
You’re being particularly inscrutable this morning, Louie, my man.
Perhaps. Louie’s expression was what a novel might have described as the ghost of a smile. –Perhaps… But until we are out there, everything must be the same or even more so. You are agreed?
Martin nodded. To the core, he thought. Aloud, he said, I am agreed.
His high school English teacher had said he was wet behind the ears. For him, as perhaps for the other boys who dreamed their way into what was called adulthood by staring out that second-floor window, she seemed to have been his only English teacher. He remembered her vividly, Miss What’s-Her-Face, remembered her under that name, remembered even how in some childhood book, “under the name” had been explained as meaning having a sign with your name on it poised over your bed. Or was it door?
He remembered her as Miss What’s-Her-Face because he had never, somehow, been possessed of an awareness of her as a face, as a person with, for example, eyes, kindly, stern, with glasses, otherwise. At first, she had only been a voice—a kind, bodiless voice, a voice that had set him to furious scribblings, bad poems about the wind in the pine trees. And then, much later, she had become all body, only body—a long, express-train faceless force of a body, a body that threw him off balance just by the power of its rushing by.
He and Louie pulled on their dark green gloves, then walked around the bunker and down a short slope to the first ring of accordion wire. The tall spirals of barbs were dark in the moonlight. Hung with tin cans, strips of wire, anything to make noise, as well as grenades, trip wires, and an occasional Claymore fastening. In his mother’s magazines, December people trapped in far-off places had used cranberries or hair ribbons to decorate their valiant Christmas trees.
Louie wrapped a soft cloth around Martin’s left hand and another around his own. he reached out delicately, pulling at a strand. Then, holding the wire, he walked slowly backward. An opening about three feet wide and two feet high appeared. Martin slung his weapon across his back and eased himself down, under the wire, keeping his arms tight against his sides and pushing himself forward with the minimum of side-to-side motion.
It wasn’t true that Montagnards never cracked, though. Last night, after all Partin’s teasing about his being “inscrutable,” Louis had finally said something other than “Perhaps.” Right before leaving the bar, he had turned and said, “It is my opinion that I can be most scrutable at times.”
Martin approached the kill zone with the sharpened consciousness he had come to expect. It seemed to him that he understood war better than he had ever understood anything before. School, for example, its patterns and its purposes. The first-grade teacher had told him to raise his hand when he wanted to go, and he had said How is that going to help?
When, as always, he turned to look, Louie, as always, had disappeared.
The tangle of wire had been anchored three feet down. It arched over and curved underneath him. He could feel strands winding through the hard soil. They pressed upward against the cotton-padded gloves that were supposed to protect your hands. Wire to the left of him, wire to the right of him—
He edged forward by pushing with his hands and feet against the dirt. He could feel his shoes digging in—CPC’s. canvas personnel carriers, the Special Forces called them. All SF jokes were private.
He passed a pair of ranked Claymores, curved, ledger-sized mines facing outward. He looked sideway at the Claymores as he went by, turning just a fraction to do so and remembering what Louie had told him, centuries ago: It is always advisable around here to watch where one is going. Do not look to the sides and never, never look back unless you are stationary.
FRONT TOWARDS ENEMY, the Claymores advised him… Steel and glass flechettes over a hundred yard area, one in every two square inches, each with the force of a high-powered rifle bullet.
Miss What’s-Her-Face had given them exercises in writing self-descriptions. You can learn something from everything, even if it’s nothing, his had begun. Even then, he had geared the most random of his jottings to future biographers, as if to say—There, you small-mouthed, small-minded, tinsel-balled bastards—Take that and that and that—
He rose to a low crouch at the inside rim of the kill zone. Resting on one knee, he looked over his shoulder. Louie reappeared right on schedule and lifted his arm. Martin ducked his head, looking for the guideposts that were supposed to lead you intact through the minefield. The dark red arrow at his feet pointed ahead and to his right. Still bent, he set off across the sandy ground. The second guide was thirty feet from the first, another arrow indicating a ninety-degree change of course. He did not stop moving. Another of Louie’s lessons. The second arrow led him to a small, round depression in the earth where he stopped again. He was almost in the shadow of the second ring now.
His college girlfriend had been a philosophy major who said marriage was better seen through a telescope than a microscope. Louie had said it was better to think than to feel. Best was just to react.
Squatting, he sighted to his left and picked out the head-shaped banyan tree. He sighted to his right and identified “the hooker,” a large white rock standing in the center of a cluster of strangle bushes. Keeping his bearings both ways, he moved at a fast, bent-over hustle into the shelter of the perimeter wire. There, he bent over even more and moved his head from side to side without changing the placement of his feet. The mines were planted thickest here, where the shadow of the wire could hide anyone coming through from the other side.
The civilian could always be identified by his greedy demand for the truth, the truth about the war, the country they had never been to, the club to which they had never been invited. Fixing you with their bloodless, bayonet eyes, they asked their questions and the points of those questions seemed to have been dipped in church tea as in curare…
Louie liked expensive French wine. He knew vintages like some Americans knew batting averages. When he got drunk, you couldn’t really tell any difference—he just got a little harder to figure. And sometimes, like last night, he would not only let you tease him, he would tease back.
Martin located two strips of tan cloth hanging from the wire, lowered himself againa dn very slowly slid forward.
They were blundering through the toy lands of these miniature saffron people like prehistoric water buffalo: they must expect, being Americans, to be punished, to die dramatically. But the dying, the getting killed he had seen was like getting caught with your pants down pissing in your mother’s flowerbed. Messier, was all.
The clearance here was less than eight inches. He held the M-16 in the crook of his arm, under his body, kept the other arm extended in front of him. “This is my weapon. This is my gun. This is for killing. This is for fun.” The Army’s idea of poetry.
He moved with gentle pushes of his feet, transmitted along the length of his body with a rippling motion. Even with a full moon, it was pitch black under the wire.
Last night, when some jerk had accused Louie of not believing in anything, he had looked at Martin before answering. “I believe in the most important thing,” he had said, as if talking solely for Martin’s benefit. “I believe in my own power to survive. What else matters?”
A bitter metallic smell gave an edge to the air. He could smell dust, his own cold sweat, the faint odor of long-decaying flesh. He guided himself by delicate feelings of his leading hand, left and right from one wall of the tunnel through the wire to the other.
He and Denise had never done more than what the books called light petting. She would have said it never became an issue between them. How was it with Louie and women, he wondered. Maybe there were no Montagnard women left. Montagnards were dangerously pretty by any standard: maybe the women had all been sucked up by the Saigon whorehouses.
At last, he saw a dim, milky blue glow ahead, filtering faintly down to him. he slowed, moving forward an inch at a time, with a three-second pause between each movement. Then, abruptly, his outstretched hand met sharp-edged wire—wire on every side, cutting him off.
In the dream, he and Sally had been in the snackbar. The room was full of trees that had anti-war posters instead of leaves. She was wearing a white dress which he knew had nothing to do with her wanting to be a nurse, but then she was pushing his mother in a wheelchair and they seemed to be coming at him down a slight incline, a kind of metal ramp or runway which was also a jungle path. His mother was making a kind of disapproving, clacking noise which at first he thought was coming from a sub-machine gun. But, no, she was just trying out for the part of Mother Goose in the school play and since he was her crooked son, it all fit, it locked into place like a metal bolt in a metal chamber. Sally wagged her hips engagingly, then cracked her gum at him with an I’m-forever-blowing-bubbles smile. The sound startled him but he aimed carefully, remembering how he had once thought medics wouldn’t have to use, perhaps wouldn’t have to carry weapons at all, only to discover they were given the best arsenal of all.
He continued moving the truck of his body until his face was touching his hand, an inch from the nearest barb. Squinting through the strands, he saw a small ditch. It was less than five feet ahead. He lay without moving until he had scrutinized every inch of it and assured himself that it was empty. Then he extended both gloved hands, placed them on the wire and pushed.
He aimed directly beneath the antique brooch that had been his father’s present to her on their twentieth anniversary and was not surprised to find that his weapon was made of cut-glass and shaped like a perfume atomizer. Lowering his mask, he sprayed the air with the gas they’d nicknamed Tanglefoot. His mother got up out of the wheelchair, shed the shawl he’d never liked, and wandered absentmindedly away into the jungle without so much as a backward glance at the tigers with enormous moon-eyes that followed her. The wheelchair lay upside down, wheels spinning. Slowly, the section of wire in front of him, a chunk about five feet long and two feet around, slid forward and rolled down into the slope and into the gully.
Watching his mother toddle away, Sally smiled a wider smile. She took a few little mincing steps toward him—they made her seem invincible. She was dressed in a short white cheerleader’s tunic: in one hand, she waved a baton; in the other, she held a bouquet of sweetheart roses. On her head was the homecoming crown. This time they’ve done it, he thought, but arraying all his weapons on the slight rise in front of him in a kind of musical keyboard, he found fingers enough to press all the triggers simultaneously.
He waited another ten seconds in the opening, bringing the M-16 into his hands. With his thumb, he pushed the selector to SEMI. Taking a deep breath, he slid himself forward into the gully, using the roll of wire for concealment. He came to his feet with the rifle at his shoulder and swung his upper body around in a semicircle scanning the ground, with the muzzle of the weapon following his eyes. Then he put the weapon on SAFE and slung it. Working quickly, he lifted the roll of wire and shoved it back into the opening in the vast accordion behind him. Every man for himself, and that included Montagnards, no matter how pretty.
At first he thought he had missed. Sally continued to smile as convincingly as before. But something unpleasant was stirring under the creamy white smells of toothpaste and deodorant. She smiled and smiled as though she were once again standing at the head of the class, in front of the teacher’s tank-like desk, as though she and she alone knew the answer.
He unslung the rifle, put it back on SEMI and set off, following the gully to his right along the tiger path toward the river. He proceeded through a route of gullies and depressions in the earth across the plain, until the firebase was finally lost to sight behind the tall elephant grass. He stayed bent with the M-16 at his hip, the muzzle elevated slightly but always pointing ahead. After about five minutes of cautious progress, he came to a gully that seemed straighter and more even-sided than the others. It was about forty feet long, the length of a long room, and seemed to end abruptly in an unusually thick clump of strangle bushes. He stopped in front of this and called softly.
But a small, very delicate floweret of blood had expressed itself in the center of the petalled white skirt of her tunic and it blossomed slowly into a cloud, into an avalanche—an orgasm, an education of blood.
Hey, Jim.
No answer.
Hey, Lulu.
The answer was little more than a whisper. Yeah…. It seemed to come from the center of the bush.
One comin’ in. Hold back.
You got a handle?
Lobo Two.
Come in nice and slow, Lobo.
He moved forward with exquisite slowness, weapon pointed almost straight up. As he approached the bush, a section of it was slid back. He ducked through, into a small semicircular concavity about the size of a restaurant booth. There were two men inside, the Thai named Chittatouk looking delicate and feminine next to the burly, red-bearded Harris. The bush formed a roof overhead but the surrounding plain was clearly visible through the vines. The walls of the listening post were shored up with sandbags. They held racks of flares and grenades and a PRC-25 radio, switched off.
She had failed and she knew it. Nonetheless, or perhaps because of this, she held up a small white pennant of paper and read aloud in that woozy, sexy, always breathless voice, “For my poem, I have chosen to read ‘Tigers Have Eaten the Moon.’” That was all she found time to say before she was drowned in a babble of laughter, the laughter of children, which only a civilian would have confused with the laughter of idiots.
Martin nodded to the two and set his weapon against the wall. Anything going on, Harris?
Harris shook his head. Too damn bright. Everybody’s staying home tonight. He had a loud, gravelly voice. It was a testament to his reflexes that he’d survived this long with a voice like that. A Texas voice, too, from deep in the heart of wherever.
Fine with me, Martin said.
Harris and the Thai waited until Louie appeared, then slid out through the bush, weapons at the ready.
Martin picked up his M-16. set the selector on SEMI and laid the weapon across his knees. With his left hand, he adjusted the sandbags behind him. He waited until Louis had similarly settled down; then, still looking straight ahead out onto the moon-swept clearing with its scattering of strange, fragile trees—he extended his right hand slowly up and out from his side until it found the back of Louie’s neck.
Feeling as though he were a dog with a wild bird, he put his thumb on the near pressure point and the tip of his index finger on the far one… He stroked the hair on the nape of the Montagnard’s slender neck for a moment, marveling once again at the sleek smoothness it managed to preserve even in its close-cropped state, like the neck of an otter or some other small, water animal… The breathless moonlight night increased the feeling of being in an underwater burrow, sharing the warmth, the supportive darkness of the lair.
Still looking straight ahead, he said softly. “Louie, last night, I—“
“Shh.” The Montagnard’s voice was like tissue paper. Like silk.
“There are two times when it is better not to speak,” he said. “Two times. And now is both of them.”

Becoming Rumania (Godot is Waiting)

Letter of Intent: Lorgean Theatre Residency

There is a Czech travel story that goes like this: a man was once traveling back to Prague and his plane had a stopover in Buenos Aires. The man found himself with a few hours to spend in the small hours of the morning (1-4), so he hired a taxi and
drove through the city for an hour to see what he could see. At one point, he looked
up (at 3 a.m., let’s say) and saw a man standing on a balcony in his pajamas, playing a violin. When the traveler arrived back in Prague, he wrote a newspaper column about his travels and began, “In Buenos Aires, it is a national custom for men to get up in the middle of the night, go out onto their balconies in the small hours of the morning, and play the violin.”

This story was an important motivation for this performance proposal, as was my friend’s comment (forwarding the online notice) “this project has you written allll over it.” The third motivation was my repeated reading of the Griffin and Sabine books years ago.

My intent is to take advantage of this opportunity to become my shadow self, a shadow self I take to be a man who lives in Rumania, on the other side of the world and the other side of the gender (and possible age) gap. I am going to assume that this man, about whom I know nothing, and whose life and character I will not study or research until I arrive in Rumania, in fact represents Rumania as a whole.

The fictional springboard I have is that I have a long-lost relative (a sixth cousin, perhaps) wrote and invited me to come and visit him in Bucharest. He says he would like me to know about him, so we can explore our trans-national connection. He is interested, he says, in building a personal bridge between our two countries. As a translator and around-the-world traveler, I am very interested in exploring this idea. But when I arrive in Rumania, he is not there to greet me. I receive a key and some money that he has left for me, and perhaps a letter or a map or a riddle and instructions from him not to ask anyone direct questions about him, because it will “raise suspicion.”

As an actor as well as a playwright/poet/fiction writer/translator/traveler, and a natural empath, I am very interested in other people’s worlds and mindsets.

My intent therefore is to write a series of short performance pieces to be performed in the space, based on my developing picture of my European male shadow shelf. These may be dialogues, monologues, mime, performance poetry, music, art.

I will complete the equation my private self= his public self= Rumania. In so doing, I will make it possible for theatre goers to view my performance piece and make the equation “This performance = the American who was here” or even “This performance is America.”

My intention is to become Rumania.

The Performance Piece

I will be open to what information I can glean from friends and neighbors and, above all, from the apartment itself. I will not ask directly about him unless he directs me (indirectly) to do so, but will stay keenly aware of, alert to, things people say about this man unprovoked.

My main source of information will be his apartment. (I am also respectful of boundaries, so if there is anything marked “hands off” in the apartment, or if verbal instructions await me, I will respect those directions.)

Many (perhaps all) of the books in the apartment will be in Rumanian, and I do not read or speak or understand Rumanian, so I will be looking especially at English-language materials (anything I touch to be put back in its original place) and non-verbal clues– What sort of cooking utensils does this person use? What sort of towels? What kind of a man has a make believe theater in his real apartment, when I have a make believe apartment in a real theater (a set). What images are on his walls?

Perhaps the man, my shadow self, will have left clues or puzzles for me, or even a kind of treasure hunt. Perhaps he will leave non-verbal clues. Will I recognize them as such, though?

The performance piece (to be presented in the theatre) will use real objects in the apartment and real people (who come to see the performance of which they are part) and be a mixed-genre, mixed media event- sort of the mirror image to Waiting for Godot, hence called Godot is Waiting.

It will have built in the possibility for the shadow self, when he returns, to respond with a performative evaluation of the woman who lived in his apartment, based on her performance piece and whatever clues, riddles, maps, drawings, she leaves behind.

I believe my friend was right– I think this opportunity does have me written allll over it.

LOL (lots of lotuses)
Lyn

 

A Ghost from the Future

Published in Departed Family and Friends by Atraid Press (2005)
I was a hospice social worker, and Dorothea was one of my long-term patients. Dorothea was in her eighties, and dying of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. During one of our last interviews, Dorothea told me that she had always wanted to see a psychic, and regretted never having done. I pointed out that it wasn’t too late, and asked if she would like me to get her the name of a respected psychic in the area. She said she would, and I called her that evening with the name and phone number. When I next saw Dorothea, two weeks later, she told me how grateful she was to me for the contact. She had been to the psychic, and felt the psychic was “right on the money.” She asked if I would like to hear the tape the psychic had made of their interview together. I said yes. Proudly, Dorothea put on the tape and we sat there in her kitchen, listening. On the tape, the psychic said what I would have said about Dorothea, put into “psychic” instead of “social work” terms. She said Dorothea had lived a long life and had her emotional affairs in good order. She spoke about Dorothea’s good relationship with her living family (her daughter) and her deceased family– father, mother, and older brother. She said Dorothea had really “no unfinished business.” As I listened to the psychic, I at first heard nothing with which I could not wholeheartedly agree. Dorothea had been in hospice therapy with me for a number of months and she did seem to have her emotional house in order. She had talked to me about her somewhat distant mother, her reconciliation with her older brother, the many happy times she had spent with her father. Whatever small traumas she had suffered in her childhood seemed to be resolved and safely in the past. But as the psychic kept talking, the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise, and I suddenly saw a ghost. I don’t know how else to call her. This was not the sheeted and “whoo whoo” ghost of Halloween stories. This was the ghost of a little girl. Not only did I see a ghost, but I also saw her surroundings. I seemed to have been transported in time and place. I was floating above the second landing of a stairwell carpeted in green. There was a window to my left, through which streamed the early morning sun. Outside was a large Douglas fir. I could count the steps leading up to the landing. The “ghost” just ahead of and a few feet below me was the ghost of a little girl of about five, facing up the final short flight of stairs. I couldn’t see her face, but I saw her short and puff-sleeved red dress, and the scuffs on the back of her black patent leather shoes. I saw her wheat-blonde, shoulder-length hair. I saw her pale, thin arms, held slightly out from her sides; I saw her small, tightly-clenched fists. Even seen from the back, I knew this ghost child was both terrified and furious. She was staring up at the second floor landing. She wasn’t making a sound (I was aware of small birds chattering in the fir tree) but I could “hear” her soundless tears. I knew she was furious at someone in her family. A male. Her father or her brother. Her father. I knew something terrible had just happened. And then I knew what it was. A shot had just gone off. I heard it backward. I knew now this little ghost of a girl knew, that her father, her doomed, beloved father, had just shot and killed himself. Her father had been the love at the heart of her life, and now he was gone. As if sensing my presence, the girl turned around, and a small Dorothea looked up at me, her face wet with tears. For a second, she seemed to see me. I tried to “send her” my love.The connection faded almost immediately, but not before I realized: I was the one from another time period; I was the one floating above the floor; I was the ghost. The realization returned me suddenly to my “normal” present: I was back in the kitchen. Dorothea asked me for my reaction. Didn’t I think what the psychic had said was 100% on the money? But I knew now, somehow, that what the psychic had said was wrong in some fundamental way: I knew that both the psychic and I had missed a key fact of Dorothea’s childhood and the state of her soul: there was much work yet to be done, and not much time. But Dorothea had shared so many “happy” memories with me, most of them of her father. Was what she had told me a lie? Was what I had seen a lie?
I didn’t want to upset Dorothea, but I had never “fibbed” to her before, and this didn’t seem like the time to start. When she asked me a second time whether I agreed with the psychic, I said no: I told her what I had seen, all of it- her as a terrified and angry little girl on the stairway, and me floating above her, a ghost from the future. Dorothea turned completely pale, and called to her daughter in a panicky voice, “Helen! Helen! Come here!” When Helen ran in from the living room, Dorothea told me, commanded me, really- “Tell her what you saw.” Obediently, I described the stairway scene. Now it was Helen’s turn to become pale. When I’d finished, Dorothea asked Helen, “Should I tell her?” “You might as well,” Helen said. “She already seems to know.”
Dorothea told me that the man she had described so lovingly as her father was really her stepfather. Her biological father had shot himself to death when she was five. Her first memory was of being on the green carpeted stairs and hearing the shot- knowing instinctively, intuitively, what he had done- feeling a great sense of anger, and a greater sense of loss. Dorothea and I set to our therapeutic work, processing her unresolved feelings about her beloved father’s suicide. She died peacefully about three weeks later. Now, when I hear people talking about the ghosts they’ve seen, I want to say, “Sometimes ghosts can be from the future, not the past- I know, because I was one.”

Valentine to Georgia

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

It was my pleasure and privilege to live in Georgia for three months in the spring of 2011. It was my first trip there: I was a “stranger in a strange land.” I could not figure out why I felt so at home until I took my first excursion out of Tbilisi.
After an hour or two of driving, the tour bus stopped in a small town and many of us got out to stretch our legs. I was standing there, taking in the scene, when a woman approached and asked in Georgian if I spoke Georgian and if I did, would I tell her who I was.
I responded (in halting Georgian) that I was a poet from the United States. I might have said more but at that point the woman, smiling broadly, grabbed my sleeve and pulled me a few doorways down and into what she said was “a sort of hardware store,” a room full of boxes and shelves containing a welter of mostly metal parts and gadgets.
The woman began rummaging, searching through her wares until she finally uncovered an account book, half-filled with lists of items and prices. This she turned to a new page. She rummaged some more and came up with a pen which she tested to make sure it still wrote. (Yes.)
She cleared some space on the main table, spread out the account book and handed me the pen. Then she explained in clear and careful Georgian that this was the only book she had in her shop at the moment so would I please sign it for her.
I was momentarily confused. Was she asking me to sign for a purchase? The woman apparently understood why I hesitated, because she laughed and said she had never before had a real poet in her hardware store. She wanted my autograph.
Georgians know and love poetry, their own and others’. They see poetry as a universal language and welcome all who write it.
The Georgian love of poetry really made me feel at home. And their world-famous generosity. And their great ability to have fun.

The Second Page

Original story published in The Catholic Digest; June, 1968 (under Miksovsky); performed (produced, with accompanying dance by Julia Goldsmith) at Guild House and Washtenaw Community College, March/April 1998.

The plane began its take-off, and I slumped in my seat, feeling miserable. I had gone to Hollywood on a quest for autographs, but all I had to show for my vacation was an empty autograph book. My parents and older sisters would be waiting at the airport to hear about the movie stars I had seen in Hollywood. I could hear myself now: “Well, I did see a dog that looked just like Lassie.”
I rummaged in my pockets for food and came up with two lifesavers. Lunch wouldn’t be served for two hours, and I was ravenous. I was suddenly aware of a little girl. She was standing beside me, staring at the lifesavers. I started to say something cross, but thought better of it. Feeling miserable was no excuse to be nasty.
I slid over and motioned to her. She sat down, never taking her eyes off the lifesavers, and identified herself as Emma. “Are you hungry?” I asked. She nodded. “Didn’t you have lunch?” She nodded again. “Milk and a sandwich.” “No dessert?” I persisted. She pointed her stubby finger at the lifesavers. “I lost mine,” she said. What could I do? I gave her the lifesavers.
After little Emma ate them, she showed interest in my autograph book, so I let her scribble on the first page. Why not?
In about fifteen minutes, Emma’s mother came to get her. “I hope my daughter hasn’t been a bother,” she said. I managed to smile and point to Emma’s scribbles: her mother understood. On the second page of my autograph book is the following inscription: “Thank you for taking care of my daughter. Best Wishes. Julie Andrews.”

*I wrote and published this story in 1968, 13 years after the events took place. Those events forty-two years ago happened pretty much as I described them. Except the child on the plane was not a girl named Emma, but a little boy whose name I never knew. And I changed the name of the movie star to Julie Andrews when I submitted the piece– because I’d been told the Catholic Digest would never print a favorable story about my real benefactress.

Part Two: After the plane landed that evening in 1955, the police made all the regular people get off. My family was waiting. They wanted to leave, but agreed to stay when they saw the red carpet being unrolled, and all the photographers and reporters clustering around. The movie star’s family must already have been whisked off somewhere, because when she finally emerged, she was alone, looking fabulously glamorous. She posed a moment, then proceeded down the airplane stairs and along the carpet between the waiting throngs of cordoned-off admirers. When she came abreast of me and my family, she stopped, turned, and shook hands with me. “Thank you, Lyn,” she said. “Thank you for all your help.” I stammered something in response, and she swept on. The most famous movie star in the world had acknowledged me, thanked me, and called me by my name-in public, for the world to hear. Thank you, Elizabeth Taylor.

Original story published in The Catholic Digest; June, 1968; performed (produced, with accompanying dance by Julia Goldsmith) at Guild House and Washtenaw Community College, March/April 1998.