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JWlJ international
spring 1981  JV/U international  ST. JOHN SIMMONS
Editor-in- Chief
Managing Editor
Poetry Editor
joe martin
Drama & Translation Editor
Fiction Editor
Publicity Director
Business Manager
A dvisory Editor
Editorial Board
CONTEMPORARY WRITING Prism international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published three times per year
at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T 1W5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright ©1981 Prism International for the authors
Copy editing this issue: Gordon Rodgers, St. John Simmons.
Cover drawing: Edgar Bridwell
One year individual subscriptions $9.00, two-year subscriptions $14.00. Libraries and
institution subscriptions $12.00, two-year subscriptions $18.00
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or international reply
coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage will be held for six months and then
Payment to contributors is $10.00 per page and a subscription, Prism International
purchases First N. A. Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Will and the University of British Columbia CONTENTS
Yves Prefontaine
Alden Nowlan
Anna Akhmatova
Randall Silvis
Harry Martinson
Forugh Farrokhzad
Gwendolyn MacEwen
David O'Rourke
Howard Baker
St. John Simmons
Joe Martin
Tennessee Williams
Miklos Radnoti
Hugh G. Anderson
Stanisfaw Barahczak
Mateja Matevski
Kenneth Emberley
Michael Kenyon
Ewa Lipska
Bronwen Wallace
Robert Hilles
Paul Green
Lawrence Russell
Seven Poems
Two Poems
Three Poems
Two Poems
Two Poems
Two Poems
Two Poems
Tennessee Williams
The Red Devil Battery Sign
Two Poems
Two Poems
Still-Life in Leather
Two Poems
Two Poems
Two Poems
Two Poems
The Confession
'35  Yves Prefontaine /Seven Poems
A north pole close by in spirit.
Two oceans that beat against the enormity.
A rumbling America that always explodes but speaks languidly.
A jazz that dwells deep within us and excites us.
And you, above all and against all, my earth, scarcely human
beneath your various sheets of ice, where men still fear the
summer of man despite their pleasure from violent eclipses.
I make you what I want in my words. I make you woman and
rock and silt. I will re-create you, chew you like a tasty resin
oozing out of these lofty forests for the desire and pleasure of the
gods. I am speaking, you understand, of the gods that we are,
with our pale faces, our long thin fingers, our smiles outlined
long ago. I make you what I want in the woman lying beside me.
Her hips are supple and firm, her sex deeply rooted, learned
slowly like your expanses, your lakes so sombre that they frighten
even as they bring joy. Tomorrow, oh tomorrow, how I will miss
your wildness, essential yet already disfigured, where man was his
own master — second to no one. . .
Who then will truly take upon themselves, summoning up both
the pliability and the brutality of the crippled language handed
down to us, the naming of this River, of this estuary, these hot
and cold lands? Wretched comradesl The islands will elude us for
a long time yet, for their treasures shine far beyond the
imaginable. Trifles in men's eyes because they're treasures in
spirit and not in cash. . .
Who then will mark out the scansion that must punctuate our language, not only the spoken, but that more essential part,
that defines living nations in their entirety? I won't have that
vain hope, or perhaps I will, knowing in advance that it will be
shattered against the immensity of the task, and from that a
fruitful humility may be born.
Our cities. . . Ugly no doubt in the sight of those who perceive
only their visible and palpable Americanness, but lovely to
those who sense trembling there the first shocks of a
transformation with inscrutable ramifications.
The sleep was long. And the hypnosis very deep. We have
altered completely until this moment. I am glad that you
disturb me enough today to upset my need for a fairly clear
Might I be already weary of bearing the demands of your
present, the perceptible uproar of your future, of this lassitude that is born not only from times past but from those
actions fulfilled, within and without? Yet I possess in my deepest
self this youthfulness that makes me unable to betray the mad
love I have for you, your unnamed ground, your trees, your lakes,
your men, and this new breed of children with hair like
untamed brooks, and these new women who walk like deer, in
the streets of a Montreal I recognize with difficulty but where I
am still jolted (and the anger it causes me is still quite
terrible) by the language in which, from father to son, we have
sanctioned the conquest (obligingly and often!), with the
delighted servility and fear that have faithfully —I should say
treacherously —nourished this feudalism of ours. How this tension
exhausts me and irritates me, each day, to the point where I
can't breathe —I say breathe and I mean it —any normal
language into my lungs. . .
But I affirm this: whatever you become, wherever I exist,
live or die, I will never be free from you or your singular
wounds that flow together with mine. . .
Everything begins, you understand, with the discovery of an
estuary, and it is there I will return to when I need support from
8 an image of you that is at the height, I should say depth, of
that which remains to be named.
Estuary. . .
October 14, 1967
Translated from the French by Sandy Mcllwain BOREAL II
I loved like a strange brother the hard blond star
above the icy lakes —
Brother deep as too much cold on a wife's snowy skin.
I loved enough to kill me this land of thick silences
beneath so much frost — and vitreous rock — and blizzards
that force the embers' cruel lucidity into hibernation.
I was living in the grip of the nor'westers.
Was this life, talking to the sources of the hostile frost within
our pallid foreignness?
For I was also living off a motionless death in the midst of a
silent disaster.
There was no theatre for our shipwreck.
Of course there was the orgy of matter, December's slow
violent cry where space toppled before us.
But above all the steady howl of an unconquered landscape
in our veins and our eyes.
Man here was a clear and slender trail to the doorstep of the
His order was dedicated to the tangle of the forgetful
voracious forests.
I had to speak in my own language of the beauty of the
glacial chaos before the murmur of its origin ran dry.
Now the look has changed like the face of the incessant
River, autumn or winter, yesterday and tomorrow.
But a geography of crystal continues to inlay its dawns and
its needles in my bones.
10 Now my plan becomes refined towards conquering a mad
planet that beats at my door, on the other side of the cold
there where my words would be no more than a slight blue
murmur on the snow.
Before        but before        there will be the steady knocking
of my fists on the enormous ice pack at our door.
Translated from the French by Sandy Mcllwain
a thin layer of snow in my eyes
I was singing      a trunk bruised by flurries
a thinness like leaves
and I was singing with my throat full of pebbles
black fjord where the torrents muddled filth and speech
a thinness/I was singing
and the light swam in the terrible clamour
a thinness like a woman's in my eyes
and the earth ended in the death throes of old ice fields
a thinness
the winter
the air    an expanse of blades
the winter
the space as granular as skin made of sand
the winter
the cry like the frozen earth
the cry of the elm stripped of light
lam the vein of a threatened tree
Translated from the French by Sandy Mcllwain
the spirit of foliage
tenacious      stirs
against the wind
against the ice      the foliage
the age of branches
the memory of roots
its foliage in the soil
the tree is a language
the night melts
from the heat
the sunfilled veins
the earth speaks at the heights
an exchange between the rock
and the spring vibrating
in the bark's speech
man at the centre
the stars make his scrawny fingers glow
Translated from the French by Sandy Mcllwain
We are the owners
of a land whose fruits emerge
covered in frost —
with the soul of an iceberg
frozen people
owners with a rhythm as meagre
as the thicketed edge of a swamp
and a soil with the hardness of a new woman
we are fed on bruises
in the torrent of humanity
We exist and remain
ours is the privilege of the first root
where tomorrow's branch takes shape
new leaves stretched out
in banners of alarm
We exist and weed out
the seed and the cry
frozen people
we are the bark on a luminous trunk
standing straight up in the steppe of words
14 snowdrop people
we exist in the speech
that sleeps in our fists
Translated from the French by Sandy Mcllwain
to those who have heard of
the compost here
and most of all, to Montreal,
that she may no longer be
estranged from us.
Words snowed from the cracking of lakes under noon's
Sun        demiurge with an undertow's muscle
it swelled in our chilled veins with the surge of innumerable
A murmur of cold water        dreary people        didn't kill the
blood that shivered through our thawing spirits
red neves that tomorrow permeate the soil with a harsh language
A heavy city taken over by smog weighs down on the words
freezes them with a vast winter        scoops out their
marrow and throws them back at us thistles and
daggers of frost
But the brightness of upright men will bleed through in the end
a day of tornadoes in the rock of our mute ice packs
This        our pale men will know it well lightening and flowers
in their eyes
Their wives with starved hips will say it with lovemaking
under the October maples        sweet saliva/breasts wet
with leaves
This        in our mists a face        in our faces the weight of a
name dug into the flesh        granite and space
16 We knew        the spectres would end by rotting away in the din
of a new language
We knew it        a sturdy song will blossom with the steel of
the world in its rhythms
We'll need our hammer hands on the anvil and the code   trees
and metals
We'll need work of rocks roots and mud
Suddenly assailed by expanses        facing virgin cities        and
the purple forests where the greyness blazes up
I know myself as the man of debacles        of crumbled ice fields
and raised axes
in the very heart of these Novembers that come to us in summer
Translated from the French by Sandy Mcllwain
17 Alden Nowlan/ Two Poems
"Why so sad, my dear?" said Queen Anne
to George of Denmark, her lover,
the Kingdom green under her feet,
the windy blue sky above her.
"I'm not sad," he lied, and he took
her hand in both of his, squeezing
so hard that she winced. That was all.
He let go. They were young. A pair
much given to playful teasing.
So, hoisting her skirts off the lawn,
she ran in a swirl of laughter;
and he, lost to her flying hair,
breathed deep and went running after.
You ask why he had looked so sad.
Why, because the grass was growing,
only the sky is for ever,
and he, who was alive like us,
knew which way the wind was blowing.
Doing something, anything,
perhaps chopping onions,
you're suddenly reminded of
somebody and perhaps you
smile as I do, thinking of
the friend who introduced me
to pepperoni and chopped
onion in a hotdog roll
and who, in turn, had been
given his first taste
of this by a friend who had
been taught to like it
by his wife, an Italian.
I could make a list,
so could you, of little
things we do that evoke
such memories. And there's
more to it, far more
to it, than merely being
reminded of a friend,
although that would be
enough, more than
enough. Sitting down to eat,
I become a part of an
infinite line of people
touching hands. Somebody who
died in Calabria long before
I was born shares his lunch
with me. It's like Christ passing
his disciples the bread.
19 Anna Akhmatova/ Three Poems
"Your palms are burning,
The Easter bells ring in your ears;
You are like St. Anthony
Tempted by visions and fears."
"Why did this single, strange day
Thrust into Eastertime
Like the thick, matted hair
Of the grief-crazed Magdalene?"
"Only children love like this,
And then only the first time,"
"Stronger than anything on earth
Was the gaze of those tranquil eyes.'
"These yearnings are evil,
They are snares of the devil,"
"Whiter than anything on earth
Was her hand."
Translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer and
Anne Wilkinson
Bury me, bury me, wind!
My family will not come.
The earth breathes quietly over me,
The evening roams.
Like you I was free,
But I wanted too much to live.
Here is my cold corpse, you see?
And no one to fold my palms.
Wind, shroud this black wound
In evening gloom
And tell the blue mist
To say psalms over me.
And help me, who am all alone,
Gently to my final rest
By rustling through the sedge
With news of spring, my spring.
Translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer and
Anne Wilkinson
Both    sides of the pillow
Are already hot,
The second candle is going out
And the caw of the crows gets louder.
I haven't slept all night
And now it's too late. . .
How unbearably white
The blind on that white window.
It's day!
That same voice, that same look,
That same flaxen hair. . .
Everything's just like last year.
Through the windowpane a ray of light
Splashes colors on the whitewashed walls.
The scent of fresh lilies
And your simple words.
Translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer and
Anne Wilkinson
22 Randall Silvis
For most of the morning I stood in the woods and watched her. The
house was perhaps a hundred paces away, maybe less. I would have to
cross a shallow drainage ditch and a dirt lane to get there. It would be
no trouble to do so,when I decided to go.
She was young, not long past thirty, and had she taken the time to
comb out her hair, to put on a dress or a well-fitting shirt, in other
words to attend to her appearance, she would have been quite attractive. It was well past nine when she arose. I could see the bedroom
window from the woods, saw the dark figure of her body come to the
window and cut the light, then her hand letting the curtain fall back,
her body moving away.
Now that she had awakened I walked laterally through the woods and
took up my position directly opposite the front porch. Shortly she
appeared on the porch, carrying a cup, I supposed, of coffee. She still
wore her nightclothes; had, probably, not even washed her face. I could
see the steam rising from the cup. She came to the edge of the porch and
stood there, staring down the road. The lane was empty. From
experience, for I have watched her now for several days, I knew that
what traffic passed this way was fleeting and infrequent. She was quite
alone out here. Later, had I needed any corroboration of this fact, I
could easily have read it on her face.
She sat down on the porch step, sat like a man, her legs spread, the
cup of coffee held between them, and stared out across the lane and the
ditch and the field of scrubgrass. She could not see me though she
looked directly at me. I was a darkness the night had left behind. Nor
did she expect to see anyone watching her from the woods. She expected
emptiness, and that is what she saw.
After a while she got up and walked about the yard in her bare feet.
The yard was ill-kept, the grass thin, but in those places where grass
grew, long and uncut. In the back there was a chickencoop and a barn,
and adjacent to the barn, a small toolshed. The shed was padlocked and
had not been opened for several months. Outside the chickencoop there
were ten or twelve hens, I saw no rooster, and beside the barn on a long
23 chain was a billy goat. The goat looked up at her and spoke, but she did
not go that far, she dashed the contents of her cup out upon a rectangular mound of dirt that had once been a garden or a flowerbed.
Then she turned and went back inside the house.
Perhaps an hour later the postman drove up and stopped at her box.
She stood inside the house, behind the screen door, and watched him.
When the postman continued on, she came out to the side of the road,
still in her nightclothes, and opened the mailbox. If she had been
anticipating something, it had not arrived. But what could she have
been expecting? There was nothing coming, nothing, nothing. She took
out the mail, it seemed to be a thin advertising pamphlet of some kind,
and slammed the mailbox shut; its door fell open again, swung a few
times on its hinges. As she walked onto the porch she twisted the
pamphlet in her hands, then crumpled it into a ball. She yanked open
the screen door so that it banged against the side of the house. I moved a
step or two deeper into the woods, because the sun had found me.
After a while I got up and moved about through the woods. I found a
few mushrooms and, after scraping them with my knife, ate them. Then
I sat down against a tree again and chewed on a sassafras twig.
It was near noon when she came outside once more, dressed now in a
man's overalls, the cuffs rolled to above the ankles, a heavy faded shirt
and a pair of canvas shoes. She had done nothing with her hair, it was
still pulled back clumsily and fastened with a clip, gradually releasing more and more strands to fall hanging around her face. She went
first to the chickencoop where, in the bare dirt yard, she threw out a
bucket of feed. She did this with a single motion, not casually, one
handful at a time, but with one quick swing of the bucket, as though the
act were distasteful to her. She went then to the goat and, reaching
beneath its neck, freed it of its chain. The goat followed her a few steps
as she walked back toward the house, but she turned and shooed it
away, shouting once and threatening to strike it. Then she went into the
house through the back door.
Now the morning had reached long fingers of sunlight into the forest.
Again I had to move if I wished to watch her well. If she had known I
was there, if she had stood in the yard and examined the edge of the
woods, she could have seen me there in the grayness. But she did not
know it, she did not expect it, so she did not look.
Soon she came out of the back door again, carrying a basket of wet
clothes, which she set beneath the clothesline. She picked out the pieces
of clothing one by one, shook each piece so that it snapped in the air,
then hung it on the line stretched between two wooden supports that
looked like crosses, pinning one corner of the clothing, then, still
holding it in place, stooping for another pin in the basket at her feet,
then fastening the other corner. This done, she stooped and reached for
the next article. She worked methodically, with no interest in her work.
24 Now I came out of the woods and walked toward her. She looked up as I
was stepping across the ditch. She watched me for a moment, laid in the
basket the shirt she had just then drawn out, turned and, leaving the
basket, went into the house.
The goat came up to me in the yard. It nuzzled my hand. In my
pocket I had some nuts, so I took these out and laid them on the
ground. The goat did not follow me as I went up to the back door and
She did not answer but I could feel that she was standing around the
corner in the kitchen. I knocked again and then called out hello. Finally
she came and stood behind the screen door. She did not say anything
but only stood there.
I've come to see if there are any odd jobs you need done, I said.
She was dark and featureless behind the screen. She said, No thank
you, there's nothing to do here.
I work for just my meals, I said, and she answered, We don't need
anyone here, my husband does all the work.
Now I turned away from the door and looked down the dirt lane. The
land was flat, fallow. The nearest trees, but for two stunted maples in
the back, were those of the forest; only the buildings themselves broke
the monotony of the landscape. But in their isolation they actually
confirmed the bleakness, added a dimension to it. I said, I stayed a
couple of days at a farm down the road, about eight miles that way.
They told me that your husband died five months ago.
Behind the dark mesh of the screen, her body became rigid. She said
nothing. I saw the slow movement of her hand coming out to hold the
door. Look, I said, I just want some work to do so that I can eat. You
can ask your neighbours about me, I'm a good worker.
If you're hungry, I can feed you, she said. I told her, Not unless
you've got some work to be done.
She did not say anything now, but only looked at me. Her left hand
still held the door, but her right hand came up and brushed back a
strand of hair. I said, That stone wall out there, and I pointed north, is
that yours? She said that it was. It could stand some rebuilding, I said.
I've sold all the stock, she told me, so there's nothing anymore for it to
hold in. It's a nice-looking wall, I said. You shouldn't let it go to ruin
like that.
I took a step backwards so that, out from under the roofs overhang,
my face came full into the sunlight. I had to squint to look up at her. I
smiled and said, Or I could finish hanging your laundry for you. Her
hand came tentatively away from the door. She seemed to be tucking in
her shirt, rearranging it. You can rebuild the fence, she said. Give me a
few minutes and I'll bring out some sandwiches. But I had already
turned and was headed away from the door. I'll be back when I finish
with the fence, I told her.
25 Out in the field I turned and looked once over my shoulder. She
stood, her hands like small birds poised on the clothesline, watching me.
Later, stopping to rest, I came back to the edge of the field and looked
again. The clothesline was full and she had gone back inside the house.
It was perhaps seven o'clock when I returned to the house. Having no
watch nor any need of one, I had to guess at the time. But it was dark
outside and the moon had not yet risen. The only light was in the
kitchen. I knocked at the back door.
The back door opened onto a small pantry, which led into the
kitchen. I saw her coming through the rectangle of light, and then her
dark shape at the door. She stared out at me, unable to see me clearly.
Your fence is done, I told her. She said, I thought you had gone. Just
long enough to finish the fence, I said.
I didn't expect you to work without eating.
It's all right, I said. I'm finished now. Hesitantly, she moved back and
held open the door. I'd better wash first, I told her.
You can wash in the sink.
If you don't mind, I said, I'd prefer to wash out here. Because a
woman alone spooks too easily, I might have said.
I'm not afraid of you anymore, she said. I told her, Maybe I'm still
afraid of you.
She laughed softly. She has a pleasant laugh when she allows the
pleasantness to come through. There's a spigot in the barn, she said.
Just inside the door and to your right. I nodded and went to the barn.
When I returned to the house, the light was on in the pantry and I
could see into the kitchen where she was laying plates on the table. I
knocked once and she called to me to come inside. I can eat out here on
the steps, I told her. She came and pushed open the screen door. I've got
the table set, she said.
She had changed her clothes and was now wearing a kind of flowered
smock, and underneath that a pair of dark blue slacks. The smock
curved around her hips and accentuated their movement. Her hair,
though still pulled back, was now neatly held in place with a tortoise-
shell clip. I followed her into the kitchen. A faint scent of perfume
trailed behind her.
You can sit here, she said, indicating a chair at the end of the table.
She filled a large bowl with stew and set it in front of me, going back
and forth and adding to the table a plate of thickly sliced bread, a
pitcher of milk, butter and jam, and finally a plate of half a dozen
porkchops. These are some sandwiches, I said, and she said, You've
been working hard.
How do you know I haven't been out lazing in the field all day?
You'd still be hungry, she said. She sat down opposite me and took a
26 small bowl of stew for herself. Not until we had finished, when she got
up and poured the coffee, then took her seat again, did she speak.
What's your name, she said.
Is that all?
It's all I use. What's yours?
Didn't my neighbors tell you that too?
Yes, I said. She smiled and got up to clear the table.
If you wouldn't mind, I told her, I'd like to sleep in your barn tonight.
I'll be gone before you wake in the morning. She stood at the sink
scraping dishes, her back to me, trying to make herself say something
but not wanting to. Finally she said, I'd like to have my cellar cleaned
out, I've been meaning to do it but. . ., her voice trailed off.
Getting up I said, I can do it tomorrow. Thanks for the sandwiches.
She turned and looked at me. She smiled. I'll get you some blankets. I
have my own, I said. She stood there, an empty plate in her hand.
Goodnight, I told her. She said, Goodnight Murphy.
I went outside and started walking toward the barn. She came to the
back door and called me. Murphy! she said, her voice a small explosion
of sound, suddenly filling and then swallowed by the night. She could
not see me in the darkness. I stopped and asked her what she wanted.
Could you find the goat and chain him? she asked. He runs when he sees
me coming. I told her I would. She let the door close softly. Later, from
the barn, I watched her lights go out.
I spent the next day cleaning her cellar, sweeping it and carrying
discarded items to be carted away. She had given me breakfast of eggs,
ham and fried potatoes, toast and coffee. When I first knocked at the
back door that morning, the food was nearly ready. She had me sit at
the table while she finished cooking, dressed now in dark red slacks and
a white sweater, her hair no longer pulled back tight but combed to fall
down her back, secured only behind the ears. During the day she came
to the basement several times, asking that this object be moved there,
take this one out, no, wait, bring it back, making last the whole day
work that should have taken only a few hours. But I was in no hurry, it
was to my advantage to prolong the labor. Nor was it hard work, and
she had me stop frequently. She brought me ice water and tea. For
lunch we ate sandwiches on the front porch.
That evening, after supper, she said, The more you do, the more I
find that needs done. I was thinking of all that rotten hay in the barn, it
needs taken out and burned, it's doing no good in the barn but causing
a fire hazard. I remember about something called spontaneous
combustion, doesn't that occur from damp hay, generating its own heat
or something like that?
27 Whereas two days ago there had been a tension about her, an aura of
anxiety and fear, her animation now was from a different kind of
nervousness. She did not want me to leave but she would not say it, did
not want me to know it and would probably not even admit it to herself.
All day long she had found excuses to talk to me, sometimes she just sat
and watched, she was viewing an emptiness momentarily filled.
Perhaps I could have said to her then, I want to stay here, I want a
place to stay. And perhaps she would not have spooked and run, would
not have shouted no and sent me into the woods again, now with winter
so near. But perhaps she would have. And once lost, become forever
irretrievable. So I warned myself to be patient, to go slow. You do not
chase a frightened animal when you want to capture it. No, it is better,
when you are laying a trap, to let the victim come on her own to the
bait, to take freely that first taste of it. For if she turns then and flees,
she will run with the taste still strong on her tongue, and will eventually
convince herself to return and have her fill of it. So I said nothing, I
showed no response. I sat and listened and watched.
And I was thinking, she said, you might like to come in the house
tonight, you can sleep on the floor beside the fire. I only say this because
I know the barn must be drafty and cold, the way the wind blows at
night, and because I saw you scratching yourself today, from sleeping in
the hay, I mean. You couldn't wait to wash off at the spigot this
morning. And if you want to take a bath in here, I don't mind, I have
these dishes to do. Go ahead if you want, and when I'm through here I'll
lay out a place for you in the livingroom.
All this time I said nothing. I sat with a cup of coffee in my hand and
watched her. She could not sit still. Never looking at me, or only in
quick glances when she thought I would not notice, she got up from the
table, putting food and dishes away again. Then she sat once more,
took up her cup of coffee, set it down, then stood and went to the sink,
drawing water.
Or perhaps you shouldn't, she said with her back to me. I don't know,
the floor is hard and all you'll have to lie on is a pallet of quilts. It
won't be as soft as the hay. Maybe you would rather stay in the barn
after all. But that old hay, it smells so sour and musty, surely you'd like
to get away from it if you could. I'll go draw your bath now. You worked
so hard today. I know you'll sleep better in here beside the fire. And
with that, she left the room. She did not wait for me to accept, or
perhaps she thought that if she waited too long I would answer no.
Ten minutes or so later I got up from the table and walked to the
bathroom. There I found the tub steaming full of water, fresh towels
laid out. It was a small house, just four rooms, and to get to the bath I
had to pass her bedroom. She was inside, the door closed. After I had
settled in the tub I heard again the sound of dishes rattling in the
kitchen, and when I had towelled off and dressed once more I went into
28 the livingroom and there was my pallet of quilts laid out before the fire.
She had gone to her bedroom again, the door closed, yellow light
seeping out beneath the door. I placed another log on the fire and got in
between the blankets. About an hour later I heard her switch off the
light in her room.
The next day was a replay of the previous one. She moved back and
forth between the house and the barn, telling me this and that, bringing
me glasses of cold beverage, remarking how well I was doing, her
reticence of the first day replaced now by a volubility over which she
seemed to have little control. More than once she walked away from me
in mid-sentence, as though that were the only way to still her babbling.
I noticed on this day that she even met the postman at the box, stood
there, in fact, for quite a while talking with him, and when she carried
the mail into the house she did not so much as glance at it, unless she
did so inside. She was now wearing her hair so that a strand perhaps two
inches wide came down on each side of her face, framing her cheeks.
She wore a thin shirt, despite the lateness of the season, open at the
neck, and in the evening, before supper, she changed from her slacks
into a yellow skirt. So as, I suppose, not to appear too dressed up, she
wore no stockings. But her legs were smooth and reflected the light, as
though she had rubbed them with an oil. I noticed, too, that the framed
photograph of her husband that had been above the fireplace on the
mantel was no longer there. Perhaps she had taken it down to clean the
glass, or perhaps she had moved it to her bedroom where she could gaze
upon it at night.
In any case, after my bath that evening, as I knelt before the hearth
laying the fire, she came out of her bedroom wearing a thick blue robe
wrapped tightly around herself. Do you sleep in your trousers all the
time? she asked, and not waiting for me to answer, continued, Surely
you don't, it must be very uncomfortable. If you sleep in them because
of me you needn't worry, I'm not offended by a man's underwear, if you
even wear underclothes, that is, for I've heard that men on the road
often don't. But it makes no difference, I'll be in bed myself and I won't
even notice. Here, get in between those covers and take off your
trousers. I'll even leave the room if you want me to. But give them to me
and I'll fold them and hang them up. If you don't want to it doesn't
matter to me. I only brought it up because you've been in them now for
three days, and God knows how long before that, and I would think
you'd like to get out of them for a while. Take them off and I'll wash
them out for you.
So while she stood there, while she knelt before the fire and busied
herself with rearranging the logs with an iron poker, I pulled the
blanket over myself and removed my trousers. Here, I said, and handed
them to her. I'll wash them out in the sink, she said, and in the morn-
29 ing they'll be dry. I'll hang them here on this hook so you can get them
first thing when you wake up. You'd better give me that shirt and your
underwear too. There's no sense in taking a bath every night if you're
going to wear dirty clothes next to you. I gave her my shirt and socks
and said, That's all, I'm not wearing anything else. She laughed, a brief
shrill laugh, and said, Yes, I've heard that about men like you, though I
couldn't imagine doing it myself, I'd feel like I was walking around
naked, and then she said, I'll hang everything here on this hook for you
so that you can reach up and get them in the morning, and she stood
and carried my clothing into the kitchen and, warning myself to wait, to
capture by being caught, I fell asleep hearing water running in the sink.
In the morning I awoke and my clothes were not hanging on the
hook. I looked into the kitchen and there she was, preparing breakfast. I called to her to bring me my clothes, the fire had gone out and I
was cold. They're out here on the drying rack, she said. Come and get
them, my hands are covered with bacon grease. I reminded her that I
was naked and she said, You'll have to come and get them, my hands
are full. Don't worry, I won't look at you, why would I want to look at
you first thing in the morning, it's bad enough just to have to look at
myself in the mirror, to see what further damage the night has done.
And yet she did not say this with any bitterness, but rather a gaiety, if
true gaiety can be strained and almost frenzied sounding. So I got up
and, clutching one of the blankets around me, went into the kitchen for
my clothes. The linoleum against my bare feet was cold, and I shivered
with the thought of another winter in the open. But soon the smell of
coffee and frying meat warmed me. She kept her back to me and, when
dressed, I carried the blanket back to the livingroom to fold it. She said,
You needn't have worried, I wasn't going to look.
That day she had me tidying up the yard, pruning trees and replacing
boards on the chickencoop. The boards, as I could see, were solid and
secure, in no need of replacement, and I knew nothing of pruning trees,
not the proper season nor the method. I could have been killing those
weak stunted trees, so little did I know, but she insisted that it be done
immediately, before the first frost she said, though I think she knew as
little about it as I. As for the chickencoop, only after a great deal of
yanking and hammering at the boards did I convince her that it was in
no need of repairs. There are some old shingles in the barn, she said.
Maybe there are enough to cover the coop with. So I laid down my
hammer and followed her into the barn to search for the shingles.
At supper that night I remarked that I would be leaving in the
morning. No! she said, almost shouting it; and then, startled by her own
reaction, said more calmly, I mean there's so much more to be done, the
place hasn't looked this good since, since. . . and there's no one else to do
30 it, I certainly can't do it myself, so if you don't stay a while and help me
it will never get done.
What else needs to be done? I asked, and she rattled off a list of petty
chores, nothing she could not have done quite satisfactorily herself. But
she spoke now with an hysterical desperation, one that had become less
suppressed, less suppressible in fact, with every passing day. She seemed
to tremble now when I stood close to her, and frequently rubbed her
arms as though they were cold. Once or twice she found an excuse to
touch me in a perfunctory way. I made no overtures myself, no
suggestions no matter how implicit, but continued to allow her to feed
out the thread of her frenzy, knowing that, in the end, she would
become so entangled in it that she could neither reel it back nor cut
herself free.
That evening as I prepared the fire she came to me, toying with the
belt of her robe, her hair loose and shining with the light. I've been
thinking, she said, and I know you can't be comfortable there on that
floor, those few quilts can't offer any comfort. So if you want to sleep in
my bed it's all right, I mean it's a large bed and there's no reason why we
both can't sleep in it; I won't have you being a guest here and sleeping
on the floor when there's plenty of room in my bed. I'm sure you know
I'm offering the bed and nothing more, I'm sure you know it and being
a gentleman won't read anything more into the offer than just what I've
stated, but I don't see how you can sleep on that hard floor another
night when there's at least half of my bed not being used at all. There's
no reason why you shouldn't be enjoying it, I mean sleep should be a
pleasurable time, shouldn't it, and not a kind of torture where you have
to struggle for a little rest.
Saying this she turned and almost fled into the bedroom. So, I said to
myself, in three days you have come from being a travelling handyman
to being a guest and a gentleman. In three more days what will you be? I
knelt before the fire and added another log, watching the progress of
the flames. It would be good to be warm another night. It would be
good to be warm through the winter, with no fear of its chill and sting.
From her room, I heard the slow easy creak of the bedsprings. The
quilts were already laid out on the floor, so I folded them and put them
aside. I pulled off my boots and, pushing them into a corner, stood and
went into the bedroom.
The bedroom was dark. She had drawn the curtains so that not even
the light from the moon could enter. I felt my way into the room and
stood at the foot of the bed. Which side are you on, I said, and she
answered, Here. The word was faint and weak, as though she held back
as much of it as she could, not wanting it to escape her. I went to the
other side of the bed and, pulling back the covers, got in, fully dressed.
31 The bedsprings creaked again, sounding unnaturally loud in the
darkness. We lay there for a very long time. Through the curtains I
could eventually make out a kind of glowing haze, it was the moon
showing through the gauze of the fabric. I could hear the fire crackling
in the other room, the logs splitting open under the pressure of the heat.
Now through the darkness I spoke to her, our bodies only inches apart. I
could sense the rigidity of hers. I spoke but my words were like quick
birds she had looked up at too late to discern. What? she said, as though
the word had burst from her, with no meaning other than the release of
its sound. And then it was as though she inhaled sharply, drawing back
her hysteria again. What did you say, Murphy?
I told her, I thought you should know, I'll be leaving in the morning.
I've stayed too long already. Winter is coming and if I'm going to leave I
must do so tomorrow. The bed creaked as though an extra weight had
been laid upon it. I waited for her to speak, but she said nothing. Had I
been less practical, I would have said that the night trembled.
In the morning I arose without disturbing her. I washed my face in
the kitchen sink and sat at the table, eating two hard rolls spread with
butter. Afterwards I sat and waited, hoping she would rise, hoping she
would say, Wait Murphy, don't go yet, I've found more work for you to
do. When, after an hour, she did not appear, I went to the bedroom
and looked in on her. She was lying there awake.
I'm leaving now, I said.
She said, But I'm very ill, please stay. Stay just a day or two and tend
to me. I asked her, What's wrong with you? She said that her limbs were
numb, that she was burning up inside. Let me feel your forehead, I
said. I laid my hand upon her. Your forehead is cool, you don't have a
fever. But I'm burning inside, she said. Sometimes I can feel my hands
and feet and sometimes I can't. You've got to stay and tend to me,
there's no one else near. Maybe you should have a doctor, I said; but she
would not allow it, she said she knew what was wrong and only needed
to lie still for a while. I told her that I would stay until tomorrow. That's
all I ask, she said, by tomorrow I'll be fine. I said, What can I do for you
now, and she asked for a glass of water. I got it for her and, holding my
hands in hers, she drank it, and I said, What else? To which she
answered, Nothing, I just need to know someone is here if I need him.
I sat with her for a while and then towards noon I went into the
kitchen for something to eat. She said she was not hungry and would not
let me feed her anything. Later she told me to go for a walk if I wished,
but before doing so she made me give her my hand. Now, she said,
pressing my knuckles into her cheek, now Murphy, promise me that
you'll come back from your walk. I assured her that I would, that I had
told her I would stay until tomorrow and I would not break my word.
She kissed my hand and then released it.
32 I went for a walk out into the woods, to read the signals of the coming
winter. Most of the leaves were already off the trees, already rotting
underfoot, and those that still clung tenaciously would not last much
longer, one more strong wind and they would all be down. A flock of
crows gathered above me, filling the woods with noise. Six days ago I
had looked up to see a wide V of geese heading south. The birds were
migrating early this year; a sign that the winter would be hard.
I walked along slowly, kicking at the leaves, and uncovered a young
copperhead; it struck at my boot, and then was gone in a quick blur of
dull color and rustling leaves. Stooping over I dabbed my fingertip in
the drop of venom that had been left on my boot, rubbing it between
my finger and my thumb. The day was cold and the snake should have
been lethargic, should have been slow and cautious, but it had been
quicker than I, catching me off guard. Only the high sides of my boot
had saved me this time. I was not as fast anymore at avoiding snakes as I
once had been. If they could catch me off guard that easily, and in the
fall when they are supposed to be slow, then it was time for me to get out
of the woods, to leave the woods to those who were young and quick
enough to avoid its dangers and survive its winters. Even the squirrels
and chipmunks knew enough to hoard something against the cold. If I
had not learned at least that much from the animals, then I had wasted
a lot of years watching them.
When I returned from my walk, the sun was setting. It looked as
though a fire burned along the horizon, except that there was no smoke
in the sunset, only flame. But cold, passionless flame, as though winter
had already seized it and stolen its heat. I stood on the proch and
watched the flames gradually subside. Then I went to the bedroom to
look in on her.
Please, she said, trembling, clutching the blanket up to her chin,
please Murphy, get in bed with me, I'm freezing, I can't stop shivering,
I feel as though my body is going to shake apart. I thought you were
feverish, I said. She answered, Yes, first it's that, and five seconds later
I'm shivering with cold.
I'll build a fire, I said, but she reached for me, she said, No! don't
leave, you've got to get me warm, I can't stand it any longer!
So, as I had done the night before, after pulling off my boots I got
into bed beside her. She lay there on her back and clutched the blanket,
her long hair tussled and wild, spread out on the pillow. You've got to
hold me, she said. I won't get warm unless you hold me. I slid toward
her and reaching across her body drew her to me. She was small in my
arms and I could feel her trembling. Where are your nightclothes, I
asked, and she answered, I was burning up, I tore them off and threw
them under the bed. And now you're chilled, I said, and she said, Yes,
hold me. She pushed her body hard against mine. Hold me close and
maybe I can get warm. She was trembling very badly now and no matter
33 how tightly I held her I could not stop the trembling. I can't feel your
heat through your clothes, she said. Please, hurry, take them off, I can't
stand it Murphy, I'm so cold, I'm freezing.
Later we lay side by side in the bed and she no longer trembled. I lay
with my arm behind her head, she with her hands clasped below her
breasts. Are you warm now? I said. She threw the blankets off herself
and leapt out of bed. She went to the chair by the window and grabbed
her blue robe off it. She pulled the robe on and bound it around herself
tightly as she hurried toward the door.
Are you warm now? I said.
Leave me alone! she shouted, and went out of the room. I heard the
front door being yanked open, her running steps going off the porch
and into the yard. After a while I got up and dressed. I went into the
front room. The door was still open. I closed the door, though I did not
lock it, for she had not taken her key. She'll be cold when she returns, I
told myself; needing warmth. In front of the fireplace I knelt and stirred
the cold ashes, then laid a fire on the grate.
34 Harry Martinson/ Two Poems
You chance to say something beautiful
perhaps by mistake
and in a hurry.
Later you had to eat it.
Now you crouch down with language.
The beautiful names you gave to things
sneaked away to live in secret.
So beauty got sly.
She went underground from a world
where a knife was more fit to show than a flower.
But the years pass.
One day you can get back the blue hair ribbons
you disdained.
They can show up as Medusa snakes.
Translatedfrom the Swedish by William Mishler
Crooked like an elongated lizard the creeper
sketches its arms upon the wall and adds
to itself one more month of desperate claws
so as to get foothold on string and tile.
You with your villa in the summer
flood of cars, ask yourself as you do
the creeper: how long exempt
in the untouched kingdom
from the frost in store
for the world.
Translated from the Swedish by William Mishler
36 Forugh Farrokhzad/ Two Poems
— Day, or night?
— No, an eternity of setting sun, my friend
and two doves passing on the wind
like paired white coffins
and voices from those distant, those alien plains,
wavering, wandering with the motions of memory
— I must say something
I must say something
My heart wants to fuse with the dark
I must say something
What heavy oblivion
an apple dropping from a branch
yellow flax seeds crackling
in the bills of my lovesick canaries
the fava blossoming, yielding its blue veins to the torpid breeze
released from dumb, anxious terrors
And here, in me, in my head?
Nothing in my head but thick red motes swirling
and my glance
downcast, embarrassed
as a lie
— I'm thinking of a moon
— A word in some poem
— I'm thinking of a fountain
— A phantom in the earth
— The rich smell of wheatfields
— The myth of bread
— Innocent games
and that long, narrow lane
filled with the odor of acacias
37 — The bitter awakening at the end of the play
and mute silence at the lane's end
and after the odor of acacias the endless emptiness
— Heroics?
old horses
— Love?
— Alone and staring out the low window
at deserts without Majnun
a crossroads remembered vaguely
and thin braceleted ankles trudging along
— Desires?
— Lose heart
in the merciless chorus of doors by the thousand
— Always, yes closed, closed
tiring you out
— I'm thinking of a house
its ivied walls breathing languorously
its lamps glowing like the pupil of an eye
its pensive, languid nights free from care
and a newborn baby smiling endlessly
like concentric circles on the water
a body like a bunch of grapes, full of blood
— I'm thinking of the caving-in
and the black, devastating winds
and a light, suspecting
searching at the window evenings
and a little grave, as little as a newborn baby
38 — Work. . .work?
— Yes, but in that big desk
there lives a secret enemy
who softly, softly chews you
the way it chews up wood and notebook
and a thousand more useless things
till you sink at last in a cup of tea
like a boat in a whirlpool
and see nothing in the heart of the horizon
but thick clouds of cigarette smoke, and meaningless lines
— A star?
— Yes, hundreds and hundreds but
all beyond the walled-in nights
-A bird?
— Yes, hundreds and hundreds, but
all fluttering with futile pride
in distant memories
— I'm thinking of a scream in the street
— Some mouse harmlessly scrabbling in the wall
— I must say something
I must say something
in the shivering moment at daybreak
when space blends with something strange,
like the portents of puberty
I want
to surrender to some revolt
I want
to pour down out of that vast cloud
I want
to say no   no no no
39 — Let's go
— I must say something
— Cup, orbed, or loneliness, or sleep?
— Let's go. . .
Translated from the Persian by Jascha Kessler with Amin Banani
Why should I give up, why?
The birds have gone off to find their blue way
The horizon stands erect
The horizon stands erect spouting
and shining planets spin
at the edge of sight
Earth at its height merely repeats itself
and pockets of air
become a labyrinth
And the day's a vastness
the newspaper worm's constricted mind cannot contain
Why should I give up?
The road leads through life's parched draws
Atmospheric conditions in the uterus of the moon's ship
will kill the tainted cells
And the voice alone
the voice will be absorbed by time's atoms
in the chemical space of the risen sun
Why should I give up?
What else is a swamp
What else is a swamp but the spawning ground for corrupt vermin?
Bloated corpses scrawl the morgue's thoughts
The coward's hidden
his impotence in darkness
And the cockroach... ah
when the cockroach talks
why should I give up?
Tintypes ally themselves in vain
All the tintypes in the world
can't save one petty thought
The trees are my ancestors
Breathing stale air depresses me
41 A dead bird taught me to remember flying
To join the glowing essence of the sun,
such union is the ultimate in power,
pouring down the light of understanding
naturally fall apart
Why should I give up?
Under my breast
I press a sheaf of unripe wheat,
nursing it
The voice, the voice, the voice alone
The voice of the water's shining will to flow
The voice of starlight pouring round the edges of earth's
The voice that binds the ovum to meaning
and the growth of love's shared mind
The voice, the voice, the voice alone is left
In the country of pygmies
standards of judgment
orbit at zero elevation
Why should I give up?
The four elements alone command me
and the local government of the blind has no business
in drafting my heart's constitution
The drawnout feral whimpering in the beast's genitals
is no affair of mine
The mere wriggling of the worm in vacant flesh is no affair of mine
The flowers' bleeding ancestry is what's committed me to life
The flowers' bleeding ancestry—have I made it clear to you?
Translated from the Persian by Jascha Kessler with Amin Banani
42 Gwendolyn MacEwen/ Two Poems
I have died, Ali.
I have been lying on this hospital bed for five days
and I know that I am dead.
I was coming down to Clouds Hill
on my big bike, and I
wasn't doing more than sixty when
this black van, death camel
slid down the right side of my head, and
ahead of me two boys on little bikes
were biking along, and
Something in my head, some
brutal music in my head played on.
I was going too fast, I was always going
too fast for the world, I was always going
too fast, so I swerved and fell on my fucking
head right in the middle of the road.
I addressed myself to the dark hearts
of the tall trees; I contacted God.
God said: I am the one who is alone, not you.
Ali, love is what you carry around with you
in the clumsy luggage from here to Damascus.
You and your ghostly riders
ride out of the left side of my eye.
Your blonde and dreaming camels
ride out of the left side of my eye.
43 No one is with you. I
am with you. The desert
is with you. Wind from the sun
stirs your black robes.
He is only dangerous who dreams by day.
I was the bed on which they lay.
Their shy and awkward crimes
Were once committed in my name.
I gather that I am the place
Where once they sold their souls.
And now I pay for every word I write
With the memory of their shame.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
I make sure everything's alive
Before I go to sleep.
45 David O'Rourke
The telephone is ringing. I go into the kitchen and my dog follows me.
My dog follows me everywhere. What a pain in the ass that Frank can
Hello, I say.
On the other end is an old man in heat, breathing in spasms. He tells
me how much he loves me. Sorry, I say, but he must have the wrong
number. But he says he knows it's me, Tony, and he's going to come
right over and eat me because he's been watching the way my body
moves for a long time. He likes what he sees.
I say, Please don't do that, mister, then I remember my name is
David, not Tony, and I tell him and he yells cock-sucker son-of-a-bitch
and says he's going to let me go this one time. Wait a minute, I say, and
give him the telephone number of a guy I hate because he is true-blue
and looks like Audie Murphy. I tell him it's Tony. The man blows me a
kiss and hangs up.
My dog is barking because he wasn't in on the phonecall. I explain
the situation and we both get a laugh. He is happy now. I pick up a jar
of Nescafe instant coffee and throw it. My dog chases it. I throw sticks,
pop bottles, lightbulbs — you name it, I throw it —and my dog, Frank,
will chase it. Such are Frank's brains.
46 Howard Baker/ Two Poems
lam a camera. — Christopher Isherwood
No one in attendance the first time
A pleasure slid between his flesh and hand,
Until the sun burst in and he was reproved.
Later he was often seen staring down past his school book
Toward that wrinkled hose-end covered by denim,
Until hair grew around it like a curse
And he dared not touch for fear of Hell.
No real playmate thereafter, lingering
To touch him and be felt by his hands searching
For friendly places.
His habits, spreading like scars, drove playmates
Away, and many dark afternoons he
Probed for hot locations (and Hallowed)
Over the map of his white body,
But found none. And it was much later
An unlikely friend arrived: the photograph.
No company as he leafed through the family album
Of his blooming perversion, and touched all the organs
Of someone's pleasures.
He came in a confused ecstasy, his face
Against the coloured pages.
He learned to take his own pictures
And to develop them and to enlarge them.
No witness to the current practice of his art.
The photos have little aesthetic merit;
All are close-ups of the body's entrances,
Shady and often out of focus, nothing more
Than theme pieces, though
Some exude a peculiar warmth.
Our cigarettes smoke together,
Earnestly, I think. The ashes
Fall away in tubes.
We are two silent historians
Stopped in early day, as intimate
As closeparked cars.
The talk last night was a factory
Air eating the features of the Parthenon,
And how sad the Greeks used marble,
How sad the factories use sulphur.
The furnace vent blows warmed air
On us while your eyes outline
Two cooling cups of tea.
I would agree again but the edge
Is off the memory.
How sad about Venice and Athens,
How sad even the faces
Of last night's company are weathering
In the wind of the clock hands.
Your jaw is grinding, reciting
The dialogues again.
My mouth is jammed tight from the awful
Weight of my head pressing
On fist and elbow.
My Dear, we are not a scene
In needlepoint going to lint,
Or a cracking portrait, nor
Can we be restored. Be consoled,
Remember our sophist guest saying
The erosion creates a new statue,
For, in a moment I will rise
To go to the toilet and you
Will sigh out another breath.
48 Interview:
This interview was conducted in Vancouver, prior to the opening of
THE RED DEVIL BATTERY SIGN at the Playhouse Theatre. Prism
international was represented by St. John Simmons and Joe Martin.
Also present was Roger Hodgman, Director of the Vancouver
pi: Yesterday you said you loved cats because of their nobility and
elegance. . . .
tw: Dignity, yes.
pi: And further said that you saw this lacking in most people....
tw:  But I have known people who have had it.
pi: Do you look upon other people and their suffering, be it personal or
under a political system, with compassion, pity, disdain. . . .
tw: I'm not a bleeding heart. I think you have to intellectualize your
compassion and your pity and you can't go around weeping and wailing
at every street corner. You have to distill it somehow.
pi: Your major characters are brutalized and function at the border of
the madhouse. Why?
tw:  Something inherent in me, I should think. Wouldn't you?
pi:  It must be a response, too.
tw: Yes. I found life basically, after I became an adolescent, unhospit-
able to me, to my kind of creature, whatever kind I was. I needed to
express that alienated condition I felt in writing. But I felt there must be
a balance and control, to be coherent. That's the discipline the artist
must impose upon himself to be accepted.
pi: Does your individual suffering relate to the suffering of mankind?
Do you make that extension?
tw: Yeah, mine takes different forms, perhaps. [Referring here to his
confinement in the mental hospital, "the snake house" as he called it.]
The horrible monotony and vacuity, the routine of their day by day
lives, watching movies or listening to their favorite radio programs was, I
thought, death in life. Three years in there made me feel that there is
something basically rotten in our society. We should try to root it out, you
49 know. It requires radical surgery. But no one has yet discovered a means to
rid the world of the inequities we have in, say Russia, or anywhere.
Pi: Are the predominant characteristics of our society or your life
brutality and madness? Castration, blowtorch murders, rape. . . .
tw: Of course, they're metaphorical. They represent what society is
doing to individuals. I don't think all individuals are aware of what the
true enemy is, I don't think they all think in terms of society. I think
they just think in terms of the kinds of jobs they do. I think the artist
does have a different point of view, he stands aside, he's somewhat more
of an observer than a participant, but then he gives his record of what
he sees.
pi: What is your view of the role of the artist in society?
tw: I think he has to be a visionary to a certain extent. There are
several kinds. A soothsayer, perhaps. He feels, he is solopsistic, that's
what makes him so difficult and unattractive, the solopsism, the self-
absorption, but he needs that to defend himself and to contain his world
from which he looks out and interprets reality as he sees it. He has a role
in society, I think society considers him at their service to entertain, but
he doesn't see it that way, he sees the need for entertainment and
excitement but what he's at is something else, he wants to make some
meaning out of his life and he's selected the role of artist to attempt to
make some meaning and to make an order out of chaos. I think an artist
ceases to be what the society he lives in —he doesn't limit himself to what
the society he lives in, wants him to be. He explodes from that because
it's too limiting for him, he has to express himself.
pi:  Do you see him as "the unacknowledged legislator of the world"?
tw: No. That becomes paranoia, it becomes madness. I think you'll
find the best answer to this in "Fear and Misunderstandings in the
Artist's Revolt." [an essay by Williams]
pi: How is your new play, Red Devil Battery Sign, different from your
other plays?
tw: This play is rather like something too hot to handle. I think that's
what Mr. Merrick felt when he backed the moving vans up to the back
of the theater at the end of the Boston run and removed the sets so they
couldn't go to The Eisenhower in Washington. We were doing business.
Anthony Quinn's name was a huge draw. The audience seemed excited
and pleased with it. Mr. Merrick was not. . .and he announced. . .he
hated me and the play.
pi: The play does deal with some hot material in terms of the whole
conspiracy. . . .
50 tw: It does. I doubt that any American playwright since Orton (and
he's an English playwright) — but I think only Orton attacked the
establishment so head-on. What made Orton a really great writer was in
things like What the Butler Saw. He really presented a devastating satire
on the establishment.
rh: The thing about What the Butler Saw, which is unique, even in his
own work, is that it is totally relentless. Every line has a savage....
tw: Woooo! I don't see how a man could be that funny.
rh: It's a good comparison because, of all your plays, this is the most
relentless in its savagery and its anger.
tw: If we can pull off the ending then we've got it made. But there's a
big question mark there.
[A discussion ensues over which version we have read and it becomes
apparent that considerable changes have been made since rehearsals
pi:  Did you put forward suggestions, Roger?
rh: I certainly had some ideas. It's always a collaborative effort. When
the relationship really works, well, it's one. . . .what's there is what the
writer has written and you can't destroy that but sometimes you can say,
"Maybe this isn't necessary, maybe you don't need this, this works better
this way." But then when it really works is when the writer takes these
fairly clinical suggestions and takes them one step further, which is what
Mr. Williams has done. In several of the scenes where he has taken fairly
modest suggestions of mine and used them creatively, like in the parts of
her [Woman Downtown] story, which has....
tw: A machine gun quality.
rh: Which is far more powerful than it was originally because I think it
was too extended. The whole play is remarkable.... I think it's going to
run an hour and three-quarters.... it's very compact.
pi: As an artist you don't mind someone altering your work?
tw: When people think as closely as Roger and I on a project we can
only help one another. I know Roger, how his mind works, his
pi: At what point do you have the finished play?
tw: We don't. We don't have it now. We don't know if the ending is
going to work.
pi: Do actors have an influence on the work?
rh: Yes,  they do.  You get actors working with the words.  Some-
51 times something that looks fine on the page [is not that good] when you
hear it read and sometimes the actor may say, "I'm not sure this phrase
is right for this character" and, if you trust the actor, very often it's true.
Some times I think it's overdone, though. Some Canadian productions
I've seen, the writing is left out. I've seen this happen where an inexperienced writer lets an experienced group of actors and directors
loose and he finishes up with something that's not at all like his original
version. That disturbs me.
pi: In your essay, "A Delicate Situation", you said it is up to the director
to lift the play above manuscript....
tw:  Oh, that always happens with a good director who cares.
rh:  Do you think plays are literature?
tw: A form of literature; plus plastic values too, performance, it's a
group of arts.
rh: You said your favorite works were your short stories.
tw: Well, yes. I wrote short stories before I wrote plays. In short stories
you don't have to worry about changing scenes.
pi: Do you think your new play is a new voice?
tw: Edward Albee said, "Williams writes with many voices." And this is
a new voice, more powerful, more staccato.
rh: It's incredibly powerful. The last act is thirty-five minutes but it's
going to feel much longer because it's sheer hell, it's thirty-five minutes
of real hell. It's going to exhaust an audience. And the real difficulty is
to have the courage to go for what's really there. There are about a half
dozen moments that are powerful enough for the climax of any play.
Most plays are lucky to have one moment that is as strong and as horrible as the six or eight there are in that act.
pi: What is your aim — catharsis for your audience or an insight into
American society?
tw: I would be happy if someone would read the newspapers with a
different eye....
rh:  Or put a rock through a window.
tw:  It's a futile gesture.
pi: Are you attempting to make people aware of what you see
happening in American society?
rh: It's a very positive ending. It's easy to see that ending as negative or sad or tragic. It's a very positive ending.
52 tw: Dynamically positive.
rh: That's what people are going to find hard to accept, because what's
positive about it is really uncomfortable. It's saying there is a solution,
there is a way, but that way is a difficult, a violent. . .it's anarchy if you
tw: They must be prepared for the overthrow of all their beliefs except
the one belief in humanity.
rh:  It's anarchy, really.
tw: Well, yes.
rh:  If you have to put a label on it.
tw: Temporary. Anarchy cannot last, of course. Out of it has to come a
new order.
pi: Do you have preconceptions about how this play will be received by
the public and the critics?
tw: A play of this nature is not well-received if it's received well.
rh: I hope we get a mixed reaction. I'm sure it will. I hope people will
realize its power, the skill of the writing, but will not like what it says.
There will be something wrong if everyone says, "Oh yes, this is what I
feel" because they don't. [A certain critic] doesn't think this way so one
hopes he won't pretend he does.
pi: At the end of the play the woman faces the outcome with a great
degree of toughness. Is that how you would like to have confronted your
tw: I wish I had had the kind of physical stamina and constitution and
moral fibre that Brecht had. Yes I do.
pi: In Brecht's Mother Courage the mother allows her son to be
tw: Yes, that's toughness, like granite. There are people like that. For
survival, one has to be hard as granite. I don't think Brecht was inclined
to arias. Brecht's effects were highly dramatic, his words dynamic. I
loved his Galileo. I think everything he did succeeded. The majority of
things I attempt do not succeed.
pi: You once said that we are all "savages at heart" and....
tw: Well, we are well-dressed savages, but we have made certain,
emotional advances, such as Blanche mentions in a key speech in
"Streetcar. . . .", "such little beginnings of poetry, music and tender
feelings "  Personally,  I believe evolution is upward;  the Spanish
53 Inquisition could not occur again, I don't think there could be another
Holocaust, I hope to God I'm right about that. But I am amazed by Lt.
Calley, who threw all those people in a ditch and then turned a machine
gun on them and shot them all dead. He was legally sane and he was
almost a hero.
pi:  Do you blame him?
tw: Blame him? I'd kill the son-of-a-bitch. He's one person I'd kill.
That is the supreme madness. If you're told to do it, you don't do it.
Society can't force an individual to cast off all humanity.
pi: Do you think Art can play a role in making an individual more
capable of making a moral judgement? Can your Art move anyone that
tw: Yes, those who are moveable. There's a great section of the
audience that's impenetrable. No sensibility.
pi: Does that make you angry?
tw:  Oh yes. But not enough to shoot at them.
pi: Do you think that violence in Art or entertainment might induce
someone to commit violence?
tw: No. It should act as catharsis and purify them of the violence
within themselves. The purpose for the writer is catharsis —it certainly
doesn't compel him to go out and break the neighbour's windows.
pi: At the reading yesterday you danced around the questions about the
four recurring symbols in your poetry. What parts of you or your psyche
are represented by the cat, bird, fox and rose?
tw: Well, my sister was named Rose and she was the person most
important to me and that may have something to do with the rose. The
cat is a creature I've always had an affinity for. In the poem "The
Negative" [I compare myself to an alleycat.] (He recites the stanzas.) It
shows I associate myself with them. The bird is flight. I've had many
flying dreams. It's a desire to escape from angry people trying to drag
me down. The fox is a hunted creature. I don't think of them as very
predatory. They're the object of the great hunts in England.
pi: In one of his essays, John Fowles talks about the "emblematic
tw:  That's a beautiful phrase.
pi: Which the artist creates out of the wilderness....
tw:  I'm not a horticulturist, I like wilderness.
54 pi: Fair enough. And what of the domaine perdu [lost kingdom] that
lurks in the artist's background?
tw: In childhood everything is taken care of by mama, time to go to
bed, the prayers said, the chapter of Dickens read, I remember, the
bath in the afternoon, everything was ordered, I didn't have to worry.
That's lost.
pi: In some of your recent works, like "... Tokyo Hotel", you have used
incomplete sentences extensively.
tw: Yes, I believe that when a sentence has discharged its meaning it
should be halted. It also provides immediacy.
rh: And that's how people really talk. They constantly interrupt one
another's sentences.
tw: I think it has always worked when I've used them, but the critics
don't  like  it.   When  you're  finished  what  you  want  to  say,   stop.
55  The Red Devil Battery Sign
"The city'sJiery parcels all undone"
(Hart Crane)
57 the red devil battery sign was first performed at The Vancouver
Playhouse on October 18, 1980, under the direction of Roger
Hodgman. Set design, Cameron Porteous. Lights, Jeffrey Dallas.
Musical Director, Bruce Ruddell.
Don Adams
Joyce Campion
Nicola Cavendish
Diane D'Aquila
Richard Donat
Peter Elliot
Owen Foran
C. David Johnson
Brian Levy, Ernest Paul
Pamela Rabe
Andrew Rhodes
Bruce Ruddell
Tom Wood
Eduardo Galdamez
Carlos Morales
Karen Barker, Judy Greenberg
Corrine Koslo, Brian Levy
Allen Maclnnes, David Merr
Ernest Paul, Pamela Rabe
Ian Watson, Myrna Wyatt
(Note on the staging—A permanent set offering the greatest flexibility is
desireable. The action of the play takes place in and around Dallas. The
presence of the Wasteland in which the play ends should be felt at
various moments throughout the play. The telephone calls should not
necessarily be hampered by the use of an actual telephone.)
This play may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever and no production
presented without the express written permission of the author or his agent, mltch
Douglas, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57 St., New York, N.Y. 10019
58 ACT1
Cocktail lounge of the Yellow Rose Hotel in downtown Dallas. At rise,
only the bar is hotly lighted. A small group of mariachis play softly. A
drunk is talking to Charlie the barman. At a slight distance, the hotel
manager, mr. griffin, is looking on with disapproval. A restless hooker
crosses to a bar stool adjoining the drunk's.
griffin: I'm sorry, Miss, but unescorted ladies aren't allowed at the
hooker {Broad Texas drawl): What makes you think I'm unescawted,
huh? {Nudges the drunk, who pivots to inspect her. To drunk) He
calls me not escawted. (She digs an elbow lower into the drunk's
drunk: This young lady's escawted, personally by me.
(The woman downtown enters upstage perimeter of the lighted area.
She is tall, with a pale exquisitely molded face: an immediately
striking elegance of presence. She has a light coat (loose-woven cloth
of gold) thrown over her dress. She stands by a rear table and surveys
the lounge as if she suspects some menacing element in it)
griffin {To drunk): Are you registered here?
drunk: Here's my room-key, here.
(drunk digs into a pants' pocket and empties an avalanche of coins and
crumpled bills on the floor)
hooker:  Aw!
(she stoops immediately to collect the bills, returning some to the drunk
and slipping others in her bag. woman downtown laughs wryly, softly.
Removes the light coat and reveals a stunning irridescent Oriental
sheath with a delicate dragon design on it)
drunk: And here's my bus'ness card. See what firm I'm with? To check
out this hotel as possible headquarters for our next month
griffin {A bruptly very impressed): — Thank you, sir. Charlie, offer this
young couple drinks on the house, excuse me. {He crosses to the
woman downtown, blond crew cut enters) Well! Good evening,
woman downtown (Icily): Good evening, Mr. —
59 griffin:  Griffin. — I was surprised to see you down here.
woman downtown: Why? What surprised you about it?
griffin: When you were checked in here by Judge Collister.
woman downtown:  When I checked in was when?
griffin:  I'd have to check the books to give you the exact night —
woman downtown: The approximate night, a week ago, two weeks,
since the last ice age?
griffin: What I do remember clearly right now is that Judge Collister
said that you were to have complete anonymity here and complete
rest and seclusion.
woman downtown: Oh, rest and seclusion I've had a massive dose of.
Only morning visits from a doctor who said he'd been told to visit me
griffin {Repeatedly, nervously):   Yes. Fine. I see. Hmmm.
woman downtown {Overlapping): —At first the injections were agreeably sedative, then not so agreeably, then not agreeably at all since I
found myself falling to the floor when I got out of bed. Then I
stopped letting him in, locked and bolted the door against him when
he knocked. {Louder)
griffin: You're being overheard by strangers at the bar. You
don't want attention in the public rooms. You see, I regard your
anonymity here more highly than you, Ma'am. With such a distinguished person — we —
woman downtown: You give yourself away.
griffin :  I haven't spoken your name.
woman downtown : You refer to me as' a distinguished person'.
griffin:   That's something so apparent about you.
woman downtown {Cutting through contemptuously): I came in here
covered from head to foot by the Judge's car-blanket and said and did
nothing. . . stayed speechless in a wheelchair while the Judge said that
I must have anonymity here and paid you exceptionally well for
providing it for me. But since you've penetrated that anonymity— I am
ready to check out, my luggage is packed. I want to get word to my
guardian, Judge Collister, to come here for me at once. I've made
continual efforts to reach the Judge by phone. For some reason I'm not
able to make outside calls from my suite: the calls are not completed.
I've complained to the operator: still they're not completed.
60 griffin: You are raising your voice, Ma'am. I don't think you
realize that your face is recognizable —
woman downtown {Putting on dark glasses): There he is, the blond
crew-cut, he certainly recognizes me! Whenever I enter the
corridor, he starts to follow a couple of paces behind me, and I
retreat to my rest and seclusion.
griffin:   That young man is our house detective, Ma'am.
woman downtown: Oh, your house dick. What is he trailing me for,
of what does he suspect me? Call him over, tell him I'd like to know.
griffin: He has to stay by the door. Undesirables try to enter, you know.
My wife had a sister who spent a few months at Paradise Meadows
Nursing Home. She had some treatments there called Electric Shock.
woman downtown: Shock, yes, electric.
griffin: The treatments were highly effective in the case I
woman downtown: Brainwashed. . .Well, I am not, my foster father
the Judge manoeuvred my escape from Paradise Meadows after five
days of their marvelous treatment.
griffin: Now, as to the Judge, you would naturally be unable to call
him at his residence or office —Would you allow me to order you a
drink? Brandy? Charlie, the lady would like some brandy.
woman downtown: No, would not. A glass of champagne laced with
a little brandy, I need to keep a clear head in this atmosphere of
intrigue here— What about Judge Collister?
griffin:  Just have your drink first, before we —hmmm. . .
(charlie serves the drink; she drains it immediately)
woman downtown: I said laced with, not loaded. Now what have you
to tell me?
griffin: That grand old man has been on the critical list at the New
Medical Center since later on the night he delivered you here,
woman downtown: Christ, on the —critical—which night? —He
brought me here —and you haven't informed me? I want a car, a
rental limousine.
{She has caught hold of his jacket)
griffin: If you'll let go of my jacket, I will call the limousine service.
{He glances away, picks up bar phone, glancing back at her,
nodding, smiling—a grimace) Car for the lady at the bar.
61 woman downtown: Perhaps you'd like the button I tore off your
(griffin leaves. The subdued talk among men at the bar is brought
drunk one: Any goddam kid won't register for draft is a traitor to —
Charlie: Yestuhday, f rinstance, nation'l guard tried to round up those
kids that live in the hollow, west a city, register 'em. I tell yuh they
couldn't get near 'em blown up two squad cars with bottles of nitro!
drunk one: Savages in city. Oughta go in there with flame throwers,
burn 'em outa their dug-outs like we done gooks in 'Nam.
woman downtown: Hear! Hear! It's a patriotic duty for you middle age
gentlemen over draft age! DO IT! You're not too old to discharge a
missile, are you, at —Sorry, did I speak? I'm not supposed to speak!
drunk one: You spoke distinctly, baby. I'd like t' discharge a missile
into. . . {completes lewd remark behind hand)
woman downtown (laughs mockingly): That would be a little beyond
your capacity just now and if lightning does not strike once, it cannot
strike twice.
charlie {In response to whisper):  Bananas.
drunk one: Aw? Could use a chiquita banana and I don't mean
(He stumbles towards woman downtown)
woman downtown: Your vision must be blurred. Your wife has retired
to the ladies loo.
drunk one: That hooker?
woman downtown: What a shocking term to use for your — wife.
drunk one: Me? Married to a hooker?
woman downtown:  Some gentlemen do marry above their station.
first drunk: Nah me, Babe. Here, take this key while I finish my drink,
go up to my room and I promise I won't disappoint yuh!
woman downtown: —Hands off!—I don't want that, I never did want
that, all that I ever wanted washer face and voice soften. She makes a vague gesture in space, king
del rey appears. Originally called rey, this Texan born on the
border and with some Spanish-Indian blood in him, later called
himself  by   the   English   word for   "Rey".   He   has   a   natural
62 kingliness—air of authority—about him with just a hint of that
bravado that masks an anxiety that the authority may slip from him.
This hint appears only at moments: now as he stands at stage left
having just entered the revolving door of the "club" lounge, he
exaggerates the bravado, the air of command, to something almost
mariachis: Hola, King! Hola, amigo!
{Band plays "El Rey". There have been jocular greetings in Spanish
from the musicians which king has returned)
king: Es una noche caliente, eh?
{The woman downtown appears diverted from her own situation by
king's entrance)
woman downtown:   —Si, senor, es una noche caliente.
king (Impressed by her beauty and style): The lady speaks some
woman downtown: Oh, yes, the lady is a linguist, speaks many
drunk (At bar): Yeh, that lady's got a tongue in her mouth runnin'
outa control.
king {To drunk): You are on my bar stool. Get off it before you're
knocked off it.
(drunk stares at king a moment then shrugs and staggers from bar)
drunk: Where's a —man's room?
{He exits)
woman downtown {To king): Ah, now, seats at the bar, two adjoining.
Will you be my escort? An unescorted lady is not allowed at the bar.
king: Si. Con mucho gusto. Sit down, please. Charlie's opened my
beer. Charlie, give the lady a drink.
woman downtown: Thank you but my 'special' drink was already
provided. Strong drinks aren't good in hot weather, overheat you
internally. Even in a cool room I'm conscious of heat outside. People
bring it in the room with them, like —little moons of perspiration
under the armpits.
king {Embarassed): I took a shower and put on a clean white shirt just
before I come downtown, but the shirt's already stickin' to me. I ain't
crowdin' you, am I?
woman downtown: Oh, no. Am I crowding you? I find it hard to
63 keep a completely vertical position when so tired. . . {She is leaning
against his shoulder. Removes atomizer from evening bag) This is a
cooling little imported fragrance, Vol de Nuit, translates to Night
Flight. Everything translates to something when your head's full of
tongues, you know.
charlie:  Sure you don't want some rest?
woman downtown: I am resting comfortably, but I must keep an eye
out for that rental limousine.
charlie: How is Pearla, King?
king: Charlie, it's pronounced 'Perla', like in a pear, not 'Pearla' like in
a pearl.
(The four mariachis complete a song. The oldest one calls out to
julio : Come up and do a solo, King.
king: Is that a test you give me? Okay, challenge — accepted!
{He rises to join them. The woman downtown clutches his arm)
woman downtown {An urgent whisper, glancing fearfully at crew-cut
by the door): Don't leave me, please! Stay with me!
king: I do a song for you, special! Ha! First performance since San
Antonel And without La Nina?
mariachi:  La Nina esta en Chicago?
king: You bet La Nina is burning up Chicago! In at a spot called The
Pump Room —
woman downtown {Rising): Please! Later! Sing later!
king (Not understanding her agitation): But I sing for you. Hombres,
para la Senorita! {To woman downtown) Que cancion le gustarfa
escuchar, Senorita? What song you like, lady?
woman downtown: Any, any will do!
king: Volver.
{The mariachis begin a ranchero: sensual rhythm, king sings solo, his
look remaining on the woman downtown)
crew-cut: Car for the lady at the bar!
woman downtown (Desperate, involuntary cry): My car! (She rushes
dizzily toward the exit and stumbles, king rushes to help her to her
feet.) Thanks, see you don't leave! (king remains, bewildered, by the
door, crew-cut and charlie may exchange significant glances or
64 signs. After a few loud moments, she rushes wildly back in.) A cab,
same cab, same monster grinning at me, I swear! / demand—(She collapses to her knees, crew-cut stares impeturbably ahead: charlie lifts
the bar phone, king rushes to lift the woman downtown)
king (Softly): What's the trouble, tell me, what's the trouble! (She sobs,
unable to speak, king turns to charlie) She stay in hotel?
charlie:  Don't get involved — I call the doctor?
woman downtown:  Nooo!
king:  Whatcha mean? 'Not involved,' huh?
charlie: She's mental: under surveillance.
(griffin has entered from lounge)
king:  Lady? Lady?
woman downtown {To king): Please, help me upstairs, Penthouse
B! — I need seclusion and rest. . .
(king supports her gently offstage)
griffin (To crew-cut): Follow! {To mariachis) Music, music!
(crew-cut/oWou;5 rapidly upstage and off. mariachis resume)
(The Lounge Is Dimmed Out)
scene 2
The set is a sketchy evocation of the bedroom of Penthouse B, parlor
entrance at left.
woman downtown (To king still in parlor): I suppose you think I'd
gone crazy down there, isn't that what you think? (king appears in the
doorway; regards her with a slightly apprehensive reserve) Lock that
hall door, bolt it, I think they called their 'doctor'! —That elevator
hasn't gone down, I haven't heard the elevator door close! Did you
notice the young man with close-cropped hair who came all the way
up here, carefully ignoring my pretense of being unable to stand
unsupported? Would you, while I get some glasses out of the little ice-
chest, slip quietly into the corridor and see if he's hanging around
king: Aw, him, he asked my name as we come up here.
woman downtown: Didn't give it, did you?
king: Naw, naw, if a guy has a friendly attitude and he asked my name
65 or he's got some reason to ask like I was witness to a car crash, I'll give
my name, but —
woman downtown: Quick, please check the corridor for crew-cut who
dogs my steps every step I take outside this Penthouse B! Quickly,
quietly. Don't be alarmed, I'm not demented.
(king sets chair behind her)
king: Estate, estate quieto —un momento. (He exits. She waits tensely
till he returns) Tienes razon.
woman downtown:  Out there, was he?
king: Leanin' against wall, scribbling in a notebook, he snapped it
shut when he seen me, give me a hard look and got in the elevator.
woman downtown: And at last I hear its descent with him in it, I trust.
king:  So why don't you sit down and catch your breath in this chair?
woman downtown {Distractedly): Chair?
king:  I put it right here for you.
woman downtown: Ah. . . thoughtful, but when I'm disturbed I have
to stay on my feet and keep occupied with — ice bucket, drinks?
king:  Leave that to me, you sit down before you —
woman downtown: Fall down?
king:  In that beautiful dress.
woman downtown: Did you think I'd flipped out in the lounge?
king: What I think or don't think, does it matter?
woman downtown:  Yes. Very much.
king:  Why?
woman downtown: You are actually the only person I've encountered
at the — Paradise — Rose? — who strikes me as being a person I could
appeal to for assistance, now that— {Runs out of breath)
king {Pressing gently down on her shoulders to seat her in chair): This
hotel, what was that y'called it?
woman downtown: I hope you put the word 'hotel' in quotes.
king:  In?
woman downtown: Quotes —sorry. I keep forgetting your native language is Spanish. You're Mexican, aren't you?
king: Don't let that scare you. Some people, y'know, they think all
Mexicans are criminals like, like rapists, y'know, like — rapists.
66 woman downtown :  Ridiculous—misapprehension.
king: I was born close to the border but I'm a Texan —My Mother tole
me my father was a gringo but his name was Spanish—Del Rey—Oh,
I brought your coat and bag up.
woman downtown:  Gracias.
king {Handing bag to her): You better check the bag to make sure the
cash is still in it.
woman downtown: There was nothing much in it but money.
king: And money means nothing to you.
woman downtown: Nothing compared to some documents which
I — {She stops, uncertain whether she can go into subject of
"documents" even with this charmingly ingenuous man. She thinks
that it might be wiser to change the subject till she knows him better)
Didn't you say you were going to serve as bartender at the little bar? A
Margarita? Or a Tequila Sunrise?
king: For me—the limit is beer.
woman downtown: I think you mean I was loaded in the lounge.
king:  I didn't say you was. I, I —got no —opinion.
woman downtown: My drink was loaded, I wasn't.
king: Y'say your drinks was loaded. By Charlie the barman?
woman downtown: Who else mixes drinks down there but Fatso at the
bar: Charlie the barman is he? — Let me remove the luggage from the
bed. I mean would you. I'm still in a shocked condition. The news
about my guardian Judge Collister's very suspiciously sudden
hospitalization and on the critical list at —New Meadows —New—
Medical —
king:  I got the luggage off: you rest on the bed.
woman downtown: Oh Lord, how I do long to! It wouldn't embarass
you if I —you wouldn't misinterpret it as a —provocation?
king: No, I —don't—take advantage of—ladies. . . (His voice is hoarse
with conflicting impulses; a Vuitton suitcase falls from his nervous
fingers, spilling its contents—delicate lingerie, a leopard skin coat, an
ermine jacket, etc.) Perdonome, one arm, one hand, the
fingers—still —don't operate right, I— (She has gasped and
immediately snatched up some photostatic papers among the spilled
articles) — specially when I'm — Did, did — anything break?
woman downtown: Papers don't break— (They have bent together,
she for the documents, he for the delicate lingerie. They straighten
67 simultaneously, faces nearly touching. She is searching his eyes; is
abruptly convinced of his total honesty. He notices he has picked up a
pair of lace panties; drops them like a hot coal. She shrieks with
laughter of released tension) My God, but you Latins do have an
instinct for the most intimate bits of apparel! —Oh, I've made you
king: Me? No, I'm —I didn't —notice, I —(His embarrassment,
frustration, and their betrayal, anger him: he suddenly takes a
commanding tone) Set back down on the bed!—I put it in the box for
woman downtown (Suddenly serious, she touches his face as you might
a child's): I shouldn't have laughed. You Latin men don't understand women's laughter.
king:  You think I'm buffoon, payaso? A clown?
woman   downtown:  Oh   please   no.   It   was   a   release   of  tension.
Comprende? I realized all at once that I could trust you completely.
(A moment between them) — May I, just to make up?
(She gives him a quick, light kiss. Clearly she has now decided that
intimacy will secure him as a confederate)
king:  Why don't you just stay on the bed.
woman downtown: I'd fall asleep and who knows what I'd dream? You
see, my memory's still scrambled like —eggs ranchero. . .
king:   —Huevos rancheros, huh?
woman downtown: That's right, hombre. Exactly like huevos rancheros, good for breakfast, but not for—recollection. . .
king: I like 'em for a late supper when I can't sleep, yeah, with pepper
sauce, tabasco.
woman downtown: Oh, you like that, do you? I have Mcllhenny's
tabasco on my little bar here. Why don't you call room service and
ask for two orders of huevos rancheros? Room service is the one thing
that I can always get on that phone.
king: You —serious?
(He is now crouched by the bed, folding the delicate lingerie very
neatly and tenderly into the suitcase. There is a knock at the door.
She catches her breath softly)
woman downtown (In a whisper): Must be their doctor. Did you bolt
the door? (He nods) Call through it and tell them I won't see him,
don't don't admit that imposter!
(king crosses rapidly out)
68 king (Offstage): The lady is all right now, don't need to see you. (Sound
of muffled protest) I told you she won't see you so get lost!
woman downtown :  Thank you — oh God thank you.
king: Por nada—Recogese en su cama. No hay peligro conmigo—There
is no danger with me. Now I call room service. (She sinks, sobbing
voluptuously, onto the bed. He lifts the phone but stares at the woman as she slowly, sensually writhes on the bed's surface. Startled)
Oh, yes, please, room service! (To woman downtown, hoarsely
through dry lips) Now I am calling room service —they are ringing
room service —Hey, Juan, que tal, si, Rey! Escucha! Queremos dos
platos de huevos rancheros, Chico, para —What is your name, Miss?
woman downtown (Sitting up slowly to face him): That I can't give
you. (Smiles slowly, sadly) Call me the Woman Downtown —
king (His eyes lingering on her): I'll just say for Pentouse B —Para
Penthouse B. Ha? Cierra la boca — you fink. You wanta tell Perla?
You wanta be dead tomorrow? (He cradles the phone. The woman
downtown sits tensely at foot of bed. To lighten it up.) He says to me,
musta been up with room service, he says you're in the Penthouse with
the classy—
woman downtown :   — Classy what?
king:  Some a these spicks, y'know, they got a —
woman downtown:  Classy what? Papaya? Oh I am flattered you know.
king:  As, some a the, y'know, they got a —boca grocera. . .
(He looks away, blushing. Pause: She kicks off her high heeled
slippers and falls onto the edge of the bed. Pause: She spreads her legs
woman downtown:   — Papaya is the name of a tropical fruit.
king:   — Hmm —yes. . .
woman downtown : And is also an idiomatic expression for a woman's —
well, you know —
king: Where do you learn such things!?
(She rolls slowly onto her stomach and presses a button on the bedside
table. The mariachis are piped in)
woman downtown: Oh let's say that I was once the prisoner of a man
who was hung up on that kind of language. I was forced to listen to
69 those words over and over to —achieve his —erection. There's your
Mariachis. What's the song?
king (Hoarsely):   — Mujer.
woman downtown: Just'Woman', huh?
king: Yeah. Ain't that enough?
woman downtown:   — Alone? — No — Would you say so?
(He rises, a hand unconsciously touching the fly of his pants)
king:  No. Alone is —
woman downtown: Sometimes lonely.
king: You are gonna wrinkle that — elegant dress you got on. . .
woman downtown:  I don't want to do that.
king: Then would you —
woman downtown: —Like to remove it? Yes. It was given me by a
General's wife. The skin of the Orientals is very delicate skin. She
couldn't bear zippers on dresses, in fact she could wear only silk, she
came of Mandarin, ancient Mandarin —lineage. She was utterly
barbaric in her instincts. Loved watching decapitations through
binoculars from a mound of silk cushions in the cupola on the roof of
the palace. (He has now slipped off her silk sheath and he looks down
in humble awe at her delicate body in its silk lingerie) I feel rather
chilly. Do you?
king:   I got the, the elegant dress off you.
woman downtown: That must be why I noticed a change in the
temperature of the room.
king:   —Do you enjoy a —good back-rub?
(She laughs abruptly. Knock at door)
woman downtown:   The Huevos Rancheros.
king: Should I tell 'em to forget it?
woman downtown: We might be hungry—later.
king (Reluctantly): —Yeah —yeah. . . (He crosses off. Inaudible voices
in living room. After a few moments king reenters the bedroom
pushing a room service table on wheels. Nervously:) They got tin covers
over the —Huevos Rancheros and the plates are —hot. . .so no
hurry. . .
woman downtown: We are all of us hurrying to the same place. So
what's the hurry?
70 (She stands still, smiling trembling. He takes a faltering step toward
king :   — Con Permiso ?
woman downtown:   — I do think you'd better!
(He embraces her. She loses her breath and writhes involuntarily)
king: Por favor! Hold still!
(She breaks away from him. He is utterly baffled)
woman downtown :  You — you — hu — hu —
king: What are you trying to say?
woman downtown (Throwing her head back): Human!
king:   —Oh —'Human' —Yes, I'm —
woman downtown ( With same strange intensity): Human!
king (Clasping her desperate head between his hands): You say 'human'
to me like something special about me. A living man is —
woman downtown: Yes! Human! To enter my life something human is
special, this day, this night, this place, suddenly—you — human!
Here! What? (Gasps) I am back there inhuman. Behind estate walls of
my husband's hacienda where I play hostess to Red Devil Battery
Monsters. Great tall prison walls, guarded, oh, yes, private deputies
guarded with revolvers the entrance, the gates had a guard house and
were slid open and shut by electric-eye power, operated by power,
and all the grounds were patrolled by —sport clothes for day and
dinner jackets at night —guards guarded, they had such short friendly
names, Pat, Bill, Ray and their, oh, their smiles at the gates and in
the guardhouse and along the long drive, their smiles and their
laughs and their shouts, it was not at all like the atmosphere of—San
Quentin, but —I was—hostess to — monsters! — The guests were not —
distinguishable from the guards, the guards were not — distinguishable
from the guests, the guests and the guards shouted short names to
each other with the same smiles, Hey, Pat, Bill, Ray, Hiyah, Hi, Hi,
Hiyah. Credentials presented at guardhouse, then the hell of the
hollering. Come awn in here, Hi ah yuh, hi, hi, hiyah, come in here,
you folks drive right on in, and a dog pack, there was also a dog pack,
and the dog pack all smiled too. It was all one big hell-hollering death
grin. 'Wanta drink now or afta you been to your guest house?
Anything you want dial zero for service, you heah? Wonderful to see
you lookin' so well; he-11111! Ye-111111' Oh, they trusted me to take their
attache cases with the payola and the secrets in code, and why not?
Wasn't I perfectly NOT Human, tool\
71 king: Cellmate! (He rushes to catch hold of her: lifts her and bears her
to the bed and places her carefully on it) Calmate! You are out of that
prison! Ca/ma^e/Nowbestill, we're —human —together. . .
(Dim Out. mariachis)
scene 3
A while later. Penthouse bedroom. They are both stretched out on bed.
king:   —Sleeping?
woman downtown:  No, of course not.
king: Tired out?
woman downtown:  No.
king: All those — cries.. .
woman downtown:  I didn't hear any cries.
king:  I did. So I stopped.
woman downtown:  Cries like something coming to life?
king:  I think you —exaggerate.
woman downtown:  But I heard nothing at all. Just felt.
king:  —What?
woman downtown: —Coming to life (Pause) — Afterwards, what do
you do?
king:  What you want to do?
woman downtown: Rest. Beside you. I did a lot of talking before the —
ecstatic outcries. Now you talk. Your turn.
king:  About what?
woman downtown: Your life, you —music. . .
king: Yes. . .well. Mariachis. They gotta history to them goes back a
long way. Before Maximilian—the Frenchman Napoleon sent us to
be king. And in those days they played at marriages so they got them
the French word manages mispronounced to 'mariachis'. But then
after Maximilian — we shot him! — and his wife Carlotta, she —
woman downtown: Went crying in the night through the palaces of
king:  Yeah. Well then they become just mariachis that play in streets
72 and in cantinas. But we —we went a step better. We played in hotel
lounges. Mainly I think because of La Nina —
woman downtown:  Means little girl.
king: My daughter was called La Nina. After she started work with
us —you want to hear this? You're not just faking some interest?
woman downtown: I want to hear everything, please, please, I don't
(He sits up)
king (Sitting on bedside): After La Nina started work with us, it wasn't
just 'King's Men', it was 'King's Men with La Nina', and, honey, La
Nina was so goddam terrific that after a month of singing with the
vocal trio, she was singing solo and she was dancing a flamenco
better'n a gypsy fireball! (Fade in mariachis under his speech now)
In San Antone we played in The Ranchero Room of the big new
hotel there, The Sheraton Lone Star, on the riverbank, y'know, in the
heart of the city, and oh, man, they booked reservations for dinner
five, six hours ahead or got no table. Outside that San Antone hotel,
at the main entrance to it, La Nina's photo was blown up in color life-
size, La Nina was the Star!
woman downtown (Stirring sensually so that her breasts are uncovered):
I think she was just the daughter of the star. Tell me why you don't go
back with 'King's Men' and your Neen-ya. Tell me.
king: Okay, I'll tell you straight. An accident — accident? Yeh, I guess
you'd say 'accident' of it —This crazy accident happened —one week
after we got a real name manager that was getting us gigs that
would've made us hot as anything in the South. He said, 'You start in
The Hotel Reforma, the big one in Mexico City.' 'Man,' I said, 'Oh ,
man, you got to be kidding — Reforma!!' —'Never tell me I'm
kidding, it's not my profession to kid, I'm delivering the Reforma, to
you, King. I'm booking you there for the summer, all of it, you can
hold there all summer, and in the fall, well, on the roof of The Hotel
Raleigh in Houston. Then. I think you ought to hit the Coast, then,
at a spot like the Beverly Wilshire. Say, middle of November through
the holidays.' (suddenly boyish) And he, my manager, he —he —criticized how I dressed, he said, 'Look, dude, you're not an old dude!'
— A wonderful thing to make a man believe. 'Not old, and—still—
appealing,' —I thought, 'Yes, older women.' I said, 'Yes, older
women.' —He said, 'No, all women, because you are a big man with
—' (Shyness makes him abrubtly silent) So I changed—outfits to suit
him and—appeal to— (Stops, embarrassed)
woman dowtown: Women.
73 king: Yes. I did. And then—this goddam crazy thing happened. It
happened that night at The Sheraton Lone Star in San Antone. We
just finished a set and started to leave the bandstand, and I felt a
stab in my head, I stumbled off the bandstand, fell on my face,
blacked out. They broke some kinda capsule —
woman downtown:  Oh, a popper. . .
king: —under my nose but I —didn't get up. Well, they found this —
accident —in my head.
woman downtown (Sitting up slowly): Found?
king: A thing that happens to a man like that should have meaning,
not be just an awful accident to him. Accidents don't have meaning.
And yet, y'know most of the things that happen to people are
accidents. You know that? Meaningless accidents? To them?
woman downtown: Yes, even birth and death, but love is not an
king:  Ain't it? Are you sure? (She laughs richly, triumphantly) Huh?
woman downtown:  It seemed more like... an act of God to me. . .
(She strokes his head: she abruptly catches a soft breath and leans
over him)
king:   —I know. You just noticed the — scar.
woman downtown: And is that the accident that you were talking
about? A scar from. . .
king: Surgery, yes, a —surgical scar. (She rises from the bed. Her shock
impels her to suddenly reach for a drink) Thank you for a nice
woman downtown:   What?
king: Have you got the time?
woman downtown: More time than a clock can hold, so don't think about
king: I can't miss the last bus home. It wouldn't please my wife. And I
got to please my wife because like you see, well, I am not working now.
I am my wife, Perla's dependent, her —invalid dependent and if I
don't get home at night, she would hit the ceiling.
woman downtown: Good. It would knock her unconscious.
king: Don't talk like that, she is a hard-working woman. Now I got a
serious request to make of you. Don't drink no more in bed.
74 woman downtown: Don't deny me that comfort. I learned to do it to
obliterate experience but this night it's to hold in closer a while.
king: There's no future in it. No. I take that back, there is a future in
it and it's a bitch of a future. Want to hear what a bitch of a future it
woman downtown:  No, love, not tonight.
(He grabs the drink from her hand)
king: This much I will tell you. You drink in bed for experience and
you'll wind up not a lady with some bad words in her head and some
habits that don't fit a lady like, like screaming and clawing in
bed —How do I explain these marks you put on me, tell Perla I was in
bed with a wild cat tonight?
woman downtown: No, with a she-wolf! —And no matter how I wind
up in the future, still. . . (She extends her bare arms to him) I would
have known you, I would have lain with a king on a king-size bed.
(Her arms extended, she grabs hold of him and draws him close
king:   — You know —
woman downtown:  Yes, I know! I have known you!
king:  Love, lady, let go, I do, I do got to go, I —can't not — go —
woman downtown: You demand your release? Demand is granted! I
relinquish you to the last bus home! And the lady that clocks you!
(She cries this out as if she had been given a death sentence. He
touches his head—shakes it)
king: I think you got something in you that is wild like flamenco, you
got something in you like my kid in Chicago — a heart on fire!
woman downtown: And you don't want to get burned in addition to
getting those marks of the she-wolf on you? The episode is completed,
not just for this night, but always? Or would it be heard in heaven if
I offered a prayer that you'll be back tomorrow?
king: I don't know about what is heard in heaven or not—but tell me,
Miss Downtown Woman—what hotel are you in?
woman downtown: Answer my question first.
king:  I will be back tomorrow.
(Fade in the mariachis softly)
woman downtown: —Then the hotel I am in is the right one for the
first time!
75 (He stares at her from the door. Her eyes drop shut with a deep sigh of
content and still he stands looking longingly back as—)
(The Room Dims Out)
Scene 4
The interior and exterior of a small frame house on the outskirts of the
city. The exterior is the backyard. In it are two metal chairs. The
interior contains kitchen, sitting room area. It seems as if the house has
drawn in upon itself for protection from the menacing profile of the
city, and here is where a visual poetry must be present. Sounds of the
Wasteland. A wolf-cry. Calls. Perhaps we see figures watching,
menacing, king is lighted as he walks slowly into set. He sits in one of the
metal yard chairs. Across the Wasteland stand, in miniature silhouette,
the towers of downtown Dallas, perla is at the kitchen table, waiting up
for king: she is a small woman, about king's age but appearing a good
Wasteland, accustomed as it is, makes her gasp and set the cup down
—since his illness has made him dependent on her. A disturbance in the
Wasteland, accustomed as it is, makes her gasp and set the cup down
with a crash. A primitive cry, much nearer, answers the explosion.
Other cries answer, perla rises and goes to the door.
perla: Stay back or I call police!
(wolf calls. Another distant explosion, king lights a cigarette in the
yard, perla crosses to the phone, king listens to the phone call. A
ringing is heard persistently and another area of the stage is slowly
lighted, la nina is lighted, shivering in the chill of rising from love-
making, mccabe is just visible.)
la nina: Si, Mama, que pasa? (Her voice is harsh and mocking. She is a
girl of nineteen, but desperation has aged her and she is disheveled
from 'the bed'. Still harshly) —Well, Mama, have you hung up? —I
didn't hear the phone click: —Are you still on the line? What a
difference in you, this silence; not shouting at me!
perla (Slowly and fiercely): There are whores at the hotel where I work
as housekeeper, but I do not talk to them except to say 'Can the maid
come in to make up the bed now or is the man still with you?' (la nina
utters a wild flamenco cry of defiance, mccabe extends a hand toward
her as if to restrain her) I got to whisper or your father will hear. Or else I
would scream at you, Puta!
la nina (A bruptly soft):   — Mama. How is he?
perla:   Outside in the yard.
76 (king has risen from the chair and listens just out of the interior light.
mccabe is also listening in opposite set)
la nina:  Call him to the phone.
perla:  He is not home.
la nina:  You said he was in the yard.
king (A dvancing into lighted interior): I am not in the yard.
la nina:  I hear his voice! King, King!
(perla makes a gesture of hanging up the phone.)
king:  Call her back.
perla:   —Who?
king:  La Nina. I heard her shouting my name.
perla:   —King, you have dreams.
king: Live on them, yes. She called me. Call her back. What is the
number? I will call her myself.
perla: You think I was talking to her? Every two weeks a new address
and a new — address....
king: You lie.
perla: You dream.
king:  Mierda!
perla: You're sweating. Fever? (Touches his head: he strikes her hand
king: You're always suggesting I'm still sick in the head, you suci
(He jerks open Frigidaire door: searches for beer. Both the Chicago
and Dallas room remain lighted and neither scene freezes for the
king (Throwing things out of box): Too stingy to keep a beer in the
Frigidaire? (perla has thrust a can of beer removed from shelf at
king) Hot beer? Muchas Gracias!
(Tosses it into corner. She picks it up and pours it over ice cubes.
mccabe rises with a thwarted, anguished, choked sob. Poster of la
nina, her hand on the poster and her imploring cry)
la nina: King!
(Poster should remain lighted through the hallucinatory duet with
her father)
77 king (To perla): In your purse this week was an envelope empty, empty
envelope dated five days ago and from Chicago and it was not
addressed here. Why? Huh? You got secrets from me about my
daughter? A secret — correspondence between you and her that you
don't want me to know?
perla: When she writes home she lies. I tell her to write me the truth,
one woman to another—Why did you look in my purse?
king: Because I steal from your purse! Si, Si, your purse is too tight so I
take the price of two beers! Sometimes, excuse me, I take a little more
to buy in a card game! Look, you want me to be like a beggar in front
of the men at The Yellow Rose, not able to play a game of cards
between sets there, not able to buy a beer and tip Charlie the
perla (Shamed): What I have is yours. . . Lo que tengo es tuyo, Dios.
Sabe. (She presses her face to his shoulder) Oh, my God, I'm so tired.
king: Then why don't you go to bed?
perla:   — I smell perfume on you, a woman's perfume.
king: Oh-ho, that. A drunk woman at the bar took out a spray bottle
and —sprayed me. (Deceptively quiet) Be careful what you say to me.
perla: You don't want to go to bed with me because you got a woman
downtown, I think.
king:  Mierda.
perla: I sit up for you nights, but when you come home you don't come
in the house if the light is still on but you sit in the yard. Why? To
look at the dump-heap, at Crestview-by-the-dump-Heap in which we
sunk our life savings? Till half an hour after I turn the light out? I say
nothing, but I think, I feel, I'm a woman and I — love you.
king: Things will work out soon. You're a brave woman. Tonight? I got
up on the bandstand with the men and I—sang! And there was
applause almost like there was before. Soon I will send for La Nina
and we will hit the road again. Remember her voice and mine
together. Los duetos?
(la nina is lighted again, spectrally, downstage. He crosses to her and
they sing together—a love song. The spot goes out and he returns to the
perla: Si, recuerdo. Love songs, between father and daughter. Not
natural, not right — Let's go to bed and—fight tomorrow.
king: You go to bed, you get up early, need sleep. I want a cold beer.
78 perla: Todas, todas, las noches siempre, siempre lo mismo! Go to bed
king: Yes, I'm no good. (Their eyes blaze at each other. Then he turns
to snatch a beer. She turns away and walks wearily off. When she is
out of the light, he places the beer can back on the table. The anger goes
out of his eyes. He bends his head to sniff at his shirt) —Night—flight
Scene 1
A dull explosion at a great distance. Sounds of the Wasteland. Cries. A
clouded flare. Fade out as the mariachi music is brought up and the
lounge is lighted, and the woman downtown enters that area slowly:
Crosses to the bar. At the bar is a clutch of conventioneers in a huddle,
talking rapidly in low voices, all wearing conical hats of red tinfoil with
the Red Devil insignia on them. It is a month later. The woman
downtown has a light cape or stole about her shoulders, indicating a
cooler season.
woman downtown: Mr. Barman, are you sure you haven't received
any word from Mr. Del Rey, he's half an hour later than I expected.
charlie: Maybe he's been delayed by family problems.
(This interchange catches the attention of the conventioneers. They
come out of their huddle to stare up at the woman downtown.
Inadvertently, as she suddenly notices the insignia on their paper caps,
she gives a little gasping cry)
woman downtown:   —Oh, Batteries, huh?
oti^. (Grinning lasciviously):  You wouldn't be Mabel, would you?
two (Trying to stand): Is this Miss Mabel Dickens?
woman downtown: —I'm sorry to —disappoint you, but I am not
'Mabel.' Is the Red Devil Battery Company convening here? I beg
your pardon for interrupting your festivities. Battery Red Devil! What
cunning caps, I mean, cute like children's at Halloween. Will all
attending the battery convention allow me to offer you —Mr.
Barman, champagne for the gentlemen of the Battery Convention
and make sure it's imported. Battery men? —Yes, imported! The best!
And now please call Mr. Del Rey's home, I have the number, tell him to
take a taxi: I'll meet him at the entrance with the fare. But, if a woman
answers —
charlie: His wife, Perla?
woman downtown (Defiantly): Then just say that his men are having
a birthday party and the candles can't be lighted till he gets here.
(king enters the lighted area. The mariachis go into a jubilant
ranchero to greet him. He turns to the woman downtown as she
crosses to him. She seizes his belt clasp and draws him to her)
woman downtown (In his ear): We're honored tonight by the presence
80 of a convention of Battery men, my husband's closed in on me with —
henchmen! — and you're an hour late!
king: You're surrounded by me. I told you I'd be later because it was
Perla's late work day, and supper would be later.
woman downtown:  Supper, Perla come first and I wait for a bus!??
julio: Come up and do a solo, King.
king: No, no, Mas tarde. Perla can't understand that I come downtown
ev'ry night, she sniffs at my clothes when I come home, sniffs them
like a dog for your perfume.
woman downtown: Basta, basta, comprendo. . . (Drinks) Another, please.
Have a beer.
(He doesn't move. She crosses to the bar for the drinks and brings
them to him. She hands him the beer can and it slips from his hand.
He looks, troubled, at his empty hand for a moment, then shrugs with
a wry grin and picks up the can.
king:  You don't drink down here, remember?
(She surrenders the cocktail to him and he empties it on the floor)
woman downtown: Yes, yes I —remember. Please King, let's go upstairs . I have to talk to you. URGENTE!
(His attention is abruptly diverted by the appearance of a swarthily
handsome young man, slick-haired, cat-like, leaping onto a platform
above the mariachis and at once beginning a fierce, sexually
aggressive crescendo on drums, king stares for a moment in frozen
outrage. Then he crosses slowly menacingly, to the stand. The
mariachis avert their faces, shamed)
king: Julio! (The oldest mariachi descends from the stand and places a
hand—propitiatory—on king's shoulder: king strikes it away. His
speech should be interspersed with Spanish expletives) What is this?
Dios mio, this gato? A drummer with Mariachis? (The small, grizzle-
haired man spreads his arms wide in a gesture of helplessness) Look!
He stands shoving his crotch at —
julio:  The manager insisted. Yo no se porque.
king (With desperate assertion of command): Management is me! Shit,
I picked you all from little spick casinos, I build you to an outfit, King's
Men, mine! Booked into Reforma, Me-hico, top-spot, Raleigh,
Houston, Beverly-Wilshire, L.A.! Made, gave La Nina to star in East
Ambassador Pump Room! And you spring on me a maricon in skintight  satin  pants,   standing,  jerking  his  crotch,   and  say  to  me
81 'Management insist'. Eschuche me!Management, me, insist OUT! Or
am I OUT, have you counted me out now?
(The woman downtown holds him tight: he wrests himself free of her
arms. At this point, king and julio shout together. A scene of
julio: Rey! King! We wait! But got to continue job here. Continue in
Yellow Rose Lounge till you —
king:  I put you here.
julio:  Lo es. But —
king: What?
julio: We got to work till we know.
king: Know what?
julio:  If you come back or you don't, if La Nina comes back or not.
king: Why do you ask if I come back with La Ninia? (julio shrugs,
embarrassed, king turns downstage) How can I keep control when I'm
not active? Things slip out of my hand: Bring the Manager here!
charlie:  He's—off!
(king shouts to barman)
king:  Charlie! Get me the desk!
julio:  King, why fight them now?
(The barman picks up the phone, king shoves julio away from him,
leaps onto the platform and hurls the drummer off it: the drummer
lands nimbly on his feet with the smile of a cat, turns and grins at the
king (To drummer):  Git the fuck out of here, you maricon!
(drummer goes off, laughing, woman downtown draws king onto the
stage apron)
woman downtown: Now, now, love, you're sweating blood over nothing. He's gone, you threw him out and he's out! —May I request a
king (Darkly):  —Si. . .
woman downtown: Julio! (Calling to mariachis) Mujer!
(They start immediately with the requested number, king is still
breathing heavily. He moves a step and staggers, grips her shoulders)
king:   —Yes... I   was — ha!—lost — balance. . .    (Turning   downstage
82 again to appeal his case) They know it was—benign —small growth,
en-capsul —ated. . .Just lifted right off the surface, like picking a
—weed. (She kisses him. Turning to her) No, no, wait till upstairs.
Hombres! Besenme mucho para darme suerte. (king stares raptly:
rubs eyes) La Nina!
woman downtown :   Que pasa?
king: Singing, dancing! No —a —vision. . . (Tries to laugh, rubs his
eyes) Shouldn't have called that number. . .
woman downtown (Sobered with concern): Let's go upstairs.
king: You go on up from the lobby. I'll take the back elevator, (woman
downtown crosses unsteadily out of the light. The mariachis are
brought up. king crosses to them and shouts over the music)
Muchachos! Mariana! La Nina comes home. Kid's coming home from
Chicago! Tomorrow! How about that? (They respond with a jubilant
"Ranchero". king turns downstage and shouts—) Now we're living,
Hombres! Sing it! La Nina tomorrow! (Turns to mariachis) And
today, this morning, I had my one-year check-up! The waiting
period's over! Recovery is perfect! Doctor's sworn word today! Yeh, life
is God, and good! — I'll see you all later. . .
(The manager returns with the grinning drummer)
griffin: Julio!— This drummer stays if you stay!
(drummer springs nimbly onto the platform with his drums)
julio :  King says no.
griffin: The president of the chain says yes.
julio:   —Why?
griffin (Contemptuously): You don't ask president why. You know
why. Somebody's money! Battery money. A lot!
(The drummer begins: builds to a crescendo as the forestage dims
out. The crescendo continues through the set change: then halts
Scene 2
The Penthouse bedroom of the Yellow Rose Hotel. The woman downtown enters with a vase of yellow roses, king is behind her as she enters
bedroom. He follows her, her eyes distant with brooding on the scene in
the lounge.
83 woman downtown (To king): You're still furious. Why don't you leave
it downstairs where it happened?
king:  It didn't happen to you.
woman downtown: What you feel I feel, I know what you feel and I
feel it.
(She laughs, then loosens her shoulder strap)
king: —Don't strip now. It makes you like a stripper in Vegas. D'you
take me for a pick-up, a stud, after all the — what?
woman downtown:   — What?
(There is a shocked look between them)
king:  I got a cyclone in my head. You feel that, too?
woman downtown:  I feel it blowing down walls.
king: You, you —haul me up here and I might as well enter the room
of a hotel hooker—no name, no past, no future, a smell of liquor on
your breath and peppermint Chicklets to take it off or sweeten it for
tongue-kissing and a spray bottle of—
woman downtown:   Vol de Nuit, night flight from —
(She cries out and throws herself onto the bed)
king: Stay off the bed. Sit in the chair. Sit in it! (She crosses to it and
stands helplessly by it) Sit in it, Downtown Woman!
woman downtown: You never called me that.
king:  You called yourself that.
woman downtown: You never did till just now, and in an ugly way, too.
King, please let tonight be lovely. There's a reason.
(His look turns abstracted)
king: —There is —no limit to time —but for us, there's a limit, a short
woman downtown (Springing up): I won't I refuse to take part in this
scene —you've drawn up in your confused head.
king: —'Confused head'? You never said that to me before. So this is a
night for saying things the first time?
woman downtown:  I meant only the disturbance downstairs!
king: You said confused head!
woman downtown: Who in hell on earth doesn't have a confused head
84 (Music o/mariachis, quadraphonic, distorted)
king:  I stumbled. The beer can slipped from my fingers.
woman downtown: What of it? I drop glasses, spill drinks, stumble,
king: When drunk, I wasn't drunk. And you didn't even notice.
woman downtown: I told you I did, I noticed. Why, I've spent years,
years noticing, seeming not but noticing, hearing or over-hearing,
sensing, suspecting, pretending to ignore with a constant well-
practiced smile, but —always alert like a hunted thing in the woods,
preparing to run, run—with a pack at my heels.
king: You know how to talk. Stay off the bed and talk.
woman downtown: Suppose I have nothing to tell you I haven't told
you in bed?
king: Tell me what makes you a woman that can't give her name?
woman downtown: You're back to that.
king: We never got to that. Just sit there like a lady and tell me, tell me
who it is that I love and make love to.
woman downtown: You want me to give you the sort of factual
information about me that you put down on hospital record sheets or
immigration papers. A beautiful way to spend our last night together.
king:  Last night together's more bullshit. Tell me.
woman downtown: All right: specifics: till you cry hush. Father's
position? State senator. Mother? Died at my birth —oh, yes, I was told
that often, accusingly, as if I'd deliberately killed her by being born.
Birthplace? Huge ranch in West Texas. . . Isolated as madness. . . You
sing ranchero. Ever been on a big ranch? Heard these sounds at night?
(She throws back her head: imitates a wolf howl, barking of ranch-
king:  Si, si, ya basta! Go on.
woman downtown:  Wolves' howls, ranch-dogs' answer.
king: Go on without animal noises, I know them, I've known them
inside of me and outside.
woman downtown (Flinging hands to her face and rocking with desperation): I don't have breath to go on!
(king drops before her, clutching her knees)
king:  Por favor, for me —necessario, querida! The huge ranch —why?
85 woman downtown:  Had to be huge to hold secrets.
king:  Secretos? Que secretos?
woman downtown: Indian mistress, their ill-ill-legitimate child, my
half sister called Running Spring. Necessary huge ranch in those days
in West Texas to contain secrets like that in the life of a senator,
speaker of house. Apache was the language besides the wolves and the
dogs howls nights! For me? Spinster tutor all black like a widow
spider, the black beads clinking! (She is clasping his clothes, the ranch
becoming a  vision  in  her)  Hard  black  eyes —critical,   despising.
— Lessons, I couldn't — learn from her. Learned English from
leather-bound books in my father's library.
(Extends a rigid arm)
king: What are you — ?
woman downtown: Drink, please. Or let me stop now.
king (Handing her tumbler of water):  Acqui.
woman downtown: Water is not a drink, love. (He presses it to her lips
—sheswallows. He clasps her tight in his arms) SI, SI! —At twelve, first
period of—didn't know what it was, thought was afflicted —
unique disease, unmentionable. Locked myself in room three days of
period. Father dispatched me to home for disturbed children. Which
confirmed my suspicion of some shameful affliction. Escaped! —not
back to the wolf-howling ranch but to home of godfather, the Judge.
His wife explained the curse to me. (Throws her head back in silent
laugh, clutching his head to her body) Vino, vino! (He seizes wine
bottle on room-service table and she takes the open bottle from his
hand and gulps it, spewing some on their heads) — Me pesa. . .
king: Nada. Go on with—
woman downtown: But rooted in me too deep for removal the night-
howling ranch made me — straiio — extrano. . . Talked like a book full
of—secrets. . .(She is rocking his head in her arms like a child, now)
Problems followed —problems, they do that once they've started.
king: Your father, he made no effort to get you back to — ?
woman downtown: Hardly! — absence ideal  resolution of conflicts.
— Empty water, fill wine. . . (Stunned, king tosses water out of
tumbler and fills it with wine) I never saw him again except on
political newscasts.
king:  Disappeared from your life?
woman downtown: The dead do that. However —well, I belonged to
society   as   the   great   southern   statesman's   daughter—and   was
86 presented to society in the state and national capitols, both, oh, how
lavishly, as if a girl infatuated with splendor. ICE! — the smile and the
chandeliers, ICE! —learned how to move through —ICE! —Drink?
(He kisses her deeply) Ahh! —all I needed —will ever. . . —sudden collapse, crack of nerves, oh, carefully covered up. Recovery? Partial.
Enough to return to the dazzling arena. Eyes fixed on chandeliers to
keep from screaming! — worked! — it worked somehow.
king:  What you're talking about is only loneliness, all.
woman downtown: All, yes, but sufficient. —Then this apparently
perfect counterfeit of a man appeared on the unreal horizon of my
life, gallant, unbelievably handsome, acclaimed most eligible
bachelor of the year by authority VOGUE! —man already engaged in
constructing the empire of batteries called Red Devil. —Ice! (king
kisses her deep again) Si, si, amor—meant that. . .
king:   —Battery? —Man?
woman downtown: Outward was dazzling disguise of inside genocide
monster —Batteries, what a disarmingly modest title for this deadly
complex of interests, investments in oil and mineral countries South
and far southeast — energy still untapped in strategic locations! — Rey,
Rey, King, it's dangerous knowing such things. Please — forget — I
told them. Stay with your music — My life's no business of yours. . .
king:  Thenwhy—together?Nosotros? All, tell all! Dime!
woman downtown: Fuck. I'm not the oracle of Delphi or of Corona
but had access to the blue-prints, design for surrendering a
democracy to rule by power complex —blew my mind, broke through
the numbness. What I knew I'd choice to know. But you? What good
is your knowing? But, Christ, telling it helped me, forgive me
that—selfish consideration. . .
(She falls back in chair exhausted. He rises and stands above her)
king: —I think you're a little girl that's had a bad dream and run to
Papa's bed to tell him about it. . .
woman downtown: Just a —bad dream, huh?
king: Well —I believe in bad dreams. . .
(Unconsciously touches the now invisible scar on his head)
woman downtown: —There now, no more about it, I never told you
these things, let's play never heard of, forgotten.
king:  Like the scar on my head.
woman downtown: Yes,   and I,  here with you,  human,   In  Pent-
87 house B for beautiful in my life, begun one month ago when you
came in and locked the door behind you —Well? Say something!
king: I don't know how we're going to work this out but some way will
—with locked doors, God, magic — anyhow for a while.
woman downtown:  Only a while?
(He looks up as if listening to something, a reverberation, an ominous
thing, still not too close—beyond the room and the woman downtown—a thing that gives his words a meaning deeper than their surface. A distant, warning trumpet)
king: Life is only a while: Love —longer, (woman downtown smiling
and caressing him) Now, now, honey, leggo, I'm supposed to get
home early tonight.
woman downtown: Whose supposition is that?
king:  You heard of Perla, my wife.
woman downtown : Not as much as your daughter, La Nina.
king: This involves La Nina.
woman downtown (Sitting up): How?
king: I didn't tell you? She's comin' home tomorrow for a visit. I won't
be downtown tomorrow. . .
woman downtown: Neither will I, King. Not down this town, anyhow. . .
king: She's only comin' home for a short visit before she goes back to
woman downtown (Pouring herself a drink): I didn't mean I was leaving
because of her. Actually her visit is very well-timed: coincides with a
trip I'm obliged to make. Your friend Juan in the kitchen, can he be
king: Si! Amigo. Amigofiel. Porque?
woman downtown: The Judge and I have been using him as a go-between, a messenger service. Tonight under a metal cover from room
service he sent me this letter. It's from the Judge. Read it.
king (Reads with some difficulty): "Congress which otherwise would —
woman downtown (Assisting him): " — adjourn,—adjourn this weekend, will hold special session.
king:  How do you know this is from the Judge? Not fake?
88 woman downtown: Juan has called him for me frequently. From a pay
phone in town. Last night a manservant of the Judge got on Juan's
bus and passed him this. —It's not a fake, (reads) "You will
accompany me. Reservation made on Braniff Airlines Flight 68
departing for Washington D.C. 5 p.m. My car will pass service entrance at 4:15 exactly. . ."
(He looks up. Pause)
king: When?
woman downtown: Tomorrow. (He looks at her darkly) — Originals of
those photostat papers I mentioned once —remember? —have been
decoded. Judge Collister and I are taking them to the capital and I —
(She sits down very gravely and searches his face with her eyes)
king: —What you haven't said is this trip you're taking is — pelligrosa
—muy pelligrosa.
woman downtown: Dangerous yes, very yes, very— (She continues to
stare at him gravely. He takes the drink from her hand and drains it:
pours another. Returns the tumbler to her: She drinks: He drinks
again. Sound: Fireworks crackling, and horns blowing below) —Once
you said 'Time has no limit for us.'
king:  Madre de Cristo, forget it, the Judge is old, let him go! You? No.
woman downtown: No, I'm going, it's an obligation, a, a —My God, it
sounds like all hell's broken out down there! (She crosses abruptly to
the window, raises the shade, then cries out repeatedly and wildly)
His sign, his sign, the Red Devil Battery sign, grinning at me through
the window!
(Red glare pulsates in)
king (Holding her): It's just an electric sign, honey. The building is
being opened tonight by the mayor. That's all, that's —
woman downtown: All? All? Battery Empire's devil-face grinning in
at me?!
king:  Lie down, I'll —
(He rushes to lower the shade)
woman downtown: / can still see it, it pulses like blood through the
(The red glare is extinguished. She crouches sobbing on the bed. He
crosses to her. She plunges to him and starts tearing his clothes off)
king:  Now, now, love, you're —acting like a —
89 woman downtown: She-wolf? — Make love! Make love!
king: —After—all that? (She is undressing him. After a while she lets
go of him and lies back on the pillows, king huskily, shamed) I'm
sorry about that, but you know sometimes in a man it just don't
work.... (He sits on edge of bed) — I want a cigarette.
woman downtown:  I want a drink.
king:  Forget it. You don't need a drink.
(They are both frustrated and angry)
woman downtown:  I've got to have something tonight.
(She reaches for bottle)
king: Put down the bottle. (She doesn't) I don't like what you're doing,
there's no future in it.
woman downtown: Just to wash down a pill, can't swallow it dry.
king: You're going to wind up not young anymore, not beautiful, not
elegant, but —
woman downtown:  Yes, yes, Putal
king: The kind that's picked up by any stranger and banged in alleys
and back of trucks —I am —going to go home. How do I know what a
wolf-howling woman might do or not do 'cause a —invalid man
couldn't satisfy her one night out of a month.
(Abruptly tender, she sits up, breasts exposed in the dim, aqueous
woman downtown: That was awful, forgive me! It made me vicious
because I needed you so terribly this time that could be the last time.
king:  I guess a little of him was bound to rub off on you, love.
woman downtown: Moments, only moments. I turn to an animal.
(Pause. He seems away) —Am I with you or alone in space?
king:   — I think this Washington trip is —
woman downtown: I know what you think: you're right: maybe just a
gesture, and maybe —fatal. But doesn't it make a sort of dignified
monument to mark where I was, a woman without a name, inclined
to wolf-howls at night? Are you still on the bed? (He nods, silent) Just
seated beside me, not touching? (He slowly turns to look at her; then
throws himself into her arms. The room is dimmed out: Music: when
it is lighted again,   he is beside the  bed,   nearly dressed.   She is
90 watching him from the bed) You know, there's somewhere beyond,
and that time I think we went there.
king:   —Sleep, now?
woman downtown: Yes, now, quickly. This kind of exhaustion's a
comfort: all the truth and then love. (He crosses to the window and
opens the drapes) Don't!
king: I think it's daybreak. (Raises shade: the pulsing red glare: she
stares at it unblinking. Raising his right forearm and striking it with
his left palm) Battery Man, here is to you, my salute!
woman downtown: Again, for me!
king: Yeah, again, for us both!
(Scene Dims Out And Fast Curtain)
Scene 1
We see the city in profile, many windows of tall buildings are catching
the light of sunset; they are like myriad candles and they change color
during the phone conversation, turning from gold to flame and to ashes
of flame and, finally, to dark, with here and there a point of electric
light or a touch of neon. On top of the highest tower now is the only
neon sign which is visible. It is the RED DEVIL BATTERY SIGN. It
should not be consistently vivid; it should fade during episodes of the
play from which it might distract, king is seated naked to the waist, at a
small kitchen table; beside him is a standing, revolving fan: his sweat-
drenched shirt billows like a white signal of surrender before the fan
which revolves with a low humming sound. Since king was last seen, he
has suffered an accident: a gauze bandage about an inch and a half
square, neatly secured by tape, makes it apparent that he has received
an injury to his forehead. But what is most noticeable—although not
always present—are odd hesitations and mistakes in his speech and
inaccuracies in his reach for things. He may not be as mobile during the
phone talk as the woman downtown but he should remain by no means
static. . . Spot woman downtown speaking in a voice strangulated by
king: Hello? Yes?
woman downtown: King! I'm calling from hotel kitchen, Juan is
guarding the doors —can't you speak? Am I Charlie the Barman?
king: No. . . Perla meeting La Nina. At airport.
woman downtown: Had to call you even if they were there. King,
King, they've killed him! — They've killed him!
king:  Calmate calmate — Who? Killed?
woman downtown: Guardian! Judge Collister. Raided downtown
office. Shot guards, entered and killed him. Looted the files, got
decoded documents. But I'm. . .telling it backwards. King, I got this
phone call today from some anonymous caller in the Battery Empire's
legal department.
king: The call a threat?
woman downtown: Yes, threat. Anonymous voice said: I speak for
man from whom you stole documents. You make no move that's
unknown. All is monitored. So be careful if you value your. . .
king:  Life?
92 woman downtown: Yes. Life. Voice continued: This eminent, unreachable, unimpeachable man has authorized us to advise you to leave
country at once, leave continent. Go to Europe or Asia and stay there,
passport and passage provided under flase name, surrender all claim
of connection as if you had never existed in his life or you won't exist
in his life because you will not exist!
king: I think they could do that with that much money, love, because
that much money talks and when it talks there is no answer.
woman downtown: Oh, yes, it talks, money talks, not heads, not
hearts, not tongues of prophets or angels, but money does, oh money
hollers, love.
king: — I think your master of Hacienda with his battery sign and his
secrets has money enough and power enough to —obliterate all life
on earth, generals, rulers, presidents — and yours Downtown Woman—
woman downtown: —King, what's wrong with your voice, you talk so
slow and you—you —
king (Looks slowly into space): — Something happened to me today —
woman downtown:   What?
king (He is now speaking with a toneless deliberation again): — I started
to walk to a store. All of a sudden I could see two sidewalks. I took the
wrong one. (chuckles darkly) I came to in a —in a —drugstore with a
cut on my forehead— (sound: door slam) No, no, Charlie, no game
of cards tonight.
(perla appears in her black straw hat with the plastic cherries)
woman downtown:  Oh, I get it, they're home! Call me back in the bar!
king:  Yep. Maybe tomorrow.
(king hangs up the phone: woman downtown retreats into the
shadow upstage)
perla:  'Downtown Charlie' again, huh? Ev'ry time I, ev'ry night I —
king: Where's the kid, Perla?
perla: They went to pick up some stuff for supper.
king (carefully, darkly): —They, did you say 'they'? —She arrived
with the Trio?
perla:   — What's wrong with your forehead?
king: That, nothing, a —little bump. I knew something was wrong. Is
Nina married?
93 perla:  What wrong is that she ain 't.
king:  She's —going—with —some man?
perla: Yeah, and the man is married.
king:  You just said she wasn't married.
perla (shouting, shaking):  I said SHE ain't, but HE is!
king:  Oh. Separate. No. Let me—get this —straight.
perla: Yeah, do that: Try! How did you get that bump!
king:   —Bump?Oh, Nothing—important. (He grins at her savagely)
perla:  Important enough to put a bandage on you big as that?
king: We're talking on diff rent subjects. Will you stick to one?
perla: Yes. The bandage. (She reaches to touch it and he slaps her
hand violently away) AHH!
king: That is not the subject. Will you take off that goddam hat with
the fake cherries on it? An' wipe the sweat off your face, you look like
a spick chambermaid at The Yellow Rose Hotel with that shiny piece
of straw like a chocolate sundae with cherries on it! (He snatches off
the hat and rips it in two)
perla: My hat!
king: Donate it! to the dump yard! Now set down and draw a natural
breath. (She snatches at the paper and pencil) Don't snatch nothing
from me! Remember I drove a car. A Mercedes limousine, before an
accident made me your — invalid—dependent!
perla:   —King. . .
(She half-extends a hand to his head: he knocks it away)
king: Yes, I lived like a king with King's Men and drove all night
between gigs in a —limousine, not a trolley, before I became your
— invalid—dependent!
perla (Suddenly in tears): —Your mother named you Rey. When you
were a little boy they called you Reysito, the little King.
king: Exph'came, La Nina, donde. . .
perla: Attiende, callate. She's been living almost a year with a married
man in Chicago and —he's here!— Now are you satisfied with the
explanation? Be prepared for a shock — she looks like a tramp!
king: Cancelled? Out of her jobs?
perla: She ask me to go with her to the ladies' room at the airport.
94 Soon's we got in, she grabbed my arm and said, 'Mama, he's got a
pistol on him!'
king (slowly):  Looks like a tramp and is living with a — hood?
perla:  Shut up! They're coming in!
(la nina enters the kitchen area, nervously meeting the cold scrutiny
of her father. She is still beautiful but the fresh, young being which
king remembers has been lost and he regards her as if she had criminally robbed him of it now as he faces his death. During the several
beats of silence as they regard each other almost as if the scene were
frozen into a tableau, we hear the ghostly mariachis singing, just
king (Finally)'; well, kid?
LANiNA(With a sobbing catch ofbreath): Hi, Daddy.
king:  I guess you were cancelled out. Makes two.
perla:  What kind of way is that to receive your daughter?
la nina :   — How did you hurt your — ?
perla (Gestures to nina to introduce mccabe): Papa, this is Mr.
Terrence McCabe.
(Another moment of silence, mccabe deposits groceries awkwardly, shuffles forward and extends a shaky hand to king)
mccabe (In a hollow, pleading voice):  Hi, Pop.
king:   — Who the fuck is this man calling me 'Pop'?
la nina:   — Daddy, he's a — friend of— (Her voice expires)
perla:  He's the man that followed her down here. . .
la nina: We stayed outside, we thought you'd prepare him for —
king: —Words —don't prepare—for appearance. Christ, you do look
like a tramp, (mccabe circles la nina into his arms. A great
emotional violence rises in king) Things have slipped from control!
Money, Battery money!
la nina:  King, what are you, what is he— ?
perla: He hurt his head.
king: Callate! —The outfit, King's men, is not managed by me. Now. . .
Dig? No more than you're in the Pump Room. Why? You put no
value on nothing but fucking? Booze, you're on that, too? Booze and
bed with—this prick?
95 perla: No hables sucio! Talk dirty to Charlie the Barman, not here
mccabe (arm about la nina):  King, she's shaking.
king: Let her shake your hand off her! (He staggers to his feet and falls
back into the chair, nearly throwing it over, mccabe catches the chair
back) —You prick of a mick come here with —unlicensed firearm and
my daughter a slob! (king suddenly drops the pencil, jerks open the
table drawer and pulls a carving knife out and points it at mccabe's
groin, mccabe covers the threatened area with a hand) Now we are
both armed, but I have advantage. My weapon's in my hand, ready
for surgery on you if you don't surrender to me this unlicensed firearm right now.
la nina:  King, we've got to work it out quietly, not this way.
mccabe: Nina and me, we've been through a lot together, we can't explain all at once.
perla:  King, King I think —
king (Without looking at her): Think, do you, you think? I never
thought you thought!
mccabe: If we could all sit down without the knife pointed at me, can't
we? All? Sit down?
king: Naw, naw, no room in the room, just, just standing room only!
With La Nina singing!
(He gulps a rasping breath, nina leans toward him, hands resting on
table, and sings)
la nina:   . . .Amor, Amor, Amor.
(His eyes focus on her slowly)
king:   —Yes, presenting—the star. . .
perla: Sing in the kitchen and put the food on the plates, we can't have
supper out of the boxes.
la nina (Breaking away): Who wants supper?
king: Supper? They come for supper?
perla: Yes it's time for—
king: Supper?
perla: Ayudame en la cocina!
(She seizes the girl's arm again and draws her into the kitchen-
96 ette. Returns for bags, mccabe, assisting her, spills them, king sways
mccabe (Rushing to catch his shoulder): Watch it!
la nina (In kitchenette):  You never said a thing to me.
perla:  I said wait till I call you.
la nina: Till now, for this, the end?
perla: Here!
(perla slams plate on table)
la nina : Supper off broken plates, Mama ?
perla:  Yeh, ain't everything broke?
(A moment of silence. They turn opposite ways, sobbing, mariachis
off, sing)
mariachis (Softly):   . . .Amor, Amor.
(Another moment of silence. Then the phone rings on the table
between the two men. king slowly picks up receiver. Spot on woman
king (Speech slurred or gasping): Charlie? —Y'know I told you I can't
come downtown tonight. My girl, my daughter's just come back from
Chicago, with a serious problem —no game for tonight, cancelled.
(king hangs up. Spot out woman downtown, perla appears in
perla: Downtown Charlie calling back so quick? —How stupid am I,
King, in your opinion of me?
king (Fiercely): Perla, give me time to think over this question.
perla:  Oh, have I got some things to speak to you later.
(She turns and leaves, beginning to cry)
mccabe: Nina's been homesick, depressed since —she lost a —baby we
were expecting. . .
king: Expecting? A baby? By you? Baby face?
mccabe: There was — no one but me.
king: And your wife? Don't exist in the picture, not inside the frame of
it? You're married but slept with my daughter and — ! (He springs up
and strikes mccabe. The blow is hard, but mccabe seems not to feel
it) — Did I hit you?
mccabe (Quietly): Yeah—Why not?
97 king:   — You rented a car. Get back in it and go.
mccabe: Where? Without Nina? There's only two ways out. I stay with
Nina or check out of my life.
king: —Hysteria's for women. You've got a gun? —I have some trouble
walking and I want to talk to you, private, in the yard. Help me.
Don't make it noticeable to them. I'll hang on your arm like a —close
buddy and we'll —make it slow. . .slow. . .
mccabe: Yes, the talk should be private. Between us —Ready?
— Pronto?
king: Wait till—I see better. (Grasps mccabe's arm) All right. Ready.
Start now.
(Very slowly they advance toward the yard. The crossing is bizarre,
the women watching in shocked silence, king and mccabe enter the
kitchen: king tries desperately to move and speak naturally: but the
walk and staring eyes betray his condition)
perla:  Hace frio afuera.
(She snatches up a shawl and puts it about him)
king (Tearing it off): For Christ's sake, bitch, don't put a mantilla on
la nina:  Papa!
king:  You know I got up with the men and I sang.
la nina: Bueno, Papa.
mccabe:  Take my jacket.
king: Naw, naw, will you go in the goddam yard? It's cooler in the yard
for — conversation that's — necessary.
mccabe:  There's two steps down.
king:  Yes, I remember the number.
mccabe: Yes, it's cooler out. I feel a breeze.
king: Yes — It's — cooler out. You feel — ?
mccabe: —A breeze. I've been sweating all day, very — profusely like I
had a —fever. I guess —anxiety, Pop.
king:   —I have —limit of—vision. Chairs?
mccabe:  Yes, this way, no hurry.
king: That's —your opinion, not —mine. (They advance downstage to
the yard formally as a pair of pallbearers) I think— there is—a hurry.
98 mccabe: Here they are. Take a seat.
(perla moves back into the house)
king: Take your hands off me! (He falls, gasping, into one of the
chairs: mccabe puts the shirt about him: he fastens one button and
king tears the shirt open) I will — not be — buttoned!
mccabe:   —I —understand. A man—
king: Is not a man if—supported and limited and—buttoned. A Chinaman—said to me once —in next bed at —hospital —'Death is not big
enough to hold life and life is not big enough to hold death' — and yet
that morning the problem — solved itself very simple with a white
canvas curtain to —
mccabe:   — Conceal the — ?
king:  Soiwrz'on/Yournameis?
mccabe:  My name's —Terry McCabe.
king: Sorry I. . . forgot. Such a nice Irish name. You run out of potatoes
too fucking quick and you come here too many and you decided it
wasn't potatoes you wanted but liquor and parades and wakes and
political power. Bosses and corruption. Oh, back home you're into
revolution but here you're into —ripoff. . .Christ, you babyface
mother! —my head aches. Go in. Go in the bathroom and get me —
mccabe:  What?
king: Something begins with a D they use to give me for killing the
head pain —Demerol! —Don't say nothing about it, just bring it out.
mccabe: Right. (He crosses to house interior) Excuse me. Where is the
(la nina points)
la nina: Mama, you are lying. Mama, estats mintiendo! There had to
be signs first, something you noticed! (perla is both guilty and
defiant) Stop messing with delicatessen stuff.
perla:  I worked, didn't I work?
la nina:  Never till he fell!
perla: You think it was not work for me, too, the travel, the packing,
and I got no applause for it, nobody shouted me bravo, nobody called
me ol'e! Bit when—
la nina : Yes, now you are admitting it now.
perla: I tell you like it was, yes!
99 la nina:  Not facing me with your eyes, but —
(She seizes a carton of salad and hurls it at her mother, perla turns on
her with a blaze of fury)
perla: Now with eyes I face you! Signs, there were signs. While I
worked he worked a crossword puzzle and when I came home to make
supper, he still worked on the puzzle, and at the supper the fork
would slip from his fingers and he would look at nothing like he saw
something in nothing!
(mccabe reappears in the doorway)
la nina: But you never, never did you call me except to say, 'Stay in
Chicago,' and to make sure that I stayed and to call me 'Puta!'
perla: It was not you but me that my husband belongs to, I thought, I
believed till he come home with perfume-of-women smell on him and
sat out there in the yard chair till I went sleepless to bed, all hell out
there exploding like in my heart! While the warning, the signals
begun to grow.
la nina:   — Mama, I think it's too late to fight over what's left of him.
perla: You got something in your hand.
mccabe: Just —
perla:   What?
mccabe: —Something he asked for from the medicine cabinet. (Automatically he reaches out for la nina and draws her to him. In the
yard king stands facing the house, fists clenched) I like him, I respect
him, I bring him what he needs for his pain. Oh, the beer, the six-
pack. . .
(He picks it up and goes into the yard)
king (As mccabe crosses to him): Dos Gatos. . . Two cats.
mccabe: I got the, here's the— (Hands him the Demerol bottle) —and
king:  Open for me —Shit, not the beer, the—
mccabe (Very gently): Sorry, yes.
(He gives king a capsule)
king: Now to wash down the— (mccabe extends beer can to him: king
seems not to see it: very gently, mccabe thrusts the capsule in king's
mouth and then lifts the open can to his lips) —yes, turning to —
dummy, situated by—dump heap. . . (Explosion in the hollow, king
100 shouts toward it as if a last cry of defiance, mccabe assists him into
chairs) Now. Tell me how did it happen?
mccabe: I could tell you better if you dropped the knife from your
hand, Pop.
king: One lie out of your mouth and it goes in you, 'Son!' So it stays in
mccabe: My life before I met Nina was — vacant as that. . .vacant. . .
(Gestures toward the wasteland)
king:   —Dump heap?
mccabe: Yes empty, empty. Emptiness filled with —violence! Oh, I
tried to occupy, to satisfy myself with statistics. . .
king: Occupy with stat? Lift your goddam cry-baby head and speak
plain to me! Chico!
mccabe: Statistics on buyer-consumption —response to — promotion—
commercials. . .
king: Don't know what you're —
mccabe: I said that I'm a trained, well-trained computer is what I said!
Programmed to be not human! But—I am! Human!
(perla throws open the door)
king: Don't —shout at —my head —'Son!' —There is a pressure — in it.
mccabe: You said 'speak plain.' (mccabe rises abruptly) What more do
you want to know? I went out nights alone. Sat alone at bars. Then
once—the room where Nina, to this place on the lakefront, where she
worked with a trio. I saw what was not empty. Stayed and stayed till
they shut the place each night. Finally one night at closing I worked
up the courage to send a note to her: 'Let me buy you a drink, please.'
king: She answered this—proposition?
mccabe: Don't — don't — call it that!
king:  Then call it what?
mccabe: —It was no proposition. It was an —appeal. She granted. I
could talk, just held her arm close against me. And we didn't talk at
the table. Very little, very difficult till —
king: What?
mccabe:  My eyes blurred—over with —
king:  Lagrimasl Tears!
101 mccabe: I seemed to be looking at her through —tears. Then she took
hold of my hand. And what she said to me then was: ' — You —are in
pain like —my father.' Then —'Wait here a moment.' —She —booked
a room and came back and said 'I will hold you tonight, I will just
hold you,' she said.
king: 'Hold you?' That was all?
mccabe: Then. But the next night — all. . . (A distant explosion) What
was. . . ?
king: Shots between gangs in the Hollow — Between here and downtown
is this hollow for dumping. Fog collects in it. It is — playground for —
kids, yeah they dig caves in that hollow out there in that —rubble,
heaving rocks at each other, some nights, shots, explosions, soft drink
bottles with nitro. Oh, it's not —not —put in headlines but —is going
on all the time and people don't dare admit —how far it has—gone,
no, not yet, but soon it will blast too big for —city—denies. I'm expected downtown.
(He is standing, gripping mccabe's shoulder for support.)
mccabe:  I will drive you there, King.
king:  Not downtown, just —is she watching? List'ning?
mccabe: No.
king:  What are you? Babyf ace boy or man?
mccabe:  La Nina is pregnant, again.
(king stares at him silently for a long moment; then drops the knife)
king: Now. Give —firearm.
mccabe: That —subject we'd—covered.
king:  Not cover till firearm surrender. Give me the. . .
mccabe:  If you say 'stay,' I can't until you say 'stay.'
king (shouting):  ST A Y. My child bearing your child?
mccabe (Urgently, with love): My child growing in yours. Life is continued that way, a child of a man bears a child of a man —
king: And the man —dies.
mccabe: But the life of him is continued.
(Explosion in hollow)
king: I taste—blood in my—mouth. . . (Staggers: mccabe holds him
tight again) Gracias. Yes. Stay. But then, what? For La Nina? To
102 turn to a slob, gradual, like her madre, not singing but remembering
singing? Too tired to dance flamenco, but remembering flamenco?
This girl I made and gave to the world, she what could have stood
higher than the new sign on the new skyscraper, tallest in Corona, one
you see nights miles away. That!—that — height — for her was my
dream, the dream of a man with quick death in his skull, this
flowerpot of a skull with a flower in it that is cracking the pot. I think
you want just your comfort, not her —glory.
mccabe: No —no.
king: Aw, don't say no, just 'no' like a kid asked if he stole something.
No is too easy to say to a question that big.
mccabe: I want her to be again the way that she was — the way you
remember and I give you my word.
king : — When a man gives his word he gives a — guarantee of it, a pledge,
a thing for, for security on his word, if he's a stranger. And you're still
a stranger to me.
mccabe:  What do you want?
king:  I want the — firearm you got on you.
mccabe: Here. Take it. It's yours. I have no use for it now. She will
deliver the child and she will go back to what she was made for, by
you. I want her to be the —
king:   — Highest?
mccabe: The girl I first knew—(He has surrendered his revolver to
king) I may be a stranger to you. You're not to me.
king: Just tell me which way is the gate because I'm leaving now. I have
a date with a downtown woman, downtown.
mccabe:  Let me take you there to her.
king:  No, No, just where's the gate.
mccabe:  Let me walk you to it.
king: I told you I want no more assistance. I just wanted your word and
the pledge in my pocket. Iseeitnow, I'llmakeit.
(He stumbles rapidly forward but encounters the fence, not the gate,
crashes fiercely through it. He stands by the broken fence as king's
men appear at either side of the stage, mccabe clings to back of yard
chair for a moment: his eyes are tightly shut, then he looks into the sky.
Muted clash in hollow)
mccabe (Whirling toward house): Nina! Nina!
103 (perla rushes to kitchen door: makes a disgusted gesture and turns to
the girt)
perla:  Tu Caballero loco te llama afuera!
(la nina descends into the yard, mccabe extends his arms to her.)
mccabe:  It is settled between us.
la nina: How?
mccabe: I stay!— He wants it.
la nina: Where is King?
(perla approaches behind them. Fast, with some overlaps:)
perla: Supper is set if anybody wants food.
la nina (Clinging to mccabe): Where is the pistol?
mccabe:  He made me surrender it to him for permission to stay.
perla (Hearing this, crying out): You surrender death to him! King!
mccabe: A King can die like a king.
perla:   Where is he? Look! The fence is broken!
mccabe: That is a man's right if he wants it.
perla (Rushing to brokenfence): A crowd is on corner. King!
(She collapses to her knees, clinging to the fence post. The house and
yard begin to dim. mccabe catches hold of la nina as she rushes
toward the fence)
mccabe: Stay here, be calm, think just of our child in your body, for
King and for me, keep it safe in you. . . safe.
(The Yard Dims Out Completely)
scene 2
mariachis sing as section of the lounge is lighted. Spot on the woman
drummer: Que tal, Chiquita?
woman downtown (Fierce): Intimate form of address like to puta.
Translates to 'How'm I doing.' Bueno, muy bueno, like the best
in hell ever. (The drummer, giving a quick look about, circles her low
with an arm) Your hand is presumptuous, Drummer, I'm still in
King's kingdom.
104 drummer:  King's lost his kingdom.
woman downtown: Disputable!
drummer:  Por favor.
(He circles her unsteady body again)
woman downtown: Snake arm, quick as rattler from desert rock. (Bar
phone rings, king appears forestage opposite side) Phone! (barman
touches phone to establish it. Profile of the city is dimly visible
between them. Furiously to barman) He's hung up! You took so long
to call me he's hung up!
king:  No, love, I —try to —spe —I am —trying to —speak.
woman downtown:  I can hear you breathing.
king: Yeh. Still breathing. I started to come downtown but only go to
the drugstore on the corner.
woman downtown (Controlled): That's all right. I'll come there in a
cab. Barman, call me a cab, quick. See, I've called a cab. Now give
me the address. I will come and get you.
king: No, just listen. I called to tell you good-bye.
woman downtown: Hold on a minute; Barman, have this call traced.
Have a phone operator trace where it's from, please hurry, it's —emergency!
(She has covered mouth of phone)
king:  I heard you, there's no time.
woman downtown:  Oh, yes, there is, there's always more time than
you think. And listen, you great son of a bitch, you owe it to me. Give it
to me or I'll —
king:  Yes, I know what you'll do and I can't stop you.
woman downtown (Turning from him to cry out to barman): Have
you traced it, have you got the address —drugstore —Crestview. (Fade
in the mariachis) King? Love? It's all right, you know. King. King,
I've moved to a room with no Red Devil grinning through the
window, a room the opposite from it but with a bed king size for you
to lie with me once more and I've prepared the room for you. I knew
you were coming downtown. There are —roses, fresh linen, clean air!
Mariachi. I will undress you, I'll hold you. (She is crossing stage,
imploringly, toward him) Now, just give me the address of the
drugstore to bring you where we can go together as it's meant to be,
King. Listen. Do you remember the night I first saw you? My life
began that night and is going to end this one. Can you hear me,
105 King? All I hear is your breath. Tonight I won't say a word that isn't
right for a lady to say, I swear. We have to go but we have to go
king: Honey, I told you —I can't make it downtown.
woman downtown:  Oh, but you can and you will.
king: —Good-bye, love. I think the drugstoreman has called an ambulance to take me away and they'd drill through my skull to cut at the
flower, to prune it. What would be left? A —imbecile? No! I have to
go quick, now.
woman downtown: I dare you to hang up on me, don't you dare hang
up on me, I will stop the ambulance at the drugstore. I'll take you to
my room at the Yellow Rose or be —an unidentified—female body-
mutilated past recognition back of a truck in an alley if you don't tell
me where —
king: Good — bye — love. . . much. . . loved! (He staggers to his knees and
in the fall the revolver slides out of his reach, the pharmacist, an
elderly man, gentle, anxious, stoops to pick it up) That's —mine,
return, please.
pharmacist:  Son, they're coming for you. Hang on, just —hang on. . .
(king tries to rise; the pharmacist helps him into a chair but stands
back as king reaches for the revolver in the PHARMACiST'sjacket pocket)
king: Christ, it's all I got left, Pop. She said she is coming.
(The drummer is in whispered colloquy with charlie. As the woman
downtown staggers, near collapse, back to the bar, charlie, face
impassive as stone, jerks his head toward the shadowy upstage, a
signal to the drummer who exits that way)
woman downtown (To barman): Tracedit, did you trace it?
charlie:  Wasn't time.
(She turns about frantically sees crew cut at entrance)
woman downtown: Get 'Crew-Cut' away from that door, I'm coming
out that door, and it's worth this and this and this and this to me to
get to the taxi rank on the curb!
(She has thrust bills across the bar)
charlie: Know the way?
woman downtown: Will find it if not obstructed.
( Vertiginous swirl of colour on the cyclorama as she sways: extends
106 her arms side-wise for balance: staggers forward. She is now out of the
light, crew cut calls to charlie)
crew cut:  Where's she going?
charlie: To the Drummer Boy in the alley. Don't follow, the Drummer
can handle this better alone out there.
(As the bar dims out, the dark menacing towers of the night city
appear, projected on the cyclorama. In a very dim circle of light the
drummer is seen, waiting. Door slam and the woman downtown
enters the dim light)
woman downtown: Drummer!
drummer:  Si, tamborilero that King don't like but you do.
woman downtown: Cab, cab! (The drummer seizes her and pulls her
out of the light. The drummer pulls open her coat. Touches her
brutally. Roughs her up. Takes picture. The light of a flash-photo.
woman downtown scratches DRUMMER's/ace.) Cab, Cab! (Screech of
brakes, bang of door) Quick, rapist in alley! Crestview, Crestview
Pharmacy in Crestview!
driver ( Offstage):  OK, lady, no screamin' is necessary I
crew cut ( Offstage):  You let her go loose, you goddamn —
drummer's voice (Offstage):  Clawed my face bloody!
charlie ( Offstage): Follow! Crestview Pharmacy. Move!
woman downtown: Faster! Faster!
driver (Offstage):  Not possible this traffic.
woman downtown: Get in the fast lane, for Christ's sake!
driver ( Offstage):  We are in the fast lane lady.
woman downtown: Don't stop at the red, go through it! My expense,
no limit! Stop. It's here, here it is, Crestview Pharmacy, Stop!
Scene 3
Light Pharmacy section.
king (To the pharmacist): She —said she is coming. Old man, Pop,
don't move. I go to lock door against all that could come to attend —
107 this necessary finish but the lady—nameless —with eyes I want to look
into —a last time. . .
(He stumbles forward slowly, revolver in hand. The woman downtown, disheveled, dress torn, appears before him. Slowly, she lifts
hand, meaning "Wait!")
woman downtown: Wait!
king (Hoarse, tender): You did find without address. Should have
stayed where we live, but —
woman downtown:  I never lived there with anyone but you.
king: Here —is dangerous — for you. Outside on corner they gather,
the—gangs from —
pharmacist: Lady, call police. I know those voices out there, bombers,
young hoods from the Hollow!
(Four apparitional mariachis appear and advance in their silver-
embossed black velvet suits and wide sombreros)
king (Going into fantasy, attempting to stand straight and salute):
HOMBRES! (Smiles reassuringly at woman downtown) Now you
are — protected! — by my men.
woman downtown: King, there's no one but you and me and the old
(In a formal, dance-like fashion, his visionary mariachis divide about
king and the woman downtown to form a line between them and the
pharmacist crouched near wings, downstage left. His quavering
voice keeps up a continuous barely heard, threnody of despair)
pharmacist: Can't sell out, but got to quit.
king :   — Love — request number.
pharmacist: Got to leave. . .
woman downtown:  King, oh, King, you're dreaming!
pharmacist:  Got to close. . ,
king: Si, sueno. Dreams necessary.
pharmacist: Gang raid houses, stores. . .
king:  "Life is —too big for death?"
(Shakes his head with a savage grin)
king: No! Al contrario.
pharmacist:  Police don't come. . .
108 king: Solicita el numero.
woman downtown: Can't —think! Please! We knew it was coming! Our
last time but not here, porfavor, no aqui!
pharmacist:  Don't even pray for help now. . .
(Kneeling, cover face)
king (Oblivious, almost exalted): La Senorita solicita una cancion, un
vals, hombres. (They play softly. To woman downtown:) Don't
move. Look me in the eyes.
woman downtown:  You? Too?
(He nods. They take opposite chairs, their eyes fixed intensely on each
other. Pause)
king:  I love — a lady.
woman downtown:  King, do you respect me, now?
king: —You? Respect?— Yes! La verdad! Truth. I give you that name,
woman downtown (Last anguished appeal): Then come downtown
with me now?
king: Hospital called, ambulance coming: no time.
woman downtown: A cab, my new room are waiting, believe me I
know the best way.
king:   — Your clothes are torn?
woman downtown: Just that?
king: Keep looking in eyes. (He lifts the revolver slightly toward his
head. She gasps and half rises) Don't move. (The door is forced open
with a crash and the drummer enters: Flashes a photo, king blinks:
then, articulating slowly, fiercely) —Oh. Drummer! You—got
(The revolver has swung toward the drummer)
woman downtown:  Yes, he followed me.
drummer (Retreats, cat-like):  If you fire, you hit her, not me.
king: No, not her! (He staggers rapidly forward, thrusting her back into
chair) I see narrow but straight. First, tell me who pays you,
employed by, for what?
(The drummer makes a sudden dash for the door. As he flings it
open, king fires: He falls.   The woman downtown screams,  king
109 crashes to the floor with the woman downtown clinging to him. The
Pharmacy door hangs open and a fantastic group enters. These are
the wild young denizens of the Hollow: They seem to explode from a
dream—and the scene with them. The play stylistically makes it's
final break with realism. This break must be accomplished as if predetermined in the "mise-en-scene" from the beginning, as if naturally
led up to: startlingly but credibly. The kids, adolescents, some pre-
adolescents—they could be as few as four or as many as seven—are
outlaws in appearance and dress. The Hollow marks them with
streaks of dirt on their faces, bloodied bandages, scant and makeshift garments. Among gangs of this kind there is always an
individual who stands out, not as leader with such warring factions
but as the most powerful, the preeminent one. In this case, one older
than the others, totally fearless, a boy-man with a sense of command
and an intelligence that isn't morally nihilistic. His speech is almost
more like guttural explosions of sound with gestures. At the entrance
of the gang members the pharmacist has rushed to his cash-box and
throws himself despairingly across it. A couple of kids, screeching like
monkeys, rush at him but the dominant youth shouts a gutteral
command to them. This dominant one has on his singlet, crudely
red-lettered, the word wolf—significantly no Wolves)
wolf: Ahgah, nada!Leddum lone wid is nigguls!
(Something in his harsh voice rouses the woman downtown from her
crouched, moaning position over king's dead body, wolf's eyes are on
her face, demented with grief. Her eyes meet wolf's. Her head is
thrown back, teeth exposed as a she-wolf snarling. A moment. The
wolf nods and advances to her; lifts her to her feet; she offers no
resistance. In his supporting hold, she recognizes or senses something
rightly appointed as her final fate)
woman downtown: Yes, you. Take me. Away. . .
(A savage little hood rushes at her to tear the watch- bracelet from her
wrist, wolf strikes the kid aside and awkwardly but strongly encircles
the woman downtown's waist with his wire-torn arm)
wolf (Beyond dispute): She goes wid us. This is —
woman downtown: Woman (Gasp) Down (Gasp) Town. . .
wolf:  It's enough, for me and for all. Listen! This woman. Ya mother.
boy (With a touch of challenge): Motha of—
wolf: Yes. Mother of all.
boy:  Why?
110 wolf:  Because she is Sister of Wolf!
(A flare behind them and a muted sound of explosion in the Hollow.
Against its lingering, warning glow, the denizens of the Hollow all
advance, eyes wide, looking out at us who have failed or betrayed
them. The woman downtown advances furthest to where king's body
has fallen: she throws back her head and utters the lost but defiant
outcry of the she-wolf The cry is awesome. There is a second
explosion and a greater, whiter flare, exposing more desolation, wolf
takes her hand. All are standing motionless)
(The Scene Dims Out)
111 Miklos Radnoti/ Two Poems
Now the Indian froze stock still,
but up in the tree ran that hissing thrill,
the smell of gunpowder yet hovering on the wind.
On a frightened leaf two drops of blood glistened,
and an insect on the trunk did crazy calisthenics.
Twilight was redskinned. And death heroic. . .
Translated from the Hungarian by Jascha Kessler
The wind blowing at night through my dreams
and snowwhite sails flashing
slatting swelling and set for voyage far away.
I'm writing this slow poem here
like the emigrant starting his new life
and writing his poems from now on with a stick
in the shifting sands of far off Africa.
But from everywhere, from Africa too,
some ghastly crying can be heard,
the monstrous infant sucking night and day
at the purpled tits, by these times being nursed.
Of what worth's the word between two wars,
and what worth am I, a specialist
in words both difficult and rare, when every jerk's
stupidly clutching a bomb in his fist!
Flame's leaping across our skies and the reader
of signs in celestial lights hits the ground,
encircled by the whiteness of pain,
like the sea at ebb, with salt all around.
Guard and defend me, white pain,
and you, my snowwhite consciousness, stay with me here,
so that my clear word may never be fouled
by the brown smoke of burning fear.
Translated from the Hungarian by Jascha Kessler
113 Hugh G. Anderson
like years of dust
between her & now
the car half buried by the wind
the noiseless drift
restoring the purity of snow
moonlight — crystal glint
her eyes kept open
by salt ice
her body twisted
on a bed of rock
his slaver frozen on her lips
his sperm cold in her womb
white snakes curl around her breasts
hiss, and slither
across the fields
114 Stanisfaw Barariczak/ Two Poems
I took to my heart these ten pints of blood
that run out of him
as if they wanted
to break through the thin layers of skin,
but come back always by the same path
from the dead-end of the ring finger;
I took on, for good, this blood that wants to flee,
since the moment I caught
my first breath
in the act of theft
from the world
and in an attempt to escape;
I had to take upon myself the frail walls of a body.
I knocked into my head these five senses
that draw inside the skull
with a dry needle
fire upside down,
a portrait, held in the cross-fire of the eyes,
carved in heat on the brain;
I stubbornly memorized this whitened blade,
from the moment the upturned flames
filled my mind,
the flames that look out
of my eyes
onto crumbling beams;
I had to take upon myself the blaze, the stench, the heat, the roar.
I took hold of myself, with my own five fingers,
I took in hand the lump of clay
by all those who died
suddenly falling face down into the earth
and digging with their nails the last hiding-place;
115 watching their hands-sticky, but with sweat-
from the moment when the ground burns
under me so that out of pain
I clench my hand
into a fist
and beat against the door of earth;
I had to take upon myself the opening of these doors.
Translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik and A ustin Flint
In one breath, in one bracket of breath closing a sentence,
in one bracket of ribs closing like a fist
around the heart, like a net around slender fish, in one breath
to close all and to enclose myself, in one
shaving of flame whittled off the lungs
to scorch the walls of prisons and to take that fire
behind the bony bars of the chest and into the tower
of the windpipe, in one breath, before you choke
on a gag of air thickened from
the last breath of the executed,
from the breathing of hot barrels, from clouds
of steaming blood on concrete,
air  in which your voice resounds
or dissolves, you, the swallower of swords,
these side-arms, bloodless yet bloodily
wounding brackets, among which
like the heart in the chest and like the fish in the net
a sentence flutters stammered out in one breath
till the last breath.
Translated from the Polish by Gra'zyana Drabik and Sharon Olds
117 Mateja Matevski
I feel the beauty
of her migration
through grass seeds,
through bushes weary from the sun,
through my palms.
She is noon's thoughts,
noon that turns from me.
My fear is beautiful,
stunned by blue lightning
that blinds my eyes.
Everything spins,
due to its beauty.
It is time to take my hand
and lead me to the cradle under the stone
whose song has long been calling me.
Translated from the Yugoslavian by Herbert Kuhner
118 Kenneth Emberly
Still Life in Leather
Me, I wear leather, small red poppies in my hair; better than blood, for
the moment. My husband wrapped the tree in barbed wire, the only
tree in our yard. "The principle of rose bud protection," he says. And I
sit beneath it in my leather so that he can take photographs of me.
Nudes appall him. He wouldn't care for the sight of a naked woman up
against sharp wire. People might wonder, after all. He might wonder,
that's more like it. And Victor is a reasonable man, very sensible
sometimes, so I can see his point. Still, I'd rather see the tree —poor
spindly five foot thing—unclothed, I mean, just bark and bugs, that
sort of thing.
We don't have any neighbours. No one will buy condominium town-
houses these days. The group we live in are slowly falling apart. But it's
private. An elderly man wearing dungarees and a worried face maintains
the exteriors of the empty units... in case of sale. Always clean clipped
grass, very tidy. Very quiet too. Sundays are special that way. No lawn
mowers. No backyard barbecues. No children playing. Just the whirr and
click of my husband's Pentax. And the creak of leather, of course.
It's a forty-five minute drive to Victor's office (he works for the Board
of Education). I stay in bed until he's gone, until I hear the wires and
metal and spark plugs of his car diminishing down the drive and away.
Monday to Friday. Once he came back, two years ago, having forgotten
his tie. Poor Victor, walked right out of the house practically naked. I
mean, he'd forgotten his tie. Only once.
Clothing is so special. My leather, for instance, is of the best quality.
Victor insisted. Well so did I. We drove all the way to Toronto, to this
place where they fit you like a snake and the price reflects your taste.
Two weekends and we had it all: boots, shoes, pants, vest, jacket, coat,
gloves, handbag and hat. Black and tan. I like the black. Victor too.
Better contrast in the photographs.
Speaking of photographs, there aren't many of Victor. There's one of
him, from the side, wrapping the tree. I couldn't resist. He looked so
intent, so delicate and mature. When he cut himself he didn't look so
119 delicate. But he did look mature. I couldn't get him to hold still for a
shot, because he was yelling and moving all over the place. That was
just before he smashed our lovely wicker garden table to pieces. I do
have a shot of that. Of course, he was very sorry about it, the table I
mean. We promptly bought another one, but he won't use it. Poor
Victor. When we sit in the backyard now with drinks and so forth he
puts his glass down on the grass beside him. I don't bother him with
questions about such things. He has reasons, I'm sure. Frankly, I don't
like the new wicker table myself. But Victor insisted. He always replaces
anything he breaks. In that way, he's the most responsible man I know.
Which is one of the main reasons why I married him in the first place.
Come to think of it, I'm not exactly irresponsible myself. It takes two to
make things run smoothly, after all. And things do run smoothly.
One of these days, though, I'll have to let Victor know how sad I feel
sitting under that tree in my leather. Well I don't always feel sad, but
often enough. And I don't know why, which is exactly why I've left off
telling him about it. He'd be upset, because we do love each other so
much, and feelings, as anyone knows, are very important. Obviously, a
model who cares about an artist's creations doesn't complain about
aching muscles. And Victor is an artist. My muscles never ache, to be
sure (that's one of the great things about photography). Something else
I think the rain is responsible sometimes. But it gives such a
wonderful effect: me, black and shiny, droplets of water caught in the
barbs and coils of wire, flashes of wet bark glinting through, dark
shadows and my hair all soaked and straight around my thin unsmiling
face. Beneath it all I'm dry, of course, dry as ashes. That's the leather,
all weather protector. There are photographs of me sitting in the hot
sun too. And they're equally effective: me, crouched and dark, yellow
light all over the place, a blur of hard wire, and my hair parched and
bleak around my white unsmiling face. You can almost hear the leather
screaming for relief in the heat.
There are no photographs of the garden. Perhaps I'll suggest that we
try a few shots of me among the flowers, what few there are. I tend them
carefully and they grow well. My husband shows little interest in the
garden. But at least he doesn't interfere with it. That would be a bit
unreasonable. Naturally, Victor despises pictures of flowers. "So what,"
he says, "they're just flowers." Not much to look at I suppose. But they
do lend a little colour to the yard. And they bloom so well against the
west wall. Luckily there are no children around to ruin my garden. No
children and no animals. Well they can't help it, I realize. They just see
pretty things and they want to take them. Or trample them. When I was
much younger I couldn't stand listening to the old ladies yell at children
playing in their gardens. It sounded so cold and brutal and the flowers
120 looked so fresh and sweet, to say nothing of the children. So it's just as
well we live alone out here.
I wouldn't mind a better view from the windows. Not that I'm
complaining, but there's really not very much to look at: a tall link fence
(that's out back at the end of the yard), beyond that there's the broken
ground of an unfinished subdivision, and everywhere else I see the
empty units like ours and the five foot trees in each neat yard. But those
trees aren't wrapped in barbed wire. They'll be tall someday, high and
wide, green. So will ours. And Victor will have to slacken and rewind
the wire as it grows. I hope he doesn't cut himself next time.
Victor's blood reminds me of lipstick or nail polish. Not that he
bleeds very often. Who does? But when he does, and when he's calm
enough to let me bandage him, I have to keep myself well under control
to keep from laughing. My poor husband in nail polish! Victor likes it
when I wear nail polish, I mean the real thing. Glossy red or chalk white
are his favorites. He took this photograph of my hand, the fingers sort of
lightly woven through the coils of wire around the tree, white nail
polish. It took a long time to get it right. But we did. I thought it would
have looked just as good without the barbed wire, though I don't care
for white nail polish. Makes me feel dead or something. My skin is
naturally pale so the effect is a little ghoulish. Victor broke one of my
fingernails over that photograph, trying to get it right, you see. He was
very sorry. We had to use my other hand so it took a lot longer than it
should have.
Actually, the longer it takes us to do the photographing, the less sad I
feel. If an hour goes by and we're still at it I begin to drift, as if I'm
dreaming. It gets hard to see Victor wandering around the tree. He
could be taking photographs of flowers for all I know. This is helpful, of
course, because it takes what Victor calls the "unwanted animation" out
of my face. When it's all over I feel just like I do when I wake up in the
morning and I hear the grumble of his car going down the drive and
away. No sadness.
It is very important that no one interrupt these long sessions with the
tree. Once, quite awhile ago now, my mother stopped in for a visit. I
heard her footsteps through the Pentax click and my own leather-bound
fog. Before she came into the yard I was remembering her squat round
body and her eyes across the drainboard year after year, father
shambling about on the periphery somewhere. As my mother says, she
never had much of a life, just children and worry. So there's not an
awful lot to remember. Victor, ever-sociable to everyone, stopped and
we all entered the house. Mother in her print dress, comfortable, almost
maternal, stayed several hours. She was drunk by then and had to go
home. We went back to the tree, but it was all off somehow. I couldn't
stop thinking. And that's no good, because it makes me squint and
121 frown. Sometimes I even start to cry about nothing. I don't like photographs of that, though Victor is very interested in the effect. "Odd
moments captured," he calls them. Well he should know, I suppose.
Victor always says I'm an unusual woman, quite out of the ordinary.
He says that besides being very photogenic, I have "certain endearing
qualities." Distinction, I think he calls it. Like my clothing. I could be
like everyone else. I could wear cotton. I could wear denim. My own
mother wears an ordinary print dress. But me, I wear leather.
122 Michael C. Kenyon/Two Poems
We met in the middle of a salvation
army marching band. Across the street an
indian woman had crouched to piss. You were
laughing and, for that instant, very beautiful.
You wore a grey shawl and high boots. I was
cold and trying to keep my lips moist. You suggested
coffee; you lived quite near. You would build
a fire and we could undergo Sunday together.
We sat until dusk smoking your cigarettes
and drinking coffee, listening to ethiopian
folk music in front of the fire; outside the leaves
were on the trees. We had nothing to talk about.
Soon my stomach began to ache, soon
I started to feel like vomiting: your beauty had
given way to the mundane, the smile was
already too familiar. I recall thinking:
monday I'll awake within inches of this face,
my mouth will be raw, my body soft with its
futile meat. I slipped away through the back door
into the rain while you fitted your diaphragm.
Duncan is generous.
Or so Garance says.
But Chargex
has a lovely figure.
Garance makes a crib
of her legs.
Spends herself.
Duncan runs up his bill.
Flies south for the winter.
Agatha Christie
lies half done
in bloody paperback
in the lap of the moon.
Garance floats gently
into a cornice
and remembers
her own bleeding.
On the floor
beside the vibrator
lies a postcard
from San Salvador.
124 Ewa Lipska
Lying in the meadow, among clover flowers
we escape to those countries.
We set back our watches. Run
through catacombs
columbaria and graves.
We look into the eyes of the other Dioclesians.
Are the symptoms the same?  The same rash?
The glow of ice above the forehead?
From there
we see more clearly
than from up close
the breathless red of clover flowers
in the glasses of air
which we clink
to the coming Friday.
Translated by Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds
125 Bronwen Wallace/ Two Poems
Early evening     there's a
late model car in a driveway
two men standing beside it    one
has his hand still on a lawnmower
and as you pass the other says
'you just can't get them out of your head'
he could be talking about anything
women    the words to a song
but its the way his voice sounds
in the half-light and now you're thinking
accident    on the way home from work perhaps
the ambulance pulled up to the side of the freeway
and in that blurred instant of the side window
a heap of something on the curb
covered with a sheet
so that now it's ominous
the way tricycles and wagons lie abandoned
on front lawns the edges of sidewalks
like those mornings when
you've sent the kids off to school
poured yourself another coffee   opened
The Globe and Mail and on the back page
there's a tiny article
about an unemployed machinist who
drove the family car off a bridge
killing everyone and an even tinier one
about a school teacher
castrated by a hitchhiker
and as you sit there in the kitchen the squeak
of a clothesline being pushed into the sun next door
is suddenly fragile and important
like that clipped end-of-the-day edge
126 on the voices you hear now from still
opened windows the voices of women
calling children to baths and pyjamas
behind you somewhere two men stand
in shirtsleeves talking of     what
nightmares voices
but when you turn
they're gone
the lawnmower leans neatly
at the side of the garage
and the houses are
hesitant the way houses are at dusk
as if uncertain of limits
what to hold in or keep out
though even as you turn
lights are coming on
and the houses square
around windows  grow
darker   more
sure of themselves
Somewhere right now a woman
sits in the silence of her kitchen
the silence her family leaves
when they brush past her into the day
intent on their own plans
and as she sits there
her hands shaking a little around
the coffee cup the cigarette
a dream comes back to her
in the comfortable dark
of her own living room
she finds she can move things
with her eyes     it's fun at first
the way a heavy chair
slides easily from one wall
to the other   tables dangle
from the ceiling   lamps
swirl drunken arcs
in every corner
the darkness splits wide
open walls and ceilings
pulse and she can't stop
the liquid shift but just
as she feels herself about
to plunge    she touches
on the rim of waking
shrill voices of her children
demanding breakfast
clean underwear
128 But right now
in the quiet kitchen
in the silence of her family's leaving
she feels again
that moment of the dream
shifting away from her
feels it as something present
in the house    concealed
somewhere and the house
hardening against her
stubborn as a child
caught in a lie
feels it in the empty
spaces left by
her children's growing
and in the thicker silences
that sometimes clench like fists
beneath her husband's words
and through all that
she hears it
closing on the sounds of her day
the way grey earth in a dry season
soaks up the light thin rain
a woman
sitting in that kind of silence
with sunlight falling
through the dirty window pane
to spill itself like smoke
around her
129 Robert Hilles/ Two Poems
we have lived separate for
so long we've come to call it love
i see you from miles away
as if i were looking through binoculars
you are waving something at me
or are mouthing some foreign language
when i put down the binoculars
i know that i was only dreaming
things only seem real when
they aren't.
you are really beside me
touching me   asking me
to love you    i am really
practicing new forms of movement
i can feel my legs and feet running
as they lie perfectly still beside you
things depend so much on my explaining
this to you as you strip away your clothes
while lying perfectly still beside me.
at night we run through
fields of wheat the stalks
banging against our legs
we run farther and farther away
each night.
our love is not alone
it expands beyond us
sometimes at night
sleeping together our
body heat makes us both sweat
we find new languages
to speak with and discover new
places to move to.
dancing on our backs and sides
as primitive as land and as new as each breath
our touch is electric.
each morning we find new
things to eat by opening
the door of the refrigerator
the room turns over and over
changing size      changing shape.
the words laid aside we
move with our heads
clear we fall upon each other
and touch always so softly softly
in the beginning.
we know no songs
our voices have withered
the skin on our bodies
hides less and less of the bones they cover
131 we long to love now
alone in this room our names
and sounds gone
our touch is salty and dry
this is how lovely we can be
this is how lovely we are.
132 Paul Green/ Two Poems
the naked cleft
opening tree's door
drawing out
the forces
they are not hidden
the naked cleft
the aching exposure   posed
is this all/all
( a child is singing in a field )
— flutter by —
the years fill me up
now it is seriously happening
freedom through the skin
witterings of the birds
hornet stuck in the grass
— emerald dragon
fly opens
escapement of wing—
the river of feathers
river of lead
the sky is leaping on the planet
Sunlight, the richness of grass, sliding water. Those broken
noun phrases, lax, disconnected. . .patterns of massed light,
the time dilation, slowing us down, is the shaping need.
The air enters me, her. An apple apparently crumples.
Her whispering stops me, talking about Pan? Invisible
rolling-stock shunts away across the still river, in those trees.
Behind up on the ridge a car is veering home. We lie between,
in the valley, between these two paths. Self-consciously I hope
that the food and the light we're ingesting is driving us higher;
but the drift, this dream, stretched on a blue overcoat in the
grass, in which we become a glass palace on the water, will
grow on, up.
My liquids gloss and lap. She is in the real grass, it is the
world. "We want, and we shall have, the beyond, in our time..."
We are play, free play, like the play of distant voices:
"A trousseau, in which green would predominate, dedicated
to Pan..."
The sun sinks, shadows fall, time is humming in its gravity well.
134 Lawrence Russell
The Confession
lam not a person to whom friends and strangers confess but I knew a
woman like that: people told her the most intimate secrets of their lives,
easily, without embarrassment, even on meeting her for the first time.
Her name was. . .well, I called her Isolde. She worked in a bookshop
on that street which has the antique stores and restaurants; she was
about thirty and still very beautiful, not really the type you would
expect to find selling first editions and buying worn classics from poor
students such as myself. She was married to a professor, fortunately not
one of mine; I recall seeing him once, when the shop was full of restless
tourists, and he abused her cruelly for not phoning him about some
domestic detail. He was obviously one of those intellectuals whose
arrogance puts them in a moral category of their own and blinds them
to the realities of others. At the time, I felt sorry and embarrassed for
her and slipped out of the shop without waiting for my customary tea
and chat.
The bookshop was that sort of a place: it was made up of five rooms of
which the third was an inner sanctum, the place where Isolde or Hind
the owner would sit at the oak desk smoking and reading or chatting to
a customer who would be relaxing in one of the two leather armchairs.
It was here that the favoured could drink tea or alcohol, depending on
the nature of the transaction; it was here that I sold my early edition of
Ulysses when I was desperate for cash and I know she persuaded Hind to
give me thirty dollars more than he cared to. It seemed to me, on this
first encounter, with only a few words passing between us, that we had
formed a bond.
I suppose this was a common feeling she evoked in people, and hence
their compunction to tell her their secrets. As a student, I had every
reason to frequent the bookshop, although I knew I was looking for
more than a bargain; I was drawn to the social charm of the third room.
Even Hind, who was silly in that pompous German way, could be full of
amazing stories and a coarse folk wisdom, although I know he never
really liked me. In any case, as often as not he wasn't there, and so I
came to know Isolde on more private terms.
135 It was a Monday afternoon and the place was empty, except for an
old woman who was muttering to herself in the front room. She was
dwarfed under the tall stacks of books and moved her hands slowly over
the leather bindings like a blind person reading braille. Isolde was on
the phone in the second room and didn't notice me as I passed through
and sat down in the third. A few moments later she hung up and came
in, obviously unhappy; I immediately assumed she was having another
dispute with her husband.
"Hello," I said, "I think I've come at a bad time. . .you don't look
On seeing me, the troubled look passed from her face, and she smiled
and said, "O no, I'm just demented by silly people. . .what've you got
there? Another rare collectible?"
I reached into my bag and took out a small red hardcover and
handed it to her.
"I found it in the Salvation Army basement this morning," I said, and
nervously awaited her opinion.
She scanned the publisher's page while drumming the heel of her
fashionable shoe against the leg of the desk, then drew a reference
volume from the shelf and checked the listing.
"Sorry... it's a reprint. Too bad —it would've been worth fifteen
dollars if it'd been a first UK."
I sighed, then said, "I only paid a quarter for it."
"Still, it's in nice condition... I could give you three dollars...
would that be alright?"
Once again, I knew she was being kind to me; they probably couldn't
sell the book for more than three or four. The bell jangled on the front
door as the old woman left. Isolde put her hand to her mouth and
suppressed a laugh.
"That's Mrs. Adamski," she said. "Know what she told me before you
came in? That she'd been visited by a man in a flying saucer! It was her
big secret and she'd never told it to anyone before. She's asked me to
hold back anything on UFOs we get."
If this was the first confession that was passed on to me through
Isolde, it was certainly one of the most innocent, though eccentric. On
my subsequent visits to the bookshop, she casually passed on others that
encompassed all the sins: theft, adultery, perjury, debauchery, even
murder. A drug dealer revealed to her that he had killed his business
partner and dumped the body in the woods not far from town and on
occasion visited the spot, fascinated by the process of Nature as it
reclaimed the flesh. The murder had never been exposed, he told her,
and he felt no remorse about it. The dealer was a collector of boy's
adventure books, a detail I thought significant, and suggested that the
combination of drugs and fantasy drove the man to exaggerations, but
Isolde shook her head slowly.
136 I found the confession of her employer, Hind, to be of a more ugly
sort —not because I am a puritan, but because I suspected his motives.
Hind was what you would call a bad drunk; he was always off someplace drinking and would often come back to the shop and have a party.
He considered himself a poet, though I found his verses crude and silly;
yet when sober he was capable of interesting philosophical discussions and knew more about books than anyone I'd ever met. He was a
stocky little man with a thick German neck and a depraved way of
laughing. He was married with a family but treated his wife with contempt and openly bragged about the women he had been successful
with. He liked to work in the evenings, pricing new purchases and
repairing damaged books; sometimes Isolde would work with him. One
evening he took her across the street to the Italian restaurant and while
they were eating pasta and drinking wine he suddenly revealed that he
had had a period of intense homosexual activity.
"He spared no details," said Isolde casually. "You'd never believe he
was talking to a woman. He told all. . . the lovers, the orgies, the sordid
games and parties. He said he didn't really like it but was drawn into it
because he had a homosexual friend in university... he just wanted to
belong to the art scene."
"Wasn't he embarrassed to tell you this?"
"O no. . .Hind likes to talk dirty. . .ironically, though, he said he has
nightmares about it now."
I felt strange, yet honoured, to be the recipient of these confessions which were given to her so easily; yet Isolde revealed virtually
nothing about herself in the process. Her communication was
atmospheric; she didn't give extended monologues on anything and in a
social situation she was a listener. Her manner was gentle, maternal, in
keeping with her pale beauty. Her favorite colour was black and she
wore it religiously, like a spiritual uniform, yet she was always
fashionable, her clothes in tune with the latest sophistication. In a sense,
I became her pupil, scouting the thrift shops and rummage sales for
books, which I would then bring to her for evaluation. Occasionally I
found a valuable book which Hind would buy; even if I didn't make a
fortune, my knowledge of the book business increased enormously and it
was this period of apprenticeship which made it possible for me to
become a dealer myself.
Of course it is a cliche: the pupil falls in love with the teacher and in
my case it was easy to fall in love with Isolde. The bookshop was a
secluded romantic world ruled by this queen to whom all sorts of
disparate personalities were drawn, each to confess, like a lover, the
truth of the lie of the world outside. I realized other young men were
fascinated by her —there was Lance, the bookbinder, who did
restorations for Hind, or there was Estevan, the photographer, who was
always looking for calotypes and early books in his field. But both these
137 men were not really literate; I could talk to Isolde and she could talk to
me. Our relationship was more than a superficial visual elegance.
The months drifted by, Spring into Summer, and in the lazy days of
August it came to me that I was in love with her. I was happy in the
realization, even though I knew it was an awkward situation; it was
something I would keep to myself, a secret from which I would draw
nourishment, not despair. She would never need to know. In my naive
way, I saw it as a spiritual penitence, a self-inflicted bondage which
would be an infinite source of mystery. Because I was reading
Bullfinch's Mythology at the time, I decided to give her the code name
I believe it was a Thursday afternoon, because that was when I used
to come into town to hear the symphonies in the park. I bought a yellow
rose at the Chinese store, thinking I would give it to Isolde as I knew she
liked flowers. The shop was hot and stuffy and I lingered in the first
room, as she was busy with old Mrs. Adamski in the second. To my
surprise, they were arguing in a heated manner about some money the
old woman apparently owed the shop. Mrs. Adamski was demented;
Isolde cold and harsh in a manner totally uncharacteristic of her.
"I have friends with power!" cried Mrs. Adamski.
"Then get them to pay your debt," said Isolde.
"My friend from Venus will burn you to a crisp!"
"You're a mad, silly old woman."
"Oh you'll regret talking to me like this! You will!"
"Please get out of here."
The old woman persisted in her crazy argument and Isolde stalked
out of the shop, her face white with rage. She walked right past me
without acknowledgement, almost as if she had divined my secret and
was offended. The old woman then went to the door of the third room
and remonstrated with Hind, who was sitting at the oak desk, smoking.
Hind was amused and tried to humour her.
"I don't care about the money, Mrs. Adamski."
"It's a lie. I owe her nothing."
"If you say so Mrs. Adamski."
The old woman finally left, muttering about strange powers,
dragging her heavy shopping bag like an old crone limping from a
wake. I entered the third room and sat down.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
Hind looked me over for a minute, debating whether or not it was
worth taking me into his confidence.
"The old bag's been stealing books. . . mostly crap out of the religious
section. She's a goddamn nuisance."
"I've never seen Isolde that angry."
Hind chuckled, then spluttered on the smoke as he stubbed his
138 "She's easily upset these days."
"What's the matter? Something wrong at home?"
"She's been receiving obscene phone calls."
"What —here?"
"Two or three a week."
Instinctively I distrusted and loathed Hind; in his coarse way I could
see he enjoyed this seedy situation. His fat face leered at me in
anticipation of further details.
"Have you been in touch with the police?"
"There's not much they can do."
He was sucking on a toothpick. For some reason, I immediately
thought he was responsible —not an unusual reaction, I suppose, rather
like the King slaying the messenger of bad news.
"Does she have any idea who it is?"
"It's someone that's been in the shop, that's for sure." He jerked his
head to the side. "He's threatened to get her in the alley. . .and in the
back room."
"Poor girl. It must be an ugly experience."
"Aw, I dunno. . . probably stimulates her sex life with the professor."
I have always realized that decadence has a certain intellectual
validity; as a matter of fact I had discussed de Sade with Hind on an
earlier occasion, and it was clear he was something of an expert in this
area. He was fascinated by Sir Richard Burton the explorer and he was
forever going on about Frank Harris and Aleister Crowley. But there
was a tasteless feeling about his expositions on these men of action;
basically he liked to talk dirty as a means of seduction. Needless to say I
had romanticized Isolde to the point where I thought my perception of
her was correct and exclusive and what Hind said next cut me to the
"It's probably one of my enemies trying to get at me," said Hind,
"because, well, it's commonly thought that she's my mistress."
The inference was there —and it was a probability I hadn't considered
before. The idea was hideous, just as the obscene phone calls were
hideous. I felt sick, tense, nervous. Suddenly it all became clear to me: I
was merely a plaything, a diversion, a slave to be sent out into the
marketplace to procure bargains for Hind and his beautiful slut. I made
an excuse and quickly left the shop.
So I came to know the dark side of love, the hopeless suicidal anguish
which comes from doubt and betrayal. Yet I loved her, forgave her for
the sins I couldn't be sure she'd committed. I pressed the yellow rose
between the pages of my notebook and even attempted to write some
poetry. Days passed, then weeks; I avoided the bookshop and remained
secluded in my rooms. I read late into the night, because I couldn't
sleep. I even started to drink. Drinking had always been boring to me
before but now I gained a new appreciation of the purgatory of the
139 hangover. Several times I was drawn to the bookshop but passed on
without entering; I even phoned but hung up when she answered. I was
glad when classes resumed and I was able to lose myself in the academic
It must have been November when I encountered Hind in one of his
favorite bars; I realize now I was drawn there by an unconscious desire
to make contact. The bar was an eccentric place which used junk as its
motif—toys, ruined clocks, pieces of machinery, old signs, all this was
nailed to the walls and ceilings. The place was popular with the local
business men and many of them, including Hind, ate lunch there. I was
standing at the bar when he passed by on his way to the toilet.
"Hello there," he said, drawing up, "I haven't seen you in a
while. . . what've you been up to? You look like hell."
I made a few generalizations, then asked about Isolde.
"She's not in great shape," he said. "I think her husband's about
ready to divorce her. She's been all screwed up since the summer. . .the
obscene calls, y'know."
"Is he still calling?"
"Who? The guy? Nah. . .he stopped but she's still screwed up about
it. Says she has nightmares. It's the not-knowing-who-it-is she says."
Hind shook his head. "I dunno, it's sad, she's such a great woman
but. . ."
Hind seemed to be genuinely concerned and I could see that I had
misjudged the situation. He slapped me on the shoulder and went on his
way; I continued drinking and brooded on the situation. It was two
days, perhaps three, before I realized what I had to do. When you are
ill, you can allow the illness to damage you, even kill you; and the
curious irony was that I could identify with what was happening to
Isolde. I knew that if I could resolve my dilemma, hers would be
resolved too.
It was raining heavily as I approached the bookshop with its familiar
mustard-coloured canopy overhanging the sidewalk and the barrel of
bargain discards that Isolde set out every morning as a lure to passers-
by. I lingered for a moment at the window, looking but not seeing the
display which she had carefully laid out on red velvet. The bell jangled
as I opened the door and entered; the powerful musty odor of the books
was mixed with the smell of oil from the small black stove in the second
room. The rooms were dark with winter light despite the feeble
supplement of the dirty naked bulbs in the plaster ceilings. I came into
the third room and sat down; I could hear someone moving at the back.
Slowly I surveyed the familiar contents of the room, the same old books,
engravings, the glass case with its treasures, the oak desk at which she
worked. It was a melancholy place but I felt secure — a classic case of the
return to the womb, no doubt. The phone rang, its shrill cries
destroying my reverie. It rang three times, then stopped.
140 Isolde appeared, wiping her nose with a kleenex. As usual, she was
dressed in black. There were dark rings around her eyes but these
couldn't remove the obvious spiritual beauty of someone like her.
"My goodness. . .you're back," she said. "I thought you'd left the
I smiled faintly and said, "How are you?"
"I've got a terrible cold, actually."
"I saw Hind the other day. He said you haven't been well..."
She shrugged and sat down at the desk, crossing her legs. Neither of
us said anything for a moment, then she tossed her hair back, lit a
cigarette and inhaled deeply.
"Found any new books for me?"
"I haven't been looking. I. . . I've been busy with other matters."
"You don't look well yourself."
I nodded, then stammered, "I. . . I've come here for a reason. I've got
something to tell you."
At this, her complexion changed; she warmed, like a mother towards
her child. As for me, there was a tightening in the chest.
"A confession?"
"I think I know what it is."
"No, I don't think so. . . O God, Isolde, I feel so bad. . .so horrible."
She waited calmly as she must have waited for others, her atmosphere
drawing them into her ultimate security. I took several deep breaths and
then blurted out:
"It was me... I am the man who has been phoning you!"
"Phoning me. . . ?"
"Yes. The obscene calls."
She stared at me. "No. . .you? You?"
I covered my eyes; my hands were trembling.
"But you love me."
"I do. I love you desperately but..."
"I don't believe you. . .you couldn't do that. . .you couldn't. . .but
why? Why would you? You love me. I know you do!"
"It was me. . . please forgive me."
Then I rose and left her baffled, repeating the word love softly to
herself in different intonations, trying to exhaust the ambiguity of its
meaning. As I walked carelessly into the rain, my body transfused with
the ecstacy of sacrifice, there was no longer any doubt for me as to the
meaning of it all.
ANNA AKHMATOVA was one of the great lyric poets in Russia. She was
persecuted during her lifetime (1889-1966) and much of her poetry is still
banned in the U.S.S.R.
HUGH G. ANDERSON is a teacher in Port McNeill, B.C. His work has been
anthologized in Storm Warnings 2.
HOWARD Baker teaches in Mission, B.C. His work has appeared in several
Canadian journals.
Stanislaw Baranczak was born in Poznan, Poland in 1946. He is a poet and
translator and an editor of Notations, an underground journal.
GrAZYNA Drabk is a poet and translator who lives in N.Y. Her work has
appeared in a number of journals.
KENNETH EMBERLEY lives in Waterloo, Ontario. This is his first publication.
FORUGH FARROKHZAD was born in Tehran in 1934 and killed there in 1967. She
is regarded by many as one of the greatest innovators in Persian poetry. Jascha
Kessler's translations of her poetry will be published soon — Bride of the A cacias:
The Selected Poetry of Forugh Farrokhzad (Westview Press), sponsored by
Columbia University.
AUSTIN Flint teaches Creative Writing at Columbia University. He has
published three novels.
Paul A. Green is a former Vancouver resident now living in Devon. He is
currently working on a science-fiction stage play.
Robert Hilles has recently published his first book of poetry, Look the Lovely
Animal Speaks (Turnstone Books) and will publish his second, The Surprise
Element (Sidereal Press) in May.
142 Michael C. Kenyon lives in Victoria, B.C. This is his first publication.
Jascha Kessler is a professor of English at U.C.L.A., a writer and translator.
He has recently published The Magician's Garden: 24 Stories from the
Hungarian of Geza Csath (Columbia U. Press), Bearing Gifts (Treacle Press)
and Transmigrations (Jazz Press).
Ewa Lipska was born in Cracow in 1945. She has published six volumes of
poetry and, in 1978, received the Robert Graves Poetry Award of PEN.
GWENDOLYN MacEwan is a well-known Canadian poet and novelist. She
received the Governor-General's Award in 1969.
Sandy McIlwain is a poet and translator living in Vancouver.
Harry Martinson is a well-known Swedish poet.
MATEJA Matevski is the President of the Cultural Commision for Foreign
Affairs, Yogoslavia.
Alden Nowlan has published ten collections of poetry. He was recipient of the
Governor-General's Award, the Canadian Authors' Association Silver Medal
and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
DAVTD O'Rourke is a Canadian writer presently studying in the U.S.
Yves PREFONTAINE is a Quebec poet whose first book, Boreal, was very well
received. Currently, he works for the Parti Quebecois government.
Meklos Radnoti will soon publish a volume of poetry, Under Gemini: Selected
Poetry ofMihlos Radnoti (Ohio U. Press), translated by Jascha Kessler.
LAWRENCE Russell recently published a novella, Alien Paradise (Angst World
Library) and will soon publish another, The 25th Hour.
RANDALL SlLVIS is studying psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
BRONWEN Wallace has recently published, with Mary di Michelle, a collection
of poetry, Bread & Chocolate /Marrying Into The Family (Oberon).
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS is the world famous author of such plays as A Streetcar
Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Night of the Iguana. He has also
written short stories, poetry and essays.
Tennessee Williams: The Red Devil Battery Sign.
Poems by: Yves Prefontaine, Alden Nowlan, Gwendolyn
MacEwan, Forugh Farrokhzad, Ewa Lipska, Harry
Martinson. . . .
Fiction by: Lawrence Russell, Randall Silvis, David
O'Rourke and Kenneth Emberley.
George Ryga, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Myler Wilkinson,
O. W. Winchester, Yannis Goumas. . . .
ISSN 0032-8790


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