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Monologues – one voice at a time,
speaking – for Orpheus.For in several senses:texts for him to speak, saying his piece, his
mind, his excuses.But also texts for
him to hear—voices that come out of the wings from all sides, unseen speakers,
who reproach him, explain him to himself or to us, even praise him a little.He needs praise.He has lost his Eurydice.In Gluck’s great opera Orfeo, Orpheus sings
at the end, Che farò senza Euridice?What will I do without her?Which is also:what can I make without her?
What will any poet do without the
love he’s lost?But how did he lose
her?The myth talks about snakebite and
death’s dark palace and Orpheus singing his way down (lordy me, a poet can even
bore a dog to sleep) past snarling Cerberus, singing his complaint to King
Invisible, who lets him bring Eurydice back to the life world, provided…
what?That he not turn and look at her
on the road back.Or ever again?The invisible king of the underworld (Hades
means ‘unseen’) gives him an invisible wife.
But we who listen are not
Orpheus, or not yet.So we can still see
her.Imagine that as Orpheus speaks and
the voices chide him and comment, we see her silently dancing behind him,
around him, in and out of what we call —like innocent children— the visible
Imagine then the silence of
Eurydice taking the form of a woman’s body dancing at her own speed, own whim,
own relationship to light and dark.She
is in a sense the only actor here, and the words might be an extension of her
movements, her meanings, just as they might be the texts the sermon of her body
means to explicate.
When you read these monologues,
you’ll see that there are no indications as to who is speaking any given
passage.That’s something we (and I
include myself, imputed author of these texts) have to figure out for ourselves,
on our way to becoming Orpheus.Or
FOR THE PERFORMERS
Every time anyone says ‘I’ or
uses any first person singular pronoun, it is Orpheus speaking, and the actor
who is Orpheus must say those lines as far as they seem to carry the impulse of
that first-person saying…
Orpheus, who spoke it is said for
the gods, or for God, curiously disguised the source of what-is-being-said by
pretending that he himself was saying it.
This guise is the source of the
power and confusion of all poetry—it rouses without settling, illuminates
without being clear.At its best, it
brings the hearers to a resting place, a calm desert where they have never been
before.In their ears resound the
whining, boasting, wheedling, pleading, smug, delighted, innocent, corrupt
personality that calls itself “I”.But
already they know better.
So this Orpheus speaks.All round his lines are passages of text that
can be, must be, spoken by other voices. I do not think any of them are
Eurydice’s voice, though a few of them might be spoken by a woman who, in
sorrow or bitterness or rebuke, thinks for a moment of herself as Eurydice.
The rest of the voices are who
you are.The director will decide
howmany voices are needed, and will
assign to each voice the passages chosen for it to speak.
It seems to me that among these
texts are voices of scholars, psychiatrists, historians of life and art, young
men of no fixed persuasion, experienced urgent women, each saying what comes to
mind.I leave itto the director to find which actor best
embodies each text, both invoice and visual seeming.
And they must move or stand as
the director tells.What (I ask with
humility) I’d like is for the actors to do what their bodies want to do as
their voices speak the words.
One thing I do know is that
Eurydice herself is always present, always in motion –you decide, actor who
plays her, director who moves her, how and how fast she moves.She has no lines because traditionally and
ignorantly poetry construes the beloved as an object, out of earshot, a fantasy
of the poet’s wishing.This silent
figure recurs in all love poetry, even, it seems to me, in poetry written by
women.The ferne Geliebte, and she must be far off to be so vocally, wordily,
yearningly, gorgeously, loved.
So here I offer a tumult of
voices,some words for actors to speak,
finding their way in space and body to what poetry has aimed at for four
thousand years—the end of saying.
PROLOGUE IN THE THEATER
ORPHEUS was the poet, the
emblem of his art, not the first but for the Greeks the greatest. By the
power of his words in music, or the music in his words, or maybe his words as
music, he was able to make trees dance, they say,and boulders skip around in meadows.
The usual myth (and what other myth is worth the name but the myth
that everybody knows?) tells us that his wife, Eurydice, was bitten by a
snake and died. Orpheus went down to the Underworld to fetch her back,
and by the power of his song charmed (song as charm, magic spell, Latin carmen
= poem), charmed the beasts and bosses of Hell enough that they let Eurydice
return to life, up here, as long as Orpheus did not look at her as she followed
him uphill. Or ever again But he looked. And lost her. The
first opera ever composed (another lost art?) was about Orpheus, and the
greatest 18th century opera Mozart never wrote, was Gluck's Orfeo—
later, in the middle of the play,
you’ll hear a tenor sing the most famous line from it. And Rilke, purest
of poets, composed his final cycle to Orpheus, song singing to song. In
the play,I've tried to understand something about the dynamic of the man
and woman in the story.
[The first public performances
were done in the workshop context of a staged reading on 24th and 25th
February 2012, at Bard College, directed by Marjorie Folkman, who also moved as
Eurydice.The speaking roles were acted
by Thomas Bartscherer (Orpheus), Florian Becker (C), Lynn Behrendt (B), Mikhail
Horowitz (A), and Paul La Farge (D). On
that occasion, The prologue continued, adding what follows:
But first, to lead us in, we are to hear the
music of music, the one that leads, teaches, any other kind. David Adam
Nagy will play an allemande by Bach, human breath strumming the lyre, impossible,
the wood of the bassoon is the tree, dancing. Then Péter Laki will sing
three Hellenistic Songs by Adrienne Elisha, songs to textsfrom the last centuries of that Greek world
into which Orpheus, like Apollo, had come from the north. And finally we
go to the outskirts of hell, to hear the voices Orpheus sometimes hears, and
how he sometimes answers.]
TELL US ABOUT the part they leave
is the snake that bit … or was it
killed. . .
or was it carried off Eurydice?
For a poet, so much comes from
poetry is the song of insecurity,
litigious Shakespeare—poets own
as persons they’re not entitled to
anything, baseborn every one of them,
only by dint of their calling
they feel entitledto all.
For poets, all times are the same
so they are poor students of
they don’t know what comes after
they “count, but not in numbers”
they speak, but too many words, too
But still too many.
Try to feel from his writing—what is
Orpheus. Or who?
He had no son—that is of the
of his story—no sons, a hundred
He is himself the snake that bit her foot
Jealousy is not the truth of it—
fear and insecurity gnawed at him
he snapped at her, she died.
And of me, what shall be spoken?
Am I a dead man already?
That patch of sunlight
I keep studying on the grass,
is it under me or over me.
I know certain things—memory’s
make-believe, a crow calling
me to now.If this you hear
you’re living still.A crow.
Information of all kinds
from the realms around me
I have never entered.
have never been born—
that is the poet’s ailment,
constantly picking up this leaf,
stone, touching that hand,
yearning for his own incarnation,
and who can give it to them?
Give it to me.
are leaving me now
like the gods who shuffle away from
under the streets of the city
and I have no streets anymore.
They leave me, and that’s why
I stupidly reach out—
because all I know of life is
and now when she, the one,
moves away from me
I lose the clue to going on.
He is not fond of these confessions—
that’s not what writing is for.
He is always talking
as if talk had nothing to do
with all that music
they keep calling it,
‘lyric’ of the lyre, words
spun from tones,
tones primed by words,
no one knows which comes first—
in the museum there’s a marble
statue of him naked
playing a violin,
and the violin has no strings,
his lips are beautiful
no sound comes out—
no song?word or tone?
He looks out over the summer lawn
quiet as stone.
As if talk had nothing to do with
and poetry nothing to do with going
And while he’s pondering and
(hearing himself think, is what we
this voice-over murmurs its
a nest of rabbis humming over the
they say in movies,
the voice you hear and think you
You cannot see the voice.
You cannot see the voice and live.
And while he stands there and does
what he does out loud
and voices fall from everywhere
Eurydice also is there.
Alive and silent
if silent people can be called alive.
Silent in this place and every
place she is
because he has never learned to
But still she moves.
We see her dancing.
We see her move like someone waking
someone falling asleep someone
someone waking up again—
but all the while she dances
he thinks she’s dead
she’s behind him, she dances behind
whatever’s behind us we think is
He thinks the snake bit her and she
He thinks the snake killed her.
Orpheus sometimes thinks he was the
snake, he killed her with neglect, put other women before her, sang their
songs, put her behind him and she died.
It is his fault.
Orpheus other times thinks he was
not at all the snake, the snake was someone else, a sly adulterer who carried
her off to his sleazy realm and made her forget him, made her put him behind
her.It must have been his fault.
And other times Orpheus thinks
Eurydice was the snake herself, her own wandering ways took over, so she
wandered off, slithered away, and was gone, over the hill, beyond the forest,
across the sea, dead to him, dead with distance.
He must have bored her with his
endless verbiage, word play, heart songs, or not held her tight enough, or held
too tight.His fault.
Orpheus thinks all these things,
and can’t decide.
He can’t make up his mind.
A poet can’t make up his mind—
the poem makes up his mind for him.
Some say Eurydice killed herself.
Some say Orpheus killed her.
Some say she never died.
A myth is what happens to the mind
— when it stops thinking.
The orderly wrongness
of being me
early, the skreel
of night things
the fault is mine
he is the guilty
the pointer out,
child babbling in
the back seat
the names of all
the things they pass
that is, the
of a mind trying
its own existence by naming
all the things it
sees the things it wants
everybody loves me
and nobody really
loves what I speak.
what shall we
make of her,
all too soon
promoted to alterity?
it is so hard to
be somebody’s Other
meantime in silly
But shouldn’t he
be the worshipper?
confusions of Orpheus—
his mistakes interest
in whatever goes
he makes us
listen ever after to what baffles him
them under our breath
for it was breath
where it all
when it was any
good at all
Some say art
blinds the eyes,
stuffs the ears.
If he thought it
it stank like the
of that turtle
he lifted so
painfully off had
made the first
for his lyre,
is what thinks
but breath is
Orpheus sneers at
the sophists:these men
(and it is mostly
men, isn’t it,
these men are
silenced by ideas
all night in
from which no
word can ever speak—
What is vision?
seeing the unseen
This body will
they dance around
all around me,
the ones I
thought I meant
but they return,
mean me now
and the dance
o all these ones
are not theone…
che farò senza Euridice?
She was the only
who brushed my
and smiled and
despite my music—
for her I was
few poets dare to
a human on earth,
here, glad to be,
working for a
and grumbling at
I was that one to
without her I am
to myself, and
to be like all
the other geniuses,
statue to my own
Writing is his mode of being.
Slow opening of ancient files
police digging in the cellar
I am is a bone of what there was
Mythology lets you talk about
unashamed, shamelessly even,
like Oedipus babbling in the woods—
lets everybody know
the monster that I am
and what I’ve done
with this body of mine
she gave me
—one last cry, “Mother!”—
I have heard that dying men call
out to their mothers—
but my mother told me the last word
her mother calling out was her
name, Maggie, Maggie,
and the street was full of
snow.And the doctor
was walking away.Maggie, for Margaret, from a Mediterranean
root meaning ‘pearl.’
Everything comes from the sea—
the water that snakes its way from
the mountain springs
from the monsoon rains from the
clouds’ intimate rubbing on the hills,
snakes its way down and fills the
sea to its brim,
we are the brim,
we live on
ill-balanced between the elements
It’s when I feel you so close in
that waking I most feel I’ve lost
either feeling I could bear but the
together slay me.So I tied
a rope around your hips and drew
was not slack left enough
to tie a knot, so instead you
the rope over your wrists
held out to me;this I knotted loosely
and pulled you after me
from the dream.The stories say
I looked back and lost you –
nonsense:looking never lost the looked at.
What happened is I opened
my eyes on the hillside up from
and lost you in the glare of common
And when I close my eyes
I swear you still are there,
right here, I mean, between
all my past and that slim
knifeblade of a future, just
as you are in all my poetry.
Orpheus is consoling himself.He picks up the sheaf of his recent work and
thumbs through it, looking for her.He’s
like an old rabbi busy at his pilpul, trying every dodge to find her,
Her, in every line.
Shakespeare put beautiful poems in
the unlikeliest mouths; character is his excuse for poetry.Orpheus, earlier, dared to
put songs in no one’s mouth
yet we can hear them
and by such empty song
he forced us to pay
But who said that?
And what mind is it that songs
rouse to attend?
At last at least the current runs
after a day or two of pleasing
Now down your harps, ride the
full seed abaft!
For the woman
was always behind me.
That is the secret.The word,
almost, that I was always
turned away from her
but she was always (I thought)
in my mind.
But she was nowhere
but where she was,
now I know better.
She was my mind.
With this kind of funereal
he could almost conquer silence—
When I turned back
that famous day
to look at her at last
I was looking at my mind.
As the Lamas say,
when your mind
looks at your mind
the story ends.
Narration is confusion.
The myth says this, then that—
but you know what myths are,
the lovely lies
that keep us half-awake.
The myth called it death,
as if losing the story was losing
But we know better—
we never know who is speaking—
who knows?who knows better?
and what is known,
is that also dancing,
now here and now lost —found—
in some romantic shade?)
but who is speaking?
The woman, even this one,
even the she of all my poetry,
the woman is not life,
she gives it, surely, always,
to everyone who dares to be born,
and sometimes even to his poetry,
and she takes it away, sometimes—
but she is not life.
She is the mind from which life
the matrix from which life comes
as an almost unnoticed consequence
of her awareness.Of Awareness.
A fall perhaps,
an Eden in the eye,
where awareness seeks
an object to be of,
this goes beyond my element
which is to sing
what I don’t know
and lick my half-guesses
loud enough for you to hear
who are not she,
not Eurydice, are you?
Is every loss the same loss?
into which she falls
are the same everywhere,
dark lymph of the world
nothing is lost from the world
but she is lost, she
is lost only from you
not from herself
not from everyone.
To be a self is to lose the rest
Be pretentious, little poet,
push your fancy far as you can
be what you pretend to be
then unmake the fancied image
later and go free
you must have a self
before you can abandon the self
there is no self—
indulge the imputation:
be a pirate a little while
a diva, a deva, a boon
companion of foxes and wolves,
even some man’s wife
and then get over it,
the self is a sickness from which
we can recover
he sang, but the self he lost
was not his own
the self is a sickness from which
no man can recover
VOICE OFF, ANNOUNCES:
THE TRAGEDIE OFORPHEUS
The Argument:Seeking to sing away his Self,
& Mischance he sang away the Other.
What could distract anyone from the
Isn’t the other all there is out
Who are these people reading me
with such big eyes?
The oak tree pierces my song
the birds are busy at it
building and breeding, things
things he knows nothing of,
Orpheus has no children,
only songs, only the sounds
of all the birds, all the people
doing what he does not know.
Did the birds read him?
Did they rend him?
Do we tear apart the mind of what
our fitful eyes and lusts
tear up the quiet suchness of the
We always hear that girls tore him
bassarids, bacchae, bacchantes,
No, he is torn apart by what he
all the images that crowd his mind
crowd out his soul,
his mind was in his eyes and his
heart was in his voice,
he watched all of them, all the
and his voice called out to each of
as if he meant her and only her,
he couldn’t tell the difference,
and each one heard his song as if
it meant only her.
how could it be different,
isn’t that what song is
or does, a singling of out everyone
everyone who hears it
knows it’s just for him
entryway is meant for you alone
my song’s a door
open only for you
then the women rose
took off their clothes
turned their backs on him
the song froze
in mid-air, some
looked back over
their shoulders to see
whence that silence came
and one alone did praise
him for some new
trick it sounded like
he’d learned then she
alone stepped near
and closed the door.
Was that your Eurydice?
Already he forced himself to forget
studied instead the woodgrain of
behind which she is hidden…
They all hide from me
that’s all the world has in it now
women and the grain of wood—
everything else is marginal.
Imaginal, he means.
Can song sing
what no one sees?
Even if in the shuttered
attic of his thinking he saw,
would we believe?
The wood of the door
she slams in his face
reveals the sinuous
continuous writhing of time
through the matter world
sleek as their hips—
whose?but they are gone—
intimate as the thoughts
she denies him now
is all the eternity
he ever has
All my poems exist just to find out
what she thinks
Why don’t you ask her what
She doesn’t know she’s thinking—
Only the language knows.
And when time withers
and the door crumbles,
splinters and honey-colored
dust on the floor of the mind?
But that is not wood’s way
it goes on standing, word’s way,
signifying, its ancient life
All such images, lover, are shallow
The whole world can’t console you
for this one slim shadow
who’s slipped away from you now
as shadows blend into shadows
no one hears you
o sweet interference
with how things are,
I send you to her
to distract her—
Once he started thinking
he stopped listening,
The girl stepped back
into the wood and was gone
The man died into the poet,
the maybe died into the yes.
Yes is dangerous, yes is a vine
grows quick round a young woman’s
she thinks it is a snake around her
then she doesn’t know what to
Every affirmation drags her down.
Everything a man says about a woman
She dances around him,
her hips cry out:“Your syntax slew me
from what I was to what you saw,”
her hair awhirl between
his eyes and the lamplight cried
“Every image you affirmed
was stolen from my mind,”
you leave me bare,
swept clean by music.
Then her bare feet patted:
empty empty, empty empty.
A girl is need, a man is seed?
In his dream she lay across his
like a koto played beneath his
turning contour into tone,
percussion and no more harp.
Her voice long muffled sang out
The time of the lyric is gone past
you need more fire and less air.
Too many words, still too many words.
Just keep talking, maybe it will make sense.
But was he dreaming all the while?
So much for listening.
You need a harp
to hear with
just as you need
a pen to think.
But thought is its own instrument
he thought she had learned that news in Hell
where it is too dark to read or
and that is why the body is
always we see her moving,
is the wind
itself through his dying forest,
the drowned pinewoods
alphabetic against the sky,
the waterbrooks trying to bring
his dead soil back to life,
the elements work against
themselves in him—
such things about himself
when he sees –he sometimes sees—
the shadow of her dancing…
Let me tell you everything I know:
tell everything you know
only after you’ve said everything
tell what you don’t know.
That’s the only thing words are
Or otherwise how will I, listening,
ever know who I am?
We exist at the intersection
of two ignorances,
at the place called Knowing.
For body is the first language
and at last the only one—
we only need to speak
because we’re separate.
Any word is a scar on the abiding
No wonder she’s gone—
she sees that he’s in love with
he thinks she hides in every woman
he might meet
stares brusquely through the forest
of her eyes
to catch a glimpse of his Eurydice
who of course was never his.
Justice—broad or slender—
belongs to no man, least
of all a man with words in his
Justice flees when juries talk.
My mother—who was my mother?—
taught me:Talking is a sin
and writing worse,
so tenderly to protect her poor son
from what I would say,
from ever believing what came out
of my mouth.
sometimes I think that with
the bible already written in the
the axes in crystal and the
molecules of actual things