The Main Show
: a story-poem stage presentation
(part of Living Poem)
(A program note reader comes out to read from the program notes.)
Don’t listen, children, and do not hear.
(A monster is coming and there’s no escape
Within this story, and no good way to tell it,
Except to gaze at the horror as at a flower,
A disaster streaming off extremes it breeds
Everywhere and in our minds, disabling our power.)
Distractions are good, puzzles that tease
And please and fill the main scene, which
Includes thinking about certain things.
What are sound reasons for optimism or
Romanticism, the will to believe that a quest
For virtue is not just its own reward, but more?
Why strive? To feel more alive?
To answer another’s need and achieve rapport?
To align with forces important to support?
First off, let’s turn to the universe,
Coming at us as swirls within swirls, and invest
In the evidence of something larger than ourselves.
Although one’s life presents just one of countless views,
The complexity, integrity, and connectivity
Of any one experience is more than enough news
To fill time, as we see in the life-dream-envelope
Developing now at hand, a loop to the reel
Of fantasies that had captured last century’s youth.
Movies entered villages, screens, and experience.
American mythology reached its zenith.
Other influences curled around the era.
A nameless dread, banned from thoughts in bed,
Blew through the minds of the walking dead
As they sleep-walked through history.
The temperature-evaporation-salinity spiral
Measured in oceans on a government dial
Tended toward the vector of suicidal.
Let’s not talk about that, let’s talk about
“Havenglade Downs,” just now coming out
With its ready-for-prime-time title.
Track 1: Prologue
(A character comes on stage and makes this speech.)
The world’s out of control. Syndromes rule
Whirlpools of climate, hysteria, disease.
(An image shows up on a screen.)
How might one take action to achieve peace?
We must go somewhere mythic, naturally
To the era of greatest confidence, the 1950s,
Where spirits who’d waited numerous centuries
For an opportunity to blast past history
Produced the ghosts that have come to roost
In our current stage near the end of our spool.
(An image of a rocket ship appears on the screen, and then, curtains open on a scene above which a banner reads, “Havenglade Downs.” The program reader reads:
Curtains retract on a scene we regard
With close attention and a steady heart
As icons from various haunts take refuge
In Havenglade Downs, where they’ll induce
Revelations that will bring us to our knees.)
Track 2: The Setting
(The author/director comes on stage to narrate the setting, either aided by audio-visuals or left up to the imagination.)
The Yucca flats and the planet Mars coalesce
In the minds of those from the era of missiles.
In radioactive zones, anomalies multiply
Like planets where laws of reality don’t apply.
There was gel in the hair and an apple in the box,
While at the back door a night thought knocked.
All you need to do is look at the back door screen.
How can you not? Do you see what I mean?
If you look, it’s an entrance to a haunting plot,
A 20th century romance with greed and glut.
Ore had been the big score for power-mongers
Whose engines were huge and egos humongous.
It was easy to tell bad guys from good, except for
Spies and aliens who could be anywhere.
Even good-guy spies, John le Carre showed,
Had to be double agents to be any good.
It was a world of shadows from above and behind,
And from below the complacency of the mind.
Geniuses were curried as essential ingredients
In an existential fantasy of scientific dominance.
What print hangs on the wall? Einstein? Teller?
A Manifest Destiny wagon turned interstellar?
Narcotics, gadgets, incubus-homes,
Robotics, spaceships, tricked-out genomes,
A science gospel with a martial mission
All form the backdrop of this exposition.
What is the point of technological dominion?
To defeat nature and obliviously lock in oblivion?
Track 3: Author Comment
I popped up as a boy genius in our 1950s house
And took the position of never taking the crown.
The crown, my parents believed, was a dirty affair,
The poison milk, the gilt of a millionaire.
There was no allowance for the space, though little,
Provided the camel through the eye of the needle.
In a twilight zone with a sci-fi penumbra,
The Unknown approached with an ID number.
Now, let’s fade into the illuminated sheen
Of the story filling up the wide screen,
A wet dream ‘50s kids thought dope:
Rocket wars in Cinemascope.
Goddard invented the liquid fuel rocket
And now any madman has a silo to dock it.
See the proof here as paranoia in the air
Is ignited by a strike from, it seems, nowhere.
Track 4: Lost City
(A moviegoer of the 1950s comes on stage to narrate action represented in images, movies, 2dramatic enactments, or the imagination. This is called the “retell mode.”)
A strange electric storm shocks a ship at sea.
Experts warn it augurs the end of humanity.
Flood tides and earthquakes mark the geographic
Center of the disturbance as central Africa.
“The resources of the nation are at your disposal,
Bruce,” men greet Bruce’s expedition proposal.
Deep in deepest Africa on a set built by crews
In Hollywood studios, natives ooh at news.
“Murderous giants are on the loose; and at the gate,
White men come,” led by Bruce the brazen
Who raises his head, eyes all lit, as he learns
Of Magnetic Mountain, where occult fire burns.
Bruce knows from his mineralogy instructor
That he’s hit upon the equivalent of a gusher.
In the mountain’s core, an evil emperor’s set on
More and more power in the face of Armageddon.
Track 5: An Aside
(A gnomish figure comes on stage to perform a verse jig.)
Here’s where the epic writer’s mind starts to spin
Into a jig grinning a Strangelove grin.
The emperor’s scientist when quizzed,
“Why didn’t you warn us about this?”
Says, “I guess it was the hypnotist.”
“Even when the dictator shook his fist,
Shouting, ‘The cosmic condenser, I insist!’?”
The scientist pleads, “I didn’t mean this.”
It’s like Dr. He, laboratory baby concoctor,
Who snipped and re-stitched genetic structure,
And quipped, “This has nothing to do with horror.”
And now we return to the main show.
We’re all on dope, on a yoyo,
On a rolling slope, groping for hope.
Track 6: Lost City, continued
Help! The dictator uses magnetic waves
To turn thrashing natives into soldier-slaves.
How can someone with many ways to hurt you
Be defeated? The secret answer is virtue,
Which blinds Bruce, who hears a damsel’s cries
And follows it to the Hut of the Mysterious Voice.
He and his pal fall through a trap to a fate
That ends with the movie, and so must wait
For a month while in the Chasm of Doubt
Bruce has exposed weaknesses to contemplate.
Track 7: Author Interjection
I’ll tell you what I am feeling in all of this.
Bruce’s claims on virtuous truth stir uneasiness.
But, man! Winner self-love feels good,
Whether you come from the mansion, mill, or hood
And super-power dreams are in your blood
And you share your dream with a new breed,
Needing only the flag of liberation to succeed
Once upon a winner’s time in Nod.
The problem is the angel of righteousness.
How does its goodness cause blight in us?
How does redemptive light un-enlighten us?
This is like Spencer’s The Faerie Queen,
In which the queen can be not-what-she-seems
And the hero walks a crazy rhyme scheme,
Which is like Bruce’s date with the oracle,
Except that his troubles are not metaphorical
And he has less hope of a miracle.
Designs with symbols and flashing colors,
Slow down, slow to a crawl like a tumbler
To reveal the next story number.
Oh, number what? Another random inanity?
An analogy, you say, to humanity,
Clicked to the pitch of tick-tick insanity?
Track 8: Havenglade
In Havenglade, where the spotlight dwells,
Gods and changelings open themselves
To affairs of the heart.
One day, a godling arrives in the glen,
A soft-hearted naïf with an appetite
That sometimes rules in the end.
He brings mead and pours himself
A big cup, and you, half a demitasse.
He sluices his gulp.
Do not think this tale a comic strip
Of archetypes. The icons are themed
With idiosyncrasies and multiple identities.
The godling, when an emblazoned babe,
Had once discovered that the suck
On his nectar feed was stuck.
This would not do. The occult brew
Contained rising-from-ashes power
And he felt supernatural hunger.
It’s not fair to make a babe gargantuan,
No matter how soft the medium
Or clear the brassy tone.
The pap that lads lapped all over the map
Gave sweet dreams to baby’s nap
Like a sap sucker enraptured by sap.
Sprouts that survived history’s ash
Blossomed in America’s prosperous flush
And emitted a long held-back breath.
The potency of the dream scene, boosted
By fantasies on big screens, produced
Godlings, avatars of greatness.
(Stage lights off. Curtains close. A spotlight shines on group of figures.)
The birthplace of godlings suddenly goes dark.
Stage left, figures nurture a spark
In a pose like a commemorative landmark.
“Stagehand, please, will you now take the cue
To break the suspension that attaches to
The godling’s lair and usher in an oracle?”
(Bertolt Brecht crosses the stage to declare:
“We who wished to prepare the ground
For friendliness, could not ourselves
Be friendly, but you who come after,
When man’s no longer a wolf to man,
Remember us with forbearance.”)
Thus goes the love-song of parents
Whose lives have shed their naïve appearance
In exchange for making a difference.
But what if the sacrifice and suffering,
The nursed hurts and kindled faith,
Could not control the cycling dynamic?
(Curtains open. The spotlight goes off. Stage lights go on.)
Curtains re-open on the godling’s turf,
With the gargantuan taking things unto himself,
Unmoored from that forgettable time
When his contract had been up, and he’d cried,
“Do not reduce me to clay, Creator,”
And the Creator complied.
Freed from history, the heroic golem
Wandered city streets with a nowhere problem
Until entering a home where he played a godling.
You’d be right to think this the end of the story,
But there’s a plot twist just beyond its boundary.
I saw the golem leave the godling’s body
And the godling’s now in his natural element,
Generous, patient, relishing every moment.
Then light flickers, and up shows another revenant.
Track 9: Nyoka, the Jungle Girl
“We must go to the Lair of the Eagles,
Then the Tunnel of Bubbling Death,”
Nyoka says, interpreting pictographs.
Searching and subbing for her absentee
Father, she shoots guns and swings from trees
As her skirt flounces above her knees.
“The Tunnel of Bubbling Death?”
“Yes. Passing through this tunnel,
We will reach the Valley of the Tauregs.”
Wait, are you saying Tuaregs?
The ancient nomads of North Sahara,
Today, stateless migrant workers
And exotics wandering in Bamako?
What we hear at this point is a keening.
Does this wailing warrant interceding?
Someone lifts a lid on a proceeding
And it’s like a trance.
“We are here, the will-not-be-forgotten,
Traversing dunes, guided by the stars,
Humming the tune of the clumping camel
And praising Allah.”
Meanwhile, the women, matriarchal,
Laugh, and the blue-clad sisterhood
Follow their drums home to the desert
To deliver some news.
In the 1950s, when the overlords left,
They left behind a wickedness,
The division of slaves and a race of bosses,
Hatreds cloned and alliances cleft.
Onward! Nyoka is reading the script. Hidden away
In a cave (where, Chad?), lay
The Golden Tablets of Hippocrates
And a cure for cancer! I recall
This story, or something like it, Apollo
Ripping from a woods-nymph his child,
Asclepius, future high priest of medicine.
It’s the dictator and the scientist again!
And the fatal obsession with cheating death.
“We must get the tablets first,” says Vultura,
Queen of the tribespeople. Untold treasure
Lies buried beneath Africa Obscura.
Like the fraying rope of a bridge tether,
Or a fire pit over which fights teeter,
Nyoka’s luck proves a bottom feeder.
“The Tunnel of Bubbling Death,
Well-named,” quoth Nyoka’s lieutenant
As she tumbles into a flaming froth.
Nyoka’s a good girl, Nancy Drew-curious,
Fay Wray re-wrapped as an Army nurse,
Dorothy of Oz with a Scout knife in her purse.
What would it be like if she occurred in
Scenes with Bruce the brazen or the godling
Or with other morphs or forces in the unraveling?
Stay tuned, though this journey may go nowhere
Except into flames and a thermonuclear
Erasure, but that’s not the popular wager.
Track 10: The Return of Bruce
Behind a row of brownstones, lying low,
There’s an infirmary where wasted heroes go.
No one talks about this.
The inmates rarely have anything to say,
But when they do, it’s as if a break
In a seal reveals a world beneath a lake.
A disturbance in the ward where Bruce lies prone
Has people hurrying to hear his moan
Turn into something intelligible.
Off to the side, a nurse named Joan
Sifts through papers. “Who’s this one?”
Her aide calls out, adjusting a microphone.
Joan questions Bruce in a mysterious voice,
Something about one of his exploits,
He thinks, and tries to find the edges of his cell.
No? Well, is there anything he has to tell?
And then he hears the tolling of a bell
In a church in a town in the scrub of a foothill.
They’d smiled and called him the infidel,
Citing a term that they knew well,
Going back to Vasco da Gama.
“Mr. Brazen, is there something you remember,”
Joan asks, “about your time in Kenya,
And encounters with the Maasai or Akamba?”
“Lokop,” Bruce said. “What, lock-up?” “Loikop,
What the chief says when I drive my truck up.
To his village. He’s waving and shouting, “Njoo!”
“‘Come, come this way, quick!’ he says, leading
Me to a stick-and-mud hut, and to the pleading
Eyes of a girl who’s having trouble breathing.”
Joan dares not interrupt this recitation,
But notices she needs to get the patient
A cup for his unwelcome expectoration.
Track 11: CSI: Cytoplasm
I interrupt this program to report
That the agents assigned to halt the dying
Neurons in my gestalt are striking
Out, thus drawing attention again to cures.
As I lay me down to sleep,
I try imagining what’s happening
Deep down in my mystery disease,
And latch onto drifts of news
Of ALS riding the thought-stream.
(Author speaks in retell mode.)
Suddenly I’m on Neuron Street,
The “CSI: Cytoplasm” beat.
At the crime scene,
Up pops Mutant Gene
As the cops’ top guilty candidate.
Glossies spread. There are stacks of
Shots of possible gene malefactors,
And FUS/TLS, three
Prime suspects on which to focus.
“Rob, have you a stake in this hustle,
Stalking the murderer of your muscle?”
“No, my jam’s not genetic
But may still be connected
With genes being complicit, not causal.”
The inspector has doubts about my angle
And my tendency to rephrase and wangle
Words into a pattern
Like a Japanese lantern
Or like a dung beetle’s tidy dung apple.
“This gene,” says the chief, “fabricates
The protein, super-oxide dismutase.”
“SOD! the enzyme
That prevents super-oxides
From shooting off ion-grenades.”
The inspector points to a pile-up
Of proteins at the gates where cells dial-up
Instructions for actions
To embolden nerve axons.
“See here in this protein? There’s the foul-up.”
The observed malformation, D90A, is
The twist found in all kinds of cases
Of ALS, its fold
As genetically old
As the ascendance of Homo sapiens.
“900 generations ago, the chief said,
Is when D90A first appeared,”
Fred informs old Job
Whom he’d wheeled to the rope
At the crime scene and told what he’d heard.
“30,000 years ago,” Job recalls,
“That’s when humans wiped out Neanderthals.
The Biblical kill
Caused a mutant allele
To hide out in genetic materials.”
“It is also possible,” Fred opines,
“The gene rode the tail of a bloodline
As Neanderthals fled
And conquerors bred
With Neanderthal campsite lag-behinds.”
In the meantime, the crime scene’s boring.
You have to sit while workers keep poring
Over scans and data
And chemical quanta
And everything except what they’re ignoring.
“This investigation,” says the detective,
“Also points to O-2 negative.
Excuse me, you guys,
Must I sensationalize
Ion exchange to make it more electric?
“Why, this case is a clinical challenge
In which meaning hangs on a valence,
And transmitters angling off-balance.”
--Rob Neufeld, 2019