Archive for May, 2010

Pangaea

May 21, 2010

It’s evening. Isaac walks to the beach as if he’s lost.
He climbs through artificial dunes, through false ramparts
pushed hard against the ocean’s erosion—cliffs of sand.
So let’s call him Clement Cliff and let’s say that he’s
an actor and distant cousin of Montgomery Cliff—
that he’s a stage of sand, a progression of the beach.
Blind, he walks to the beach each evening now
because I make him walk. He hates the water’s soul.
He feels its fear. He goes because I make him go.
He does this now (we do this now), so I can walk;
walking, it seems, is very bio-mechanical.
So-bio, so-mechanical: the brain’s music.

We call this beach Pangaea, for it looks to be
a map of early earth; it looks a plan for earth cut by
the tides before the continents were torn
asunder. (My, how Biblical, my dear, ‘asunder’.)
It looks that way when I stand on the cliffs—
like lands formed in jest. I love the air up here.
I love it that these cliffs are not a place
for sacrifice or suicide. Jump and you will
take a tumble. Jack fell down and broke his crown
and Jill will land on the soft sand of Pangaea.
Pretending flight, they fall.  Don’t cry, honey. It’s just
a bruise. Give it a kiss. Isaac, he laughs.

It was right that he should die before me.
Every night we stand right here among the cliffs.
(Prominent among the bluffs.)
We watch and listen as the ocean sings.
The ocean is alive. Pangaea is where sun and sea
must meet. Pangaea, the sea, the soliloquy.
We go down to the sea in ships.
A thousand must set sail every day.
(All launched by your face, my dear.)
Tonight we sit and listen.
The ocean makes its music.
I leave on a singing ship.

The Written Part of the Test

May 16, 2010

Explain and illustrate (not the same thing) the role of the ghost in Hamlet in terms of the two key ideas we have discussed this semester: the epitaph and ‘mise-en-abyme’. Please be creative and have fun with this assignment. Remember, though, it counts as fifty percent of your final grade. Points will be awarded for creation of character and strength of voice. You may attempt a poem. Good luck! I will publish the best response on my blog. C.P.

*

Okay, the day before the play is the dumb show.
And if it’s not exactly The Murder of Gonzago,
we still try to surprise the students every year.
A school tradition, if you will—call it shock learning,
call it dramaturgical eschatology,
call it our modest attempt to bring ‘Shakespeare,
the Theologian’ closer to the students.
We try to ‘make it new’ each year.
Surprise them like death surprises.

A ghost appears. He pours this substance, ‘bleach’
—it smells like bleach, we use an old Clorox
bottle—into a jar full of ammonia.
He growls, he cackles. It’s Clement Pettigrew.
He’s been teaching at St. Jerome for years now,
both drama and religion. The man’s an aspiring actor.
He did some soaps, a couple commercials
on TV, something off-off Broadway.
We think of him as one of our top teachers.

The Pettigrew/ ghost uses this bleach/ ammonia
like it’s a bomb. He sprays the class, attacks Miss Wilson.
A few (carefully coached) students pass out.  Miss Wilson
gets sick, vomiting on the desk—really—it’s pretty
convincing. She’s good. She twists, convulses on
the floor. She dies. The end…

I know, I know, how lurid. Hamlet meets Columbine.
The student’s assignment for tonight is a good one,
though: compose an epitaph for the ghost.
Not the teacher. Not Miss Wilson. The ghost.
We’ll see the whole show tomorrow.

Now everybody knows you don’t go mixing
ammonia and bleach. Even in jest. Chlorine,
it rips the lungs apart, right? Hitler used it. Anyway,
this time the ghost pours bleach into the jar for real,
he takes a deep breath and becomes Mr. Pettigrew, dead
on stage, a dead religion teacher. There’s your ‘mise-en-abyme’.
The sheets fall away. He seems to be dead—really dead.
A lump on stage…
Miss Wilson screams. The boys, though—
their assignment was just to understand ‘mise-en-abyme’—
not suck chlorine. Fucking get some windows open,
will you? No one knows what ghost Pettigrew has done,
but he seems dead, real dead. Dial 911.

No one knows why either. Some ‘mise-en-abyme’—
He has written Death Voilá… on the board.
I announce to the school—
Okay, just the graduating seniors—
In twenty-five words or less, explain this epitaph.
Your diploma depends on the final answer.
The police will be here soon.

But wait, he’s not dead yet, the ghost. Peek
behind the curtains, ICU. That beep
means still some life, the heart still pumps, his brain
is charging, discharging. His lungs are ripped
apart, it’s true. He can’t breathe or talk.
He mouths ‘mise-en-abyme’… He dies. The end.

Here’s some of the epitaphs proposed for  Mr. Pettigrew—
I am my own objective correlative;
Here lies Clem, who choked on phlegm;
Departed while he farted;
even Inclement weather, Clement.

We choose this one—The little dog laughed to see
such sport…
—as this year’s epitaph winner.
It takes the edge off things. Your epitaph,
remember, is written for the living, a kind
of communication with the dead,
a way of ‘doing business’ with them,
so to speak. Learn to profit from your burdens!
Keep your sunny side up, mate!
Thus, all epitaphs must function as a ‘mise-en-abyme’.
It is a place where ghosts must flourish…

Besides, this way, we can save—
…and the dish ran away with the spoon.
for next year’s performance.
I hope you like it, Mr. Pettigrew.

—Cathy Percy, Class of 2010, St. Jerome Invictus

This Precious May

May 2, 2010

1.

One breath. The ocean shifts one breath, you see?
The snakes must be all bone,
the way they swim.
These freaky snakes—why are they free?

Then fleas infest the Mother Baker House.
Mother Baker’s, it should be sanctuary, right?
But no, Father Lloyd shifts the compound walls.
We see his rage. His ‘wife’
right now is standing in the street.
She seems so naked.
He sees her so.

And so the former Father Lloyd, dust now
in hell, waits. Eruptions, the skin, the earth,
the monitor, alone, ruined,
his funny lips, a harlequin’s hat, head, lapsed,
eclipsed, turned upside down, a threat.
Father Lloyd all lost in dust. The dust,
the welts, the parchment snakes, a picture—

One by Picasso, say. The faces speak of you.
‘Tell me, about these travelers, tell who they are,
this precious May,’ as if the sky could wound
the earth. As if you knew. As if the snakes
could be so thin. As if they monitor
the earth. As if you know I should. I should…

2.

Farrago—sure—a spike of indirection, yes,
a hateful one too, I’d say, too full and overflowing
for all its absence—too true—and, June, we still
cannot go back—at least not to the part
of you left there. Welcome to the Spanish
Cloister. My name is ‘Harold’, not ‘Lloyd’. Gr-r-r.

Yeah, ‘Harold Lloyd’—a comedy for sure.
No one was fooled. And ‘May’ for ‘June’. We could
have signed ‘Heloise’ and ‘Abelard’
and been just as subtle. White dust, ashes,
okay.  Skeletal snakes emerge from depths
no ocean ever had. Your core. I get the picture.
A jumble, parataxis, like we were.

I am still your interpreter. I am still
your violator. For forty-five years.
And each of us a little prisoner.
A vow of sudden silence, phony silence,
walls everywhere. It’s what a cloister is,
my dear. At least my ‘sin’ is over now.

The ironic ‘wife’, that does seem monstrous,
the implied stalking, Mother Baker House—
Mother Baker! As if all we did there
was bake tollhouse cookies! If symbolism
is needed why not use the Virgin Mary,
why not Beatrice? Because of God, I know.

That makes me God. Or God again. It’s funny how
our ‘fathers’ (men who art in heaven, right?)
all failed that logic quiz. Still, we did what we did;
there was no second virgin birth, to be sure.
So God is dead and so are we. Forty-five years!
Time stops. This precious May. I wait for June.