Poetry Prelude to The Tempest

The lawn party goers before this month’s Off Square Theatre Company’s production of The Tempest were treated to poetry from Jackson Hole Writers’ Beverly Leys, Brian Nystrom, Cassandra Lee, Connie Wieneke, Jocelyn Slack and Matt Daly. It was fun to hear what the poets came up with in response to Shakespeare’s strange play, a comedy with tragic overtones. Here we share the poems read that evening.

Again thanks to Off Square Theatre’s Clare Payne Simmons and Natalia Macker for suggesting this partnership. We hope to do more with them soon. We are exploring collaborating with the company to bring Peter Aguero, of The Moth fame, in November. That weekend will feature a performance and conversation, and a story-teller workshop. All of us–poets and prose writers can learn something about story-telling from Peter.

A Tantrum

Impending fronts darken the horizon.

In a fit of bad temper you dream up a storm

of rising tides and confused seas.

You make a scene, whip up a maelstrom of

violent commotion to deflect

your looming unwanted piece of privacy.

You huff, call it banishment, exile, stolen by a gale,

swept away to your prison of seclusion.

One last violent passion

enraptured with your intellect, drunk on your treasures

you shipwreck your puppets

with false promises and fictional histories.

Pulling strings bullying pawns.

When you tire of paradise and your revenge sours

how will you negotiate the tumultuous cross currants of decline?

I worry when your power of deceit blows itself out

and the calm becomes your watery grave.

–Jocelyn Slack


Becalmed, she whispered, “Gust” and “pox” and felt
her nails grow jagged and her knuckles horned.
Alone, she’d sought Ferdinand’s throat, thought, “bruise”
and moved on to the meaning of “husband”:
a convenient crate stamped with the royal
seal. “Every man,” she mused, “grips cane or mast,
wand or staff, and scribbles, in draft, his plots
of revenge or return onto vellum
or sand.” She raged at the reams of pale sheaves
stowed by the spirit held fast in belief
that her father controlled when to free it.
From the listless night she spied a frigate
bird, foul as Caliban, skimming the dark-
bodied sea and she swore to never land.

–Matt Daly

A Dialogue


Whatever seeks heat finds Fire –

      In my body a flare

                   Of matchstick heart;

       In incendiary dream

                  My mind free of ash.


Whatever follows flow embraces Water –

          Mutable tissue, through thinned body walls,

                  My cells trade life;

          Images wash, drowned as they go,

                 The floodplain of my mind.



Whatever desires depth looks to Earth –

           Roughshod feet cling to soil

                     My wayward body poised;

          Mind burrows deep, assembles my core

                   Coal compressed to diamond.



Whatever is mastered by breath craves Air –

         Accordion lungs deepen the draw

                  My rib cage wide;

        Restless mind contracts, expands

               A tightrope for my walking.


–Beverly Leys

The Dark Backward

No excuse, no coup or leaky boat,

nor island nor magic cloak to absolve me

of my every wrong turn. Oh, I could

claim that I was wronged, call forth tears,

but you, dear daughter, would be right to say

Sleight of hand doesn’t count.

Though the wind chop sea and sky deadly olive

and dreadful thunder calls forth such creatures

as nightmares are made, you remain unimpressed.

I could proclaim my love for you

is a shipwreck within, all hands lost at sea,

all wracked and ruined, you’d say

          Pignuts. Earth. All illusion.

But I was once a duke!

What the hell, you say, is a duke

But some duck or goose or drunk sleeping

In a tree, an organ pipe rattling in its lungs?

That’s me, beset and besotten by sunburnt sicklemen,

harpies and a mooncalf. Oh me. What stuff.

          Indeed, you say, what stuff. Rounded with sleep,

          All sharp edges worn smooth by time

         And a sea change. Your pearly eyes,

         Your coral ribcage.

Mine? Oh me. How deep and how will I fathom thee?

I set you free. Draw near.

–Brian Nystrom


                           That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment.

                                                                     Coleridge 1817

There is something pitiless, something so

professional about the dresser’s stern gaze

and needle. Backstage she bastes together

what the audience never sees: the knots

that hold tonight so easily removed tomorrow,

the cotton batting that muscles the shoulders

of drunks and kings. The glitter on hems and cuffs,

she sprays on from a can.


How can I not admire her devotion

to make it happen, this rough magic? All in a day’s

work: under fluorescent lights, a slave to the propped

up table, in one of the rooms we are never meant to see:

sweatshop, slaughterhouse, other people’s bedrooms.


I want to be this spirit behind-the-scenes, Ariel,

the one who blazons thrift-store gowns and jackets.

That mess we think we know. The dresser stiffens

the collars that hold the actors’ necks with cardboard,

secures the robe of old curtain for a skinny Prospero

with Velcro, confident the gussets for a different tyrant

grown fat will not come undone.

                                                         Underneath I know

the dresser knows we remain the same whatever

clothing we’ve left behind us. Bystanders and players

marooned briefly, here, on a beach of our own imagining.

The larvae of cloth moths and the teeth of mice always

have their way. If not them, some other rot. Nothing

ever escapes. The curtain falls on Propsero’s words.


In the morning I listen for the rush-and-jumble

ratchety calls of wrens in the willows outside my window.

I call them. Uneasy. As if they know something.

The dresser still must be sleeping. The wings

of the birds never reach her. The wings of the birds

never reach her.

–Connie Wieneke

In a Body Like a Grave

You are good at performing. You can perform smooth water. You cannot afford a tree, but you can perform wood splintered against coral near Harrington Sound. You can afford a joke between stones. Light or dark peonies that smile and smile until their clothes fall off. A tempest is a violent, windy storm. Or a stormy violent wind. Or TEMPEST refers to the spying on information systems through leaking emanations. TEMPEST standards require RED/BLACK separation i.e. maintain distance or install shielding. You ask, “Am I too sad?” No, not too sad because you see it’s also funny. That’s why you wear the mask that smells like new floor-mats. That’s why your psyche divides itself into three parts. Part of it waits and part of it hides and part of it performs until this type of play is banned. TEMPEST may disclose Information processed by any information-processing equipment. For example, it is possible to log your keystrokes inside your smartphone. Despite the placid strokes, the ship wrecks and you must admit you’ve surrounded yourself with water. The muscles at the base of your neck sink from the treading and treading, the violent wind your bloated RED or bloated BLACK feet cause beneath a saline flavored surface. The motion sensor includes mechanical vibrations. In the end you must settle for applause. You must break and bury your magic and settle for applause. TEMPEST-approved equipment must be manufactured under careful control. To change even a single wire can invalidate the tests

–Cassandra Lee