Posted in poetry, WAKING JAY'S MUSE: (Poetry & Prose)

THE SINS OF THE GRANDFATHER (a play in free verse)

End of Scene 3

((  BETTY
You may look out at all that vastness, young man; you may marvel at it, but to the black-robed judge in me, yes, even then … balanced, logical, by all means literal that’s naught but ground fog out there, held aloft by a perfect barometric equilibrium between the downward pressures from above and the upward pressures from below. And even as Robert read, my thought interjected: “Fog … it may look for all intents like something smoldering, but indeed it’s fog! Indisputably, it’s fog.
 (Closing her eyes and speaking softly)
Young man …?

ROBBIE
Ma’am?

BETTY
Would it be too bizarre a notion in your mind to think for a moment of standing here beside me?

ROBBIE
Not at all. ))

Scene 4

                             BETTY
Thank you. You see, I knew I’d be leaving for law school in the fall and there beside me was this pink-cheeked tousled man-child transforming fog to smoke. And more … his mind created a magical land beneath the fog or smoke, then populated it with frightening phantasmagoria.
(And she adds with a finality that was as to latch and bolt the door or slam down the window against the weather of her mischievous memory:)
Some things there are that should be voiceless.
(As though to punctuate this, she clamps shut her lips. During the silence that ensues, ROBBIE glances down at her hand, brings his eyes up to her face, smiles self-consciously, then carries the smile back to her hand. He hears her in-breath, but not its release.)
BETTY [Continued]
Thank you for the loan of yourself.
 (Still holding ROBBIE’S hand, she remains silent a moment more.)
I was such a young thing then and so frightened by how enormous and untamed was his vision of life.

ROBBIE
Strange … I grew up seeing Grandpa behind his desk, the phone to his ear, a pen in his hand, but numbers, only numbers on the papers that cluttered his desk. There must have been words written there, but only numbers I remember.

BETTY
He was not happy with his numbers?

ROBBIE
He never said.

BETTY
See the yellow splotches at the tops of the peaks? Will you, before the greedy, plains-eating sun comes—remind me of the Unpopular miracles?

ROBBIE
(Looking down at their hands entwined.)
I’ll start, then, where he poetically imagined the young Betty questioning him—I think scoffingly—of the land below the smoldering plain.

BETTY
And he knew full-well what would be my derision, for they were captured there in the lines he read to me from a paper he held, I remember, with shaking hand.

ROBBIE
(Reciting)
Why not take it on faith
What my imagination knows first-hand?
How, hidden in this valley
Are the unpopular miracles:

Secret groves that dazzle the eyes
As would an emerald sun;
Magnificent trees (those needly towers)
That are loftier and more splendid
Than any child’s dream could make them.
And everywhere, everywhere,
Wildflowers waft a fragrance
Much too delicately perfumed
For anyone … save those witches who,
In veils of white gauze
Whirl among the trees
Beside the path that winds
Round and round beneath their dance.
  (feeling the tug of her hand as though it were in the prison of his. And she holds her now freed hand in her other and stares down at them.)
ROBBIE [Continued]
Then you do remember the next line, don’t you?

BETTY
If you did not have his same smile; if you were not the age he was then; if you were not holding my hand as he was—but yes … I remember it viscerally—though not its words.

ROBBIE
Then let me share them with you now, at your safer distance.
(Recites)
No! Don’t go! Not yet, my love;
Or rather we, hand-in-hand,
Step out upon that plain …. No?
Then, hush! And let my words paint
What below, together, we’d surely find;

Below, there are a thousand ponds,
And at each pond’s edge,
Water Sprites imitate the Universe
With their spritely feet
In water so frigidly azure
That on its surface snow and swans
Transform eternally as they drift.

BETTY
  (Turning to him)
I must go back now, Robert ….
  (Laughing)
Did I call you Robert? It’s because I was so much in that moment then that I was going to say to you: “I must go back, young man, before I test Robert’s premise.” It was to be a joke until Robert’s name popped out, instead of yours … and now … now I’m not so sure.
 (Taking a step away from him, then turning back.)
I’m an old woman, but I want you to know that spiritually I was an old woman even then. Not wise in the spirit. Just old in the spirit.

ROBBIE
But if you had been spiritually young back then—?

BETTY
But I wasn’t, so how can I answer now?

ROBERT
Still, you can answer what I need to know. Supposing you had not resisted his premise, holding your hand, would he have stepped off onto the plain?

BETTY
I do believe he would, young man. And he would have been faithful to his poetic imaginings right up ‘til we were dashed against the rocks or impaled on one of those needly towers of his. You smile again ….

ROBBIE
I can see now the girl that Grandpa loved.

BETTY
I was incapable of giving what his spirit needed. Don’t you see? I’d have been that all-devouring sun. I’d have destroyed him.

ROBBIE
Instead, life republicanized him. And his destruction took so much longer. He loved you. He always loved you. Tell me you didn’t love him ….

BETTY
It’s complicated.

ROBBIE
Did you ever marry?

BETTY
I didn’t—no.

ROBBIE
You didn’t want a family?

BETTY
It’s complicated … and you’re being nosey, young man. And there—there’s that infernal smile again.

ROBBIE
You did love him~ And is that a smile on your lips?

BETTY
(Turning)
I’ll be leaving now. I’m going, but you can stay. I’ll wait for you at the rock. It’s fog here; make no doubt about that, but if you wish, you can wait for it to burn off. It’s already beginning, see? When it does you’ll see your Grandpa’s world is truly populated with bushes and trees and rocks—very unpoetic fare that—right?

ROBBIE
Then why don’t you stay with me? Why don’t we—together—prove you right?

BETTY
I’m going now.

ROBBIE
Stay. Let us, in the full glare of the sun, peer down over the edge. Of course, it will be trees, bushes and rocks we’ll see, and we’ll laugh the laughter of the enlightened. Come back! I’ll hold your hand and we’ll look down at the gift of reality the sun has given us. And Bett, listen—

BETTY
Oh, don’t! That was what Robert called me, Bett!

ROBBIE
Listen, we’ll gaze down over the edge, and if—of course, it can’t happen—but if we see, not bushes but water sprites, not rocks, but witches … why then gloriously, hand-in-hand, we shall step off into the delicious ecstasy of their total embrace.

BETTY
Goodbye, young man.

ROBBIE
You won’t stay?

BETTY
Goodbye, Robert.

ROBBIE
Goodbye Bett.

FINAL CURTAIN

 

Posted in poetry, WAKING JAY'S MUSE: (Poetry & Prose)

THE SINS OF THE GRANDFATHER (a play in free verse)

Welcome to:  SCENE 3

 LAST OF SCENE 2

BETTY
(Even while doubling over, wheezing and coughing, she seems to rush to say:)
Of course, I knew. Ha! You mean he made you fulfill a promise he was unwilling to perform this side of the grave?

ROBBIE
He always loved you.

BETTY
(Turning away briefly, then back)
If we are to look out upon the muse who breathed into his poem, go with me along this leveler ground-clinging fog that strangely hugs one’s calves, hovering there and no higher.

Scene 3

SETTING:  Downstage Right to Upstage Center is a rather freeform, bow-shape “lip” of the precipice. Shrubbery and brush, here and there, follow the contour of the “lip.” Everything on the other side is blackness. From Upstage Right to Left, is the backdrop of the snowy, twin peaks in the distance, which, from mid peak down seems submerged in an ocean of fog. Ground-fog, about one foot tall, covers the remainder of the stage. The tops of the twin peaks glow from the sunlight behind them.

AT RISE:  ROBBIE and BETTY stand Centerstage Left, having just reached the crest of the mountain they had climbed. They stand in the ground fog.

ROBBIE
I know he wanted to come.

BETTY
We must hurry, young man, else all will be for nothing if we get there after the sun has burned away the fog.

ROBBIE
  (Reciting)
All will vanish;
for nothing that mind creates
can endure that terrible sun,
the sun’s first shafts.

BETTY
Don’t talk; just walk.

ROBBIE
He really did love you.

BETTY
All those years … Why did he not come, then?

ROBBIE
He had my Dad and my Aunt to raise. He had obligations. He had his job. Besides, he said …
(Thinking better of finishing)
BETTY
He said?

ROBBIE
Grandpa said that Betty, above all, would understand that.

BETTY
And he explained those words, did he?

ROBBIE
No, he said it and then he only smiled.

BETTY
If you only knew the irony that smile contained.
  (Pointing)
But Look! Look!

ROBBIE
 (Having been so intent on their words, he hadn’t noticed, before now, those magnificent twin peaks that seemed to float on an ocean of gray foam. He recites:)
Those peaks
Which eat endlessly the valley
Somewhere beneath the smoldering plain.

BETTY
I think it was over there—yes—there where the edge curves out then back like a pouting lip. Yes, here it is—we’re here now where we stood hand-in-hand, while in his other he held the sheet from which he read.

ROBBIE
It must have been a magical moment.

BETTY
You may look out at all that vastness, young man; you may marvel at it, but to the black-robed judge in me, yes, even then … balanced, logical, by all means literal that’s naught but ground fog out there, held aloft by a perfect barometric equilibrium between the downward pressures from above and the upward pressures from below. And even as Robert read, my thought interjected: “Fog … it may look for all intents like something smoldering, but indeed it’s fog! Indisputably, it’s fog.
 (Closing her eyes and speaking softly)
Young man …?

ROBBIE
Ma’am?

BETTY
Would it be too bizarre a notion in your mind to think for a moment of standing here beside me?

ROBBIE
Not at all.

END OF SCENE 3

Posted in poetry, WAKING JAY'S MUSE: (Poetry & Prose)

THE SINS OF THE GRANDFATHER (a play in free verse)

LAST PART OF SCENE 1

                     ((     BETTY
If you don’t mind, I’ll just have you pry me from the prison of this rock and if I succeed in straightening out these ancient legs and convince my egg-shell knees to bear my weight …
(ROBBIE moves, smiling, to the front of her and holds out his hands.)
… then I’ll let you be my crutch for the final hundred yards. When you’re eighteen—but you know this! —the step is truer, the lungs fuller, the trail leveler even when with forsaken, wounded pride you follow alone, mumbling and grumbling behind.

ROBBIE
As you did then?

BETTY
As I did then
(She lets him guide her toward the trail, gingerly over the soggy leaves and needles, her elbow as fragile as a bird in the nest of his palm. He glimpses the glances she tries, in the muted light, to hide.)
Let us agree the sins of the grandfather are now visiting the grandson. ))

ACT I

                                                                                 Scene 2

ROBBIE
 (quickly protesting)
But I don’t mind.

BETTY
(On incline of the trail, she lays a cool-soft palm upon his arm, and with a voice strained with the fatigue of the climb, tries to sound oblique and casual.)
How was it Robert mentioned me to you?

ROBBIE
It was after I read the poem.

BETTY
 (Hesitantly)
He gave it to you to read?

ROBBIE
He published it on a writer’s website he subscribed to. I read dozens of his other things. This one seemed somehow truer.

BETTY
How truer?

ROBBIE
More honest.

BETTY
(She stops him near the graying crest. Turning him toward her, she holds his shoulders in her hands and studies his face.)
Tell me this, please: I need to know before we are there … Did Robert tell you what he did after reading me his poem?

ROBBIE
After the poem?

BETTY
His cause for flinging that wadded ball of words over the edge?

ROBBIE
No.

BETTY
(After A long silence, she releases her grip on his shoulders.)
But he did ask you to find me?

ROBBIE
Yes.

BETTY
Allow this foolish old woman one question more. Is your grandmother still alive?

ROBBIE
Perhaps. We may never know. Grandpa’s wife, you mean? Yes, yes, she left him when Dad was only ten. Grandpa raised my Dad and Aunt Betty by himself.

BETTY
He named his daughter Betty? But then it’s common enough a name. And your Dad’s?

ROBBIE
His name? Robert as well. Robert—a junior.

BETTY
Ah. Robert.
(Brief pause)
Young man, as you let me lean my weight against you these last few yards, can you suffer one more question?

ROBBIE
Of course, I can.
(Coming to the steepest part of the path widening to the crest—compacted and slick underfoot—ROBBIE angles his arm down her back and clasps her elbow in his palm.)
We’re too near our goal to risk a nasty fall.
(Becomes silent waiting for the framing of her promised question)

BETTY
Why …?  I can’t help but wonder why …

ROBBIE
Why what?

BETTY
Why didn’t he …?
(Shaking her head)
Is he ill?

ROBBIE
Grandpa? I’m sorry, I—

BETTY
He always fancied himself as impervious. Invulnerable. A touch of fool immortality in his blood. Why—

ROBBIE
I thought you knew. But then how could you have?

BETTY
I knew? Oh …

ROBBIE
(His arm across her back feels the instant of her insight; the loose flesh firefly shivered into it and were it not for this last incline’s strain on them, he’d have thought the simultaneous sagging of her knees to be from the same unsolicited messenger.)
Here, I’ve got my footing. We’ll not fall. Lean against me these last few feet. Here …
(he boosts her up to the level ground and pulls himself up after her.)

BETTY
(Even while doubling over, wheezing and coughing, she seems to rush to say:)
Of course, I knew. Ha! You mean he made you fulfill a promise he was unwilling to perform this side of the grave?

ROBBIE
He always loved you.

BETTY
(Turning away briefly, then back)
If we are to look out upon the muse who breathed into his poem, go with me along this leveler ground-clinging fog that strangely hugs one’s ankles, hovering there and no higher.

(CURTAIN)
(END OF SCENE 2)

Posted in poetry, WAKING JAY'S MUSE: (Poetry & Prose)

THE SINS OF THE GRANDFATHER (a play in free verse)

 

Cast of Characters

Robbie:  A young man in his early 20s, sent on a mission by his grandfather. Sensitive and intelligent, he is keenly aware of what could be the terrible product of his mission.

Betty:   A woman in her mid-70s. She comports herself with dignity, without the vainglory often associated with it. At her core, she is honest with herself, which leaves her vulnerable to sadness over choices not made.

ACT I
Scene 1

SETTING:  In a small clearing near the crest of a mountain, Down Center. A large rock in center, sloping down the rear of it, with a crude seat carved in the front. The “seat” portion faces the audience, but angled left enough that the sloping rear can be seen. A path, behind the rock, meanders stage left, right and left again, on an incline to upstage where it steepens a few feet before the crest. Foliage (or the suggestion of same) can be seen on either side of the path on its winding way upstage. Since it is predawn, the stage lights should be dim and the actors’ flashlights will play more prominently.

 

Time

    The present, predawn

AT RISE:  ROBBIE and BETTY are in a clearing, near the crest of the mountain.

BETTY
        (Shines her flashlight on the rock, with  ROBBIE standing behind it, his hand upon the back of it.)
Let’s linger here a bit, young man, and in my flashlight’s yellow arc, I’ll rest and watch you lay one impatient finger-drumming hand upon the pocks of the rock’s gentler slope.
(ROBBIE comes around to the side of the rock and trains his light on her as she prepares with some labor to sit.)
And while you turn your light on me, I’ll delicately slot my seven decades of practiced poise into this perfect granite notch that the millennia of winter winds up the western slope have hollowed for today’s respite. You smile.
 (She appears to study his smile)
It’s your Grandpa’s smile, you know. The way the corners upturn.

ROBBIE
So I’ve been told.

BETTY
Uncanny … Well, it was here we took our last breather then … just as we are now. With but two differences. There were no roads back then, braceleting the sides of the mountain, coiling higher and higher to the spot where you parked your car, leaving us a hike of a paltry mile to where we now relax.
(She pauses to give herself a cautious two-fingered prod above the knee then a tentative squeeze in the fleshier part of her thigh.                     Frowning, she continues.)
Ours, back then, were trim and muscular limbs, yes! But still it took two more hours to trudge with kerosene lantern for light, up from the meadowed baseline to this refuge, having the same goal as now: to reach the precipice before the dawn.
(She falls silent. But when her reverie hangs too long in the cool-darkened silence, the young man nudges.)

ROBBIE
And the second difference, Your Honor?

BETTY
Your honor, ha! In the town below, you may address me thus, and I swear I’ll glow with vagrant pride. But in these mountains, there is no protocol.
(Reaches down to pick up a piece of moss at her feet.)
Betty I was then and in these mountains, Betty I am still.
(In the beam of his light, she turns her head and eyes to him as she throws him the prod.)
You don’t seem to share Robert’s impetuosity. That is the other difference, you see. It was his impetuosity that urged him go without me those last hundred yards.
(She tosses her light beam past ROBBIE’S shoulder and beyond him)
From this rock to—see? —to where the trail there bends beyond the scrub and rises to the precipice.

ROBBIE
(Following where her crooked finger points, then turns back his disbelieving eyes)
Grandpa left you? He wouldn’t—

BETTY
Oh, but he would and did. But don’t misunderstand. It was not from lack of caring, but rather an opulence of caring that sent him on ahead alone to reaffirm that imagination’s canvas and palette were just as he’d left them the week before. Oh, young man, don’t frown! That part of him that was, at his core, authentic then, would be a blasphemy if not his now. He could no more not do it that day than he could on my parents’ porch swing entwine his hand with mine and drone a humdrum bramble of mundanities.

ROBBIE
Grandpa’d been there first alone?

BETTY
He had, and so enrapt he was by its grandeur that, despite my most staid and studied protestations, there on that porch swing, he obsessed that together we would climb this mountain the very next morning, and together would gaze across—
(Repeating to the twin mounds of spongy pine needles the toes of her shoes had formed and then carefully kept apart:)
—would gaze across …

ROBBIE
(Studying her eyes sad vacancy, the young man half-whispers:)
Would gaze across that ancient spread.

BETTY
Oh, Robert!

ROBBIE
I shouldn’t have.

BETTY
Oh, but yes. It’s just as if—just now as if—as if I heard a voice from a half-century before. But you couldn’t have—I saw him throw it, wadded, over the edge.

ROBBIE
I have it.
(Taps his temple)
I have it.

BETTY
Oh, please then, the first lines. The lines I thought were carved in my memory and now that porous sponge oozes out just dum da dum da dum da dum.

ROBBIE
The lines I think you’re searching for are:

Let us linger a moment more,
I promise then we’ll go;
A moment more to gaze
across that ancient spread. See?
Those distant and marvelous peaks?
See them there? Those peaks—

BETTY
(With tear-brimmed eyes she recites with ROBBIE:)
Which eat endlessly the valley
Somewhere beneath the smoldering plain.
(Neither speaks for a long moment. She daubs her eyes with a square of linen she had drawn from her sleeve.)

ROBBIE
Shall I go on?

BETTY
Not now, please.

ROBBIE
As you wish.

BETTY
If you don’t mind, I’ll just have you pry me from the prison of this rock and if I succeed in straightening out these ancient legs and convince my egg-shell knees to bear my weight …
(ROBBIE moves, smiling, to the front of her and holds out his hands.)
… then I’ll let you be my crutch for the final hundred yards. When you’re eighteen—but you know this! —the step is truer, the lungs fuller, the trail leveler even when with forsaken, wounded pride you follow alone, mumbling and grumbling behind.

ROBBIE
As you did then?

BETTY
As I did then
(She lets him guide her toward the trail, gingerly over the soggy leaves and needles, her elbow as fragile as a bird in the nest of his palm. He glimpses the glances she tries, in the muted light, to hide.)

(SINS OF THE GRANDFATHER will continue with scene 2, tomorrow)