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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment.
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.
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