Wednesday, June 26, 2013

theatre and poetry notes.

I didn’t know Kim Ricketts as well as I wish I had, but I knew two things about her: she loved her children more than anything, and she breathed poetry the way a fish breathes water (to borrow from Denise Levertov). I think of Kim whenever I read something by William Stafford, and especially when I read his poem ‘A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER.’ I was told that this was her favorite poem. I hadn’t heard it since her funeral, but it came up again during one of the plays in Seattle Rep’s Writer’s Group Showcase.

Elizabeth Heffron’s PORTUGAL is about the aftermath of an industrial accident at a Hanford nuclear waste farm. There are intertwined stories, but it is mainly about a young mother who is coming to the realization that she will not live to see her children grow up. Near the end, her mother-in-law gives her a book of poetry, and this is the poem that the young woman (played by Emily Chisholm, one of my favorite actresses) reads aloud to her husband. She read it with the serenity of someone who knows that they are going to die, and has accepted this as an unchangeable fact. I started to cry a few lines into the poem and didn’t stop until the play ended fifteen minutes later. It was a little bit embarrassing.


If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


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