The Main Show
: a story-poem stage presentation
(part of Living Poem)
See video of Act 1, Scene 1: The Setting
See separate posting of Act 5, Scene 1
Synopsis of scenes
Prologue: The monster is coming, and how we might have hope.
Act 1, Scene 1: The Backdrop. The 1950s were a turning point.
Act 1, Scene 2: Narrator’s Statement. 1950s boy introduces action.
Act 2, Scene 1: Magnetic Mountain. Bruce the Brazen, an explorer/exploiter in East Africa, falls into a trap in the Hut of the Mysterious Voice. Based on a 1930s serial.
Act 2, Scene 2: Narrator’s Uneasiness. How duplicity can exist in people such as Bruce.
Act 2, Scene 3: Havenglade. The contemporary setting, a gated community with an infirmary and a theater used as an event venue. A godling visits, exhibiting his largesse and demon.
Act 2, Scene 4: Nyoka, the Jungle Girl. Nyoka searches for her father, an archeologist who has gone missing in the Great Rift Valley. Based on a 1950s serial.
Act 3, Scene 1: The Return of Bruce. In the Havenglade infirmary, nurse Joan interrogates Bruce the Brazen, now 90 years old.
Act 3, Scene 2: CSI Cytoplasm. A research team investigates the murder of motor neurons in an ALS patient. Job, an old man in a wheel chair, and his orderly Fred pull up to the crime scene tape and make comments.
Act 3, Scene 3: Nyoka’s Journey. An official questions Nyoka about her father and she revises her memories of her childhood.
Act 3, Scene 4: Bruce Tells All. Bruce confesses to genocide and having saved one girl, Naeku.
Act 3, Scene 5: Intermission, the Animal Cavalcade. An entertainment, based on a sculptural piece, featuring six animals that illustrate the poem’s themes.
Act 4, Scene 1: Theater of History. Another Havenglade visitor, Anti-God, gets directions to the theater where the “Irene Goodnight Film Festival” is playing. They pass girls singing spooky jump rope rhymes on the way to seeing a newsreel about Joe McCarthy.
Act 4, Scene 2: Nyoka among the Kikuyu. Nyoka finds her father among the rebels and meets Naeku, now an adult. Nyoka experiences a chilling moment of failure.
Act 4, Scene 3: The Irene Goodnight Film Fest. The first film reveals Irene’s genesis as a mermaid, her trip to the city, and her entrapment. A blues singer performs. Federal agents capture a jester suspected to be a subversive.
Act 4, Scene 4: CSI Cytoplasm, the Romance. The CSI team makes further discoveries. The two assistants, Alex and Katy, sing a duet.
Act 5, Scene 1: Irene's Twilight Zone. The second film portrays Irene in 1962 with her family and her meeting with her son, the Narrator, in the intersection of time zones. A plague spreads to Havenglade.
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” and the poem now coming out
With its ready-for-prime-time title.
Act 1, Scene 1: The Backdrop
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? You do 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 egos were huge and engines 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?
Act 1, Scene 2: Narrator’s Statement
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.
Act 2, Scene 1: Magnetic Mountain
(Narrator comes on stage to narrate action represented in images, movies, dramatic 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.
(An impish performer enters stage left and recites the following with the feel of an antic 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, ‘Fire the cosmic condenser, I insist!’?”
The scientist pled, “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.
(Performer exits stage left.)
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 spool, and so must wait
For a month, while in the Chasm of Doubt,
Bruce has exposed weaknesses to contemplate.
Act 2, Scene 2: Narrator’s Uneasiness
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?
Act 2, Scene 3: Havenglade
Narrator (in retell mode):
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 (crossing the stage):
“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.
Act 2, Scene 4: Nyoka, the Jungle Girl
Narrator (in retell mode):
“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
Another medical takeover story, 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 beating 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.
Act 3, Scene 1: The Return of Bruce
Narrator (in retell mode):
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 Kikuyu 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.
Act 3, Scene 2: 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.
Narrator (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 lurk 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.”
Act 3, Scene 3: Nyoka’s Journey
In the mirror I see that my face is scarred,
But in my mind and others’ eyes, it’s unmarred
By the bubbling death pit I’d endured.
My innocence is my shield, and feels as right
As when I swing from vines and take flight;
Or, recover from a breath-smothering fright.
Weir, her lieutenant:
Nyoka, are you all right? It’s been several
Minutes since you’d fallen into the hole.
It felt like several weeks in that bubble,
Most of it in that minute when I’d fainted
Into timelessness and became acquainted
With the forces involved in how I’ve been fated.
(Mary, an assistant, enters.)
Nyoka, your father is in trouble!
They have him before a tribunal in a hut,
For a death he’d caused by having touched
That’s such a farce.
But I don’t know. In my time of unconsciousness,
I saw my father’s heart weighed on a balance dish
Against a feather. I rushed to give my heart for his
And the ageless official told me with tenderness,
“Nyoka, I am sorry that you have to witness this.”
“But she does not,” a woman screamed, and soon
A blanket decorated with an eclipsed moon
Wrapped me up and sent me to a sunless room.
Nyoka, a government official is coming down the path.
Does he have a pointy face and a forked staff?
Mary (looking out):
No, a washed-up look. Nyoka, you make me laugh.
Excuse me, Miss Nyoka, I’ve been assigned
To question you and determine your state of mind.
I don’t really have the time.
May I sit here?
Sit here in this rocker.
Why did your father study archaeology, Nyoka?
I’d never before viewed my life as an onlooker,
But now I see my childhood as through a lens
And recall walks with my dad in woods and fens
When he enjoyed the world around his head.
One day I asked to take a friend, Debra Hyde,
A thin girl who looked at you from the side.
My father yelled at her stupidness, and she cried.
That, dear Inspector, was my first compromise.
It cleared the way for many others, for I’d lied
About the importance of science over human feeling
And made an altar for my father, the all-seeing,
Who worshiped me as his perfect seedling.
Why was it archaeology and not hot air balloons,
His hot air balloon landed in a dune
And his digging was for something personal to prove.
Do you feel that, Weir, the ache for greatness?
I must admit, my family was quite conservative.
Only fancy folk can give their greatness license.
Speaking of licenses, Weir, go grab the car keys.
And Mary, pack my suit, cap, and stockings.
The pay-to-go mode goes with giving a good show.
(Old man Job appears in a spotlight with his aide Fred, stage left, as Nyoka’s scene fades.)
Fred, where have you taken me?
To the gravesite of the birthplace of humanity
Where archaeologists reconstruct the origin scene.
It’s a big draw for seekers of what life means,
The Edenic valley tucked in the glacial Pleistocene.
Cover me up, Fred. I am shivering.
Act 3, Scene 4: Bruce Tells All
Here drink this, it’s good for allaying
Upsets. Mr. Brazen, you were saying
About that girl who needed saving?
Ah, I took her to my car, her arms clenching
My back, her breath wheezing. That's when we
Heard shots and smelled thatch burning.
For a few weeks I visited the hospital
Where Naeku, that child, lay throttled
By pneumonia, and I read her Maasai parables.
God says to Maasinta, the first Maasai,
“Maasinta, build an enclosure.” He asks why.
“Just do it, wait there, and show no surprise.”
Then down a giant thong numberless cattle came
Descending into Maasinta’s pen. His friend,
Dorobo, panicked and severed the leathery lane.
What did God say? God said, “Maasinta, you
I make Maasai, cattle-driver. Donobro
And his kind I set aside for servitude.”
After this telling, Naeku’s face turned
Into the old man’s and she said his word,
Not Swahili “Njoo,” but “jaayá,” Maa for “Our land.”
The truth? I’d killed him in front of his granddaughter.
Who hadn’t had pneumonia, but asthma.
I’d carried her out, then gave the word for slaughter.
Mr. Brazen, might we go further back
In your memories as we drift and tack
On our journey on the Good Ship Union Jack?
(Light flickers on stage.)
I lodged at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi,
Where white settlers gathered over coffee,
Having arrived by iron chariot to view the
Latent estates in the land below the Kikuyu.
The pastures all about were creatureless
For the Maasai cattle had died of rinderpest;
And the Maasai themselves lived on reservations.
Kenya was the chosen next British nation.
Carts churned in mud past raised-up huts.
A Norfolk bloke relayed the latest scuttlebutt.
The commissioner had said that “for plunder,
The Maasai and other tribes must go under.”
(Lights go out in the nursing home; and the stage is dark.)
I am the lie and the devastation,
The demonizer and avatar of civilization.
When I picture that girl’s ancestral face,
I disbelieve the superiority of my race.
Act 3, Scene 5: Intermission, The Animal Cavalcade
(A simulation of a carousel with six animal figures is brought on stage.)
The animals are together again for a show
To celebrate their friendship with someone you know.
Round and round on the carousel they go.
The orangutan is a supreme top-of-tree liver.
His swinging limbs bulge. His walking ones quiver.
Up in the leaves, he spreads his nest, pillow and cover.
Look into his eyes and see his old soul loll
Within a long skull as he swallows a fruit ball.
He’s hill folk from long ago. Time slows.
A prehistoric squid appears in the deep sea.
The specimen of it at the Smithsonian in D.C.
Is a waterlogged carpet, devoid of mystery.
But look into the eye of the superior beast
As it sees and seizes a challenger or feast.
Tentacles lash, tear and explode living meat.
From your childhood bed, gentle stories spread
About Squid and Friends at a pool on a beachhead
And fugitive tubular aliens living below a workshed.
Tubes, tentacles, tendrils and dreamsicle junk
Fascinate, frighten, squish, flow and clunk
Until out spills a tough, tender elephant trunk.
Now see how the squid’s grasp-and-rasp function
Becomes in the elephant a mitten with suction
And an arching osculator and triumphal trumpet.
In the interval between approaching carousel clients,
Take a moment to consider how love and violence
Can share forms. Then heed the unheard silence.
Silence comes hushed, brushed by owl wings
Riding the night sky of triangulated rustlings
To deliver deft talons to the backs of underlings.
It dawns on us that the animals’ commonality
Is that they each represent a godlike, epic quality.
As up swims the next old world singularity.
Swimming past dinosaurs to an algae mat
Flush with fish and birds, the snapper, enrapt
By the moment, enacts a turtle’s snap.
In turtle memory, a hundred eggs are laid.
Those orbs fated to escape jaws will graduate
To a scramble of prey. Hey, here comes tardigrade.
The carousel has slowed to the pace of the breath
Of a turtle sunk in mud up above its carapace. Next,
The tardigrade slows things to a long near-death.
Oh, to lay back in a crisis and go flat, requiring
Nothing. Then a click and the ride keeps riding
As the series cycles within its micro-environment.
Act 4, Scene 1: Theater of History
Scenes seem like dreams on screens,
Fluid and feathering like flumes.
Dip your toe into the upcoming show
And transpose by osmosis into twilight zones.
That’s nice, but what I want to know
Is exactly how branching stories flow
And how that relates to any kind of show.
For instance, the rampant course of disease,
And the slow collapse of democracies,
And how hurts accrete into philosophies.
Fixations attach to granular seeds
Of experiences projected by emotional charge
Into memories that fill out and grow large
On the affinities on which they feed.
How does a seed become what you call a fixation?
I can only imagine the speed of such fleeting ephemera.
First you must realize how memory blinks like a camera,
Smoothed into a movie by mood and imagination.
Is it random how certain seeds claim front stage?
You ask about the workings of fate, which are unknown.
Truth is its own proof, or my name is not Joan.
See fate at play in our film series about the space age.
(A group of girls are jumping rope stage left, and chant the following verses.)
Oppenheimer, Oppenheimer, they called him a whiner
When he opted out of the H-bomb clause.
How many deaths would the H-bomb cause?
1, 2, 3, 4…
Fuchs, Fuchs, saddest of spooks,
Past Soviets secrets about AEC nukes.
How many years behind bars spent Fuchs?
1, 2, 3, 4…
Wheeling, Wheeling, what’s real is reeling.
McCarthy unseals a reptilian hate.
How many Commies in the Department of State?
1, 2, 3, 4…
Right this way! Welcome to “The Main Show.”
Some say it’s a little like boggle-a-go-go.
All is good, as long as it don’t call the po po.
(Sirens are heard in the distance. Narrator turns his head and does a double-take.)
Did you see that figure pass under the lamp post,
Crossing the campus and vanishing into darkness?
It sickens my gut like an undead carcass.
It’s like a virus that starts with an airborne histamine.
Here’s the theater. What?
Who put up this cardboard cutout?
It’s Joe McCarthy, the subject of a newsreel.
That a newsreel has reserved
The treatment that a feature film deserves?
(A boom, like a bomb or a heartbeat of a monster, is heard from off stage. This sound comes again and again throughout the act as if the monster is coming closer.)
I feel a sickness like an unseen shadow
Like a cry that matters once and dissipates,
Like a seed that lands early and manifests late.
(Newsreel is heard from offstage.)
Joe McCarthy, speaking to a group of women
In West Virginia, made the comment
That 205 Communists worked for the government.
When asked, “Can you name one suspect?”
Joe said, “Not yet,” opening a wide net
For threats condemned as Soviet.
Like a mushrooming cloud, American power
Towers, imposing dictatorships
On countries infected by elected Socialists.
(The jump-roping girls enter chanting a rhyme.)
Ring a’ Round the Ruskies,
A US pact with Nazis.
Ashes, Ashes, all fall down.
Why are you girls entering the theater?
Things couldn’t be weirder out there.
Someone or something froze me like a nightmare.
Let’s go in and… What is to be seen?
“The Irene Goodnight Film Fest,” which
Reveals many sides of the determinism myth.
(On the way to the theater, the narrator stumbles and falls, and the others gather around him. The muffled explosion/heartbeat sound is heard again and the scene ends.)
Act 4, Scene 2: Nyoka among the Kikuyu
(Nyoka finds her father imprisoned in a native villager’s hut. The hut is represented by only two walls in back and stage right.)
Hello, Father. What is the meaning of this lunacy?
How did you manage to get through to me, Nyoka?
The villagers are curious about what my arrival betokens.
Do you recall, my dear darling,
When that man took you, a child, to his lodgings?
Even then, you felt your innocence was your guardian.
Soon someone rapped at the abductor’s door
And freed you, fleeing the ensuing furor.
You never learned the identity of your savior.
I’m not surprised you came to rescue me
And defied death like a modern day Persephone
You need to know the pattern and pull of destiny.
I noticed as you grew up you were attracted
To alienated and unsettled characters
As if you sought to solve the riddle of malefactors.
My attraction to badness? My rescue complex?
With such talk, what do you hope to accomplish?
Dad, save your life instead of sitting on your coccyx.
I am focusing on you because I know you
And am taking this last desperate chance to show you
Why we’re here among the revolutionary Kikuyu.
I’ve come because you’re being held prisoner
For disturbing the bones of some Kikuyu ancestor
And causing their demise. What else for?
Maybe, but I got the ok, not on paper in ink,
To excavate the skeleton that I think
Could be the solution to the missing link.
Father, really? You must be thrilled!
It’s enough of a reason to get yourself killed,
Having your life’s dream finally fulfilled.
My life fulfilled. Yes, with one distinction.
I discovered that humans, pushed to extinction
By worldwide drought, figured out an answer: fiction.
Fiction! The invention of language and art
How about that? The answer to death at the start
Of humanity was fantasy, imagining a world apart.
(Old man Job and his orderly, wheeling him, arrive outside the hut and are able to eavesdrop.)
Fantasy allows us to drop in on the scene
Of anthropologists discussing the Holocene.
Job, with your perspective, what does it all mean?
Cover me up. Again, I’ve got the chills.
Homo sapiens engendered Cain’s and Abel’s ills,
A rising elite putting down people of the hills.
(The two drum beats of the monster’s heart sound again.)
(Naeku, the daughter of the Kikuyu elder whom Bruce the brazen had killed, enters the hut and addresses Nyoka’s father.)
Who are these people dropping in on your cell?
(Job and his orderly slink into the shadows.)
This is my daughter, Nyoka.
We’re the same person, if you don’t know how to spell.
I feel I’ve lost a piece of myself, and you stole it.
The thing I switched is your skin from peach to chocolate.
What I stole is a truth, and I will unroll it.
Nyoka, remember what I said about human flaws.
(Naeku speaks to Nyoka.)
Your father is a spy for the enemy cause,
He helped kill us hill-folk in the genocidal wars.
Stop! I need quiet. I don’t understand.
Our larger purpose is to reveal the history of man.
I think I know a little about the history of man:
The Mzungu who’s weapons I stole from prison camps;
And the men I brought supplies without permission-stamps
Who formed guerilla bands, retreating to the swamps.
The guns replaced machetes brandished by recruits,
Young men whom leaders targeted and I seduced.
The man above men was a man named Bruce.
Bruce the Brazen was what they called this man
Who killed my father and our whole Kenyan clan.
I’m somewhat acquainted with the history of man.
Bruce the Brazen killed your father? Why?
The first stroke of fate was the decision who must die.
Not I. Instead, all of Kikuyu stigmatized by
The crimes of a few who saw their families enslaved,
Women raped, lands taken, and minds depraved,
So that the only escape from fate was rebellion or an early grave.
In wartime, women go where a man belongs.
I became a medic then a warrior, and sang the songs,
Praying to Ngai to make right from wrongs.
Balance is the principle we’ve applied
To meek and strong, need and greed, and opposing sides.
An eye for an eye, not an eye avenged with genocide.
This is why, for my father’s death, your father must die.
Nyoka, speak! Tell her you’ll find the guy
Responsible for her father.
Naeku (addressing the father):
Help me Ny…
(Two men pull the father out of the hut, muzzling him and preventing him from saying anymore.)
My thoughts go round and round and I know nothing,
A place in which to rest and go no were.
I know that behind the swirl of data is something.
The demon of ignorance has me in its lair.
I fight and find myself waving at air.
Either way I turn, obsession or truth, I despair.
Act 4 Scene 3: Irene Goodnight Film Fest
(Scene opens in a lobby outside the door to the Theater of History. The narrator comes out of the theater to greet the Godling, who is late, has wet hair, and is dressed in funny pajamas. The narrator describes the first film that had shown.)
Sorry I’m late. The bridge washed away. I swam the
River of Death and am as you see, in pajamas
for theatrical dramas.
I’m starving. Is there anything to eat?
You’re leaning oddly. Here, take a seat
And, if you would, take a moment to speak
On what has transpired. I’ll massage your feet.
How did it go in the opening show in the Hippodrome?
You should have seen it. Merfolk frolicking in ocean foam
When an opening in time allowed spirits to roam.
A dreamer in a tower seemed a new world prince
But was an old world gnome. The plot begins,
The downward spiral of dreamers in 50’s turbulence.
“I think I’m falling in love again,” the mermaid crooned
As changes in their freedom loomed,
Feet of clay and a handcuff wound.
Far from the waves, the mermaid planted a family
And the dreamer, as in a Chaplin comedy,
Broke from wage slavery and brokered poverty.
(Someone like Robert Johnson, blues singer, performs on stage.)
I went down to the station, my suitcase in my hand.
I went down to the station, my suitcase in my hand.
Ahead lies the darkest tunnel; behind, a funnel of sand.
The midnight train is coming to take me from my home.
The midnight train is coming to take me far from home.
I breathe the gasp of its tension.
And I hear the engine moan.
The midnight train is leaving, like an arrow from a dot.
The midnight train is leaving, like the last hope that I’ve got.
The green light means I’m on it
And the red light means I’m not.
(Two federal agents enter to arrest a suspected subversive.)
First federal agent:
We have information that someone here is a terrorist.
Second federal agent:
It’s the jester, who’s disruptive tilt is perilous.
(The jester stands up and speaks.)
I’m just the guy this place has hired as its lyricist.
(The agents forcibly pull the jester from the theater. Every couple of steps, he resists and recites a poem in the order presented here.)
Don’t you remember me? I’m the jerk
Who cured the blues of the princes when meds didn’t work?
And my everything sticks curse went berserk.
I grabbed the golden goose and couldn’t get loose.
Then came my ex, who got stuck next.
A cook came with a flipper, a roofer with a ripper,
A doctor with lotions, and a joker with explosions,
And a priest with a sermon, and a leaner with a left turn.
They all came clattering, clopping, prancing
Past the princes, looking daft,
And she laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.
(The agents grab the jester and he resists them.)
Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed
To see such a sport
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
(The agents begin to pull at the jester, and he makes them stop.)
Wait, that one’s not mine! Here is mine.
Hey car transmission, the Mercury mission,
The chariot lost most of its horses.
Traffic zoomed past.
The little kids laughed
As dad pulled his cheeks, crying “G-forces.”
(The jester runs to the back of the theater with time to deliver the following verse.)
Hey brothers, sisters, the edge of existence,
It features no rational design.
It ends, and then nada:
It goes on and on, yada yada:
Or surfs an unreachable line.
(The agents catch up with the jester, who runs to what he thinks is an escape place, and stops and recites another verse.)
Hey fiddle faddle, a chimp with a rattle.
The bulls run away from the tinder.
A little dog laughed
To see such a spoof.
And the moon jumped over a cinder.
(At the jester’s subversive comment about the Earth burning up, two other agents converge on him and take him away, as the scene ends.)
Act 4 Scene 4: CSI Cytoplasm, the Romance
(The CSI crew reassemble to further investigate the murder of neurons. Alex gestures toward Katy as he makes his alibi for their lateness.)
Sorry we’re late. Last night
We resolved a long-lasting fight.
That’s no excuse.
A killer’s on the loose
And the loose ends we tied aren’t tight.
Now let’s recap. Our suspects release
Agents that inhibit or increase
Cell death, but first
Must pass fitness tests
To be candidates for defense or disease.
We pursued the perp to the cell wall
Where guards perused cell protocol
About who goes within it
By terms algorithmic
And the perp posed no problems at all.
A new boss, an astrocyte, interfaces
With murderous morphs called capsaces.
But that’s not conclusive.
The creator’s elusive
And leaves an untraceable trace.
(Job and Fred have been backstage stage left, and the spotlight goes on them.)
Job asked God, “What’s it about,
The way things play the way they play out?
I know how it goes
God said, “No one knows
And the first step toward faith is to doubt.”
(The spotlight on Job and Fred goes off.)
The agents, it turns out, are fixers
Sent off with enzyme elixirs.
What starts off as medical
Becomes unstoppably hysterical
Like mass killings. And I’ve got the pictures.
That’s it for today. You two lovers
Can continue your research under covers.
Sex is a caressing
And love is the blessing.
Which one will do the undressing of us?
(The monster’s heartbeat is heard. Alex and Katy sing duet.)
I’m as fertile as a fruit fly on a peach skin.
I’m as hoppy as a mayfly on the wing.
You might say I’m a teenage upstart,
Or you just might say it’s spring.
I’m as sturdy as a stallion on a fast trot.
I’m as bursting as an athlete just crowned king.
You might say I’m a one-time hot shot,
Or you just might say it’s spring.
I’m as yeasty as a biscuit on a stove top.
I’m as toasty as a mouse awakening.
You might say I’m nature’s trollop.
Or you just might say it’s spring.
I’m as in-sync as a bee aswim in pollen.
I’m as nimble as a spider on a string.
You might say I’m a sexaholic,
Or you just might say it’s spring.
You might say I’m a welcome tonic
To the slump that smothered spring.
Act 5, Scene 1: Irene's Twilight Zone
(Spotlight opens on the lobby of the theater. Characters who remain in the lobby enter the theater, which remains dark. Joan the nurse tells the tour guide to also go in, and the narrator hangs back awhile.)
Go ahead in. I’ll stay with my patient.
Anyway, this is a family occasion.
The next Irene Goodnight film is about to start.
Standing by the door, I can hear the narration.
I’ll describe the opening shot to set up the next part.
A lightning strike hits a woman, lost at sea
In her thoughts in her bed as the reality
Of her life and its ripples impart
Their meanings to her bodily.
(The narrator enters the theater. The spotlight stays on the lobby while the audio of the movie is overheard, beginning with an overvoice, 1950s-style.)
This is the tale of a woman filling a small niche,
A heroine who is not famous, powerful, or rich,
But a housewife with a passionate heart
And the mind of an idealist.
(Joan and the audience overhear the dialogue of a family at the dinner table.)
(Father) “How are you? I’m trying to read your mood.”
(Mother) “I’m just fine. Do you all have enough food?
Hey, try not to talk while opening your maw.”
(Father) “Question: Why do bad things afflict people who are good?”
(Mother) “Because good means being poor.” (Father) “Now, how immense
Is the universe? No rational explanation makes any sense.
It ends, then nothing, not even space. Or
It’s infinite; or it extends infinitely from where it ends.”
(Mother) “I bought some Dixie cups with riddles. Are they fun?”
(Child) “What lives in a web and wields eight guns?”
(Second Child) “What?” (First Child) “A shooting spider.” (Second Child) “Funny. Haw-haw.”
(Father) “Here’s a good riddle. How much is one plus one?”
(Father) “1+1=11 if you move the actual symbols.
In binary code, it equals 10. Add a bubble to a bubble,
And the sum is 1. Then, 1+1= nil
If the combo explodes; and a lineage if the pair is a couple.”
(Mother) “Go watch The Twilight Zone. I’ll clean.”
A housewife stays apart from the family scene
And looks back from much later when she’s ill,
Expanding her horizons and seeing what’s in between.
(The housewife hears words from The Twilight Zone intro.)
There is a fifth dimension, as vast as space
And as timeless as infinity.
(The housewife continues the intro with her own words.)
Is the sink where the woman rinses swill
Off plates, and sees her face through another’s gaze.
(What follows is a dialogue between the narrator and the woman in a fantasy realm represented by special lighting.)
What brings you to my little shrine?
Your fantasies just happen to align with mine
And our states of mind have found a time within time,
That is, your nuclear war anxiety and its result;
And my bucket-list wish to speak with you as an adult.
A fuck-it list.
Yes, our fates have been an insult
To our capacity for feeling. Some of the thrills
In the poem I'm writing are the tendrils
That reveal feeling people to be people of the hills.
After much research, I began perceiving
How the theme of overlords versus outcasts kept weaving
Through key stories and commanded my believing.
I started a new life in these mountains because of
The cause of independence and flight from the jaws of
Rapacious dogs. The retreat was not always passive
As you know with the ghetto wars in Warsaw.
And I learned about the Kikuyu around Mount Kenya
And even Neanderthals fleeing humans above the savannah.
I know when underdogs manage to prevail, you wept;
And H-bombs had you shaking in bed while others slept.
I’ve been shaking lately.
Yes, President Kennedy kept
A lid on the warheads.
We didn’t know that yet.
But on TV throughout the day the news is
Russia has missiles in Cuba, and the U.S. has
Them pointed at Moscow; and people in crisis
Flee a nuclear holocaust that will destroy all
Life on Earth. Who would not recoil
From this? Yet our military leaders embroil
Us in a perfect storm of hard line bluster.
I don’t understand. Children will suffer.
(The narration of The Twilight Zone episode is heard from the living room.)
A little girl gets lost beyond a buffer
To the fourth dimension. Her parents bring her home
But the window had been closing on the Twilight Zone.
I’m lost in a twilight zone. Children have been my touchstone.
Helping children flower is the power to which you’re called.
Your light under a basket has become a secret locked in a vault.
I fear children being hurt, and it being partly my fault.
(The monster’s heartbeat is heard.)
Our time is running out. Our window is closing.
(The monster’s heartbeat is heard again)
The monster is getting closer. Listen closely.
I see the future: the unnerving insidiousness of MS.
I’ve been afraid to tell you about my date with ALS.
I’m so sorry. Yet, our distress presents tests
To our dream selves to profess: Yes, yes, yes.
Yes to the swirling paths one’s life-graph takes.
Yes to diverting and reversing losing streaks.
Yes to loving others, though their turns are oblique.
What’s that all-seeing voice with which you speak?
It’s the wisdom that true singularity makes unique.
It’s the voice I’ll give you when you kiss my cheek.
(The narrator goes over to his mother and kisses her cheek.)
(An announcement over loudspeakers interrupts the action.)
Residents of Havenglade and fans of Irene,
For a period of a day each of you’ll be screened
For avian flu and put in individual quarantine.
(Stage lights begin to fade.)
(Old Man Job and Fred take a position stage left of the Narrator. An official separates Fred from Job.)
Heaven and Earth have now become a Hell.
Skies darken. Storms rage. Rivers swell.
It reminds me of when virtue sickened and cities fell.
(The narrator moves to the front of the stage in darkness.)
A pig on its side, diseased, squealing for mercy,
Its eyes closed, legs twitching involuntarily,
No thoughts except its seemingly unending agony.
(A light shines on the narrator and the spotlights on Job and Fred darken. The following lines are spoken by a chorus of voices located in the dark. Rather than breaking up the poem with separate lines for speakers, they will be indicated by parenthetical inclusions within the text.)
(Anti-God) As harmony is Heaven’s prize, song
Harmonizes with fear and rides along
To the end of the ride. (Godling) As art is long
And life’s short, an artful twist
Artfully outwits death. (First girl) As the future exists
For future survivors, hope is tendered by sacrifices.
(Tour Guide) In the interior of fear, tumblers turn, walls fall.
Who’ll first answer the isolation ward call?
(The soldier moves towards the narrator.)
I’m so sad to have to leave you all.
(Lights go out.)
Bye, son. You’ll be fine in the unspoken unknown.
(Monster’s heartbeat is heard.)
Act 5, Scene 1 ends.
Rob Neufeld, 2019