Get on with it now
y’ auld blatherskite.
Aren’t we that sick of lookin’
at each other for forty years.
Twenty thousand cups of tea together
to flood the vale of Slievenamon
boiled spuds chomped
to feed a legion of Black and Tans.
A bit of quiet ’t wouldn’t be a bother.
’Tis your moanin’ in Belial’s night
I cannot thole.
Tear through the blue light.
A lamb needs to be suckled . . .
Dig the peat from beneath
his ragged nails and file them smooth.
Air the upper room, the crocheted spread.
’Tis a pity to bury him
in his store-boughten suit
when the Devlins down the lonen
go threadbare through the bog of a Sunday.
I can no thole your tears, child.
’T were no saint he.
His long silences hogged my light.
Dust on chintz curtains. Draw well
water for tea. Fetch a porcelain cup.
Arra, Cushla, hush,
save a sup for him.
’T weren’t it he that was always starved
with the cold.
Editor’s note: Everything You Touch was originally commissioned by True Love Productions and is scheduled to premiere in New York City in 2014. A full-length play written in three parts, the first of those parts is presented below.
Playwright’s note: Throughout the play, the CHORUS OF MODELS will be used as furniture, wall-paper, lamps, decor, often in a humorous way. But let it be noted— when not parading around the imagination of JESS or in a literal fashion show, they are ever-present objects, to be objectified at will.
PART ONE: FUCK YOU FUCK YOU
JESS appears in her office. She clutches a LARGE SCRAPBOOK. It’s chunky, filled with scraps of fabric, drawings, pieces of metal, etc. She is lit by the glow of her computer screen. LEWIS hangs over her shoulder. Both wear drab clothes. They are colored sickly beneath the fluorescent lights. THE MODELS are the desks, the chairs, the bad art on the walls.
JESS (to us): I hit the down arrow on my keyboard hard several times. I am aware the force of my finger is excessive but I am still meekly satisfied by this minor gesture. With my other hand I raise my coffee mug to my lips, knowing the coffee is terrible cold and also knowing it was terrible when it was hot. The wetness reminds me I am not made of pixels and page hits. I am capable of feeling wetness. I am human. [to Lewis] Okay. The overview is fine. The ‘scope of work’ is fine... You spent a lot of time on this.
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|I can hear their eyes following me through
the mist. The scale-skinned escapees
from eras past. I envy their endurance, their
desire to thrive far surpasses my own. I whisper
a tentative welcome. Search
for the response . . .
|Blink . . .
|[a long uninterrupted silence ensues]
|Blink Blink Blink.
|[a distant clock clicks . . . once . . . twice]
|The brilliant lights of my phantom fellowship bless
me. I wade deeper
into the water
Pirogue and paddles
Fly rod and spinners
Black gnats and cat-gut
This poem is about a swamp where I fly fished into my twenties. A true swamp, it nevertheless had an open feeling. The light coming into the darkness was like shafts of light in European cathedrals. The water was dark, but not muddy. The green trout were really small mouth bass, but the locals called them “green trout.” Moccasins would plop off a limb and aggressively swim toward the pirogue we fished from. I killed many with the paddle. The fly bait was a wet fly (black gnat) we used with a very tiny spinner and trailing a sliver of cat-gut. No fly fisherman ever uses a spinner except in the Southern Louisiana swamps. The most an alligator would let us see were two black nostrils, just above the water line. After we cooked the bass late in the day and ate them, we took small wooden stools down by the water, sat, listened to the silence.
Damask waterfalls cascaded down
to a jigsaw puzzle
floor of wooden blocks
that kept me busy on melting summer afternoons.
Outside, the challi waala1 hailed
for us to come out and buy his
I walked out to the jharoka2
and looked down at my grandfather on his wicker charpoy3,
shelling green peas
into a silver bowl that tossed
the Indian sun back at me,
wrapped in a starched dhoti4
which he favored over the suits
that were choking
inside the many closets
of this haveli5,
one of several that he gave away.
He pointed at the clouds
and told me they were
ras gullas6 that day.
That was the summer he taught me
is learning how to sleep under
a shimmering patchwork comforter
That was before
I learned that I still carry the ache of a Bhangra beat7
inside the throbbing dhol8 of my chest.
↵ 1. Literally means “one who sells corn.”
↵ 2. An Indian/Pakistani-style balcony.
↵ 3. A bed used especially in India consisting of a frame strung with wicker or thick cotton tapes.
↵ 4. Sarong-like garment worn by Indian/Pakistani men.
↵ 5. Indian/Pakistani-style mansion.
↵ 6. Indian/Pakistani confection made of milk solid balls boiled in cardamom-flavored syrup.
↵ 7. Indian/Pakistani drumbeats that originated in the province of Punjab.
↵ 8. Indian/Pakistani-style two-sided drum.
Today I folded the dough
of a Georgian dumpling fourteen times
to enclose the meat spiced
with onion, red and black pepper,
cilantro, caraway seeds, and salt—
it took three times to get it right
after dividing a large ball of flour
and water, kneading, flattening it
with a roller, cutting out small circles
of dough, forming them
on a crowded balcony above
an eighty-year-old man
chopping wood as a thunderstorm
began. I watch a small fire of coals
where chunks of pork are being grilled
and a wood-burning stove where khinkali
are boiling, and I think about the other night
when I was misunderstood while ordering khinkali
despite being fluent in restaurant Georgian—
the waiter trying to hear English, a message sent
but not received, like this poem. What
I really want to write about is the hike to Lomisa,
a fifth-century church on a mountain ridge
where I lifted a chain between Georgia
and South Ossetia, placing the iron collar
around my neck to feel its six-foot,
two-hundred-pound bulk, forcing
my head to bow—I walked around
the church’s sole column in the light
of the single rock-slit window above
the altar, and what started as half-a-joke
turned into a walk of prayer, my three circles
around the stone column laboriously slow,
the many icons of St. George, St. Nino, and Christ,
a breeze blowing thin mountain air through
one door and out the other, ten thousand
wax candles melting, bending over each other,
some still burning, wavering. After the third
circle, when the weight was lifted from me,
my shoulders and neck rose as if gravity
had no pull, and I understood penance
just a little, the idea of grace
with a chain. And I think of circles
like the fourteen folds in the khinkali’s
dough to cradle meat, know my life
is not about misunderstanding orders,
but about growing old, chopping wood,
about vats of khinkali being boiled
and purified, cuts of pork being barbequed
in a rainstorm, about being flattened
and formed by chains forged
to cradle a man, about perfect
and imperfect circles.
Driving back from seeing Ephesus Neşe Otel
in Çeşme, I say, we are going home for the day,
even though we just moved from Tbilisi to Kyiv
and its coldest winter in decades. I long for
Tbilisi now, but home is Colorado—my parents’ home
where they’ve lived since I was seven. But
there were homes before that, and I’ve lived elsewhere
since, even buying a home in Dolores, Spanish
for pain, which is how I feel when I think about leaving
after just two years. Ah, I’m getting nostalgic here,
and I wonder if in Selçuk there’s nostalgia
for Atatürk’s twenties, if in Selçuk under Ottoman
rule there ever was nostalgia for Efes under
Byzantine rule, a city beautifully carved into a valley,
and if the Byzantines used to hanker for Roman
Ephesus, and if the Romans for the Hellenistic
Ephesus, and so on until the first man and woman
who stepped foot in Ephesus before it was even
a name longed for what this land was before
they ever arrived—this travel and that travel
that opens my heart to the Colorado I had
but didn’t understand when I lived there. Maybe
I will never be home. Still, wanting to feel at home
wherever I am, I build a city with aqueducts,
running water, and temples to whatever passion
I fancy at any particular moment,
and settle down by going to the same restaurant
each night to drink a çay and wait for two
döner sandwiches with chili, one for myself
and one for my wife. In this way, I feel at home,
even in this city we’ve lived in for only three days,
where I’ve established a routine, chosen a store
where I buy Efes beer—knowing
that when I leave I’ll pine for döners and Efes
and will buy one in Kyiv from time to time
to help me remember when I called Turkey home.
Maybe in the future I’ll call it home again,
or only my home away from home
away from home away, and maybe someday
I’ll be able to remember back so far
I’ll remember the home where all this began.
In memory of Mildred Neil West
Beautiful’s room. Tasha, a 14-year-old girl, is looking up at the stars in the sky. Tasha’s grandmother, Beautiful, lies in bed. Tasha addresses the audience.
TASHA: Beautiful died.
She called me into her room, we were all lined up to say our good-byes at her door. I was the last one. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I prefer hellos.
I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be generous. I wanted to be anything except what I was.
Tasha crosses to her grandmother.
BEAUTIFUL: Hello, Tasha.
TASHA (addressing the audience): She called my brother Flight and my mother Gentle Flower. Me— she just called me my real name, Tasha. That always bothered me.
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Let me mend this for you, I say to niece,
let me sew our sorrow—Stitch at what we
are left with, let me teach you, where we place
our fingers next to sliver of needle.
Let me show you a woman's strength, already
conjured forth from you at seven years old.
I see it, in your ghost cries for daddy,
in the way you hold counsel at brass urn.
I tell you, like mother told me, when we
become blood pricked, we suck in the crimson
drop, take in the taste of metal to rough
nubbed tongue and continue, guiding fabric.
Our hands brown to desert, turn the ravaged
tender—our fingers winded memory
Barges pass against the cold sky
above the roads on which I cycle,
from Rotterdam to Delft,
to Amsterdam and Beek, almost
silent but for my ticking odometer.
Each revolution marking space,
Each morning I pluck a new town
from the hostel guide and plan my route.
Mail goes only out.
The land bulges with sea-level canals.
Distant barges creep by above my head.
Then bridges fling me up and over
to land, ticking softly,
in the next great green bowl.
Last year, my father’s heart coughed
to get his attention.
Next year, it will stop.
This month I coast the Low Countries.
“October 1979” is in six parts. To read the complete poem, click here.
Eighteen cracked teeth.
My smile is breaking
apart from my face.
Things seem fine.
Eighteen cracked teeth.
I don’t sleep well anymore.
Since the man on the roof,
the man in my bed.
Since the men
I don’t sleep well anymore.
Eighteen cracked teeth.
Switchblade ready as I count.
feels more real now
that I own a house. It’s his eyes
when I should be sleeping.
No-Grind Bite Guard.
9-1-1 speed dial.
There’s nothing to count on.
My smile is breaking.
They want to put bars on my windows.
Enamel should be stronger.
Any sleep. Anymore.
Still my tongue drags.
Eighteen, cracked. Apart
from my face, my face
apart, things seem fine.
of yard sounds synchronizing
every slap snap
leaves, the drone
of dead sanctuary,
the dead coming back
to rob me. Again
the trees bear
broken witness. Blind
panorama, a stampede
of hiding places. Maybe
in tidal waves.
Like the other
vulnerable nights, submerged
exterior, my body in bed,
seventy percent water.
I had imagined
less teeth grinding, no more
But the buoys of ego
sleep are too lopsided
self. The same dry dawn.
The same dreary drag
of tongue over cracked
teeth. The trigger
tempts. The trigger
is just beyond
I am excited most and come alive most when I am meeting up against an idea that may come from another realm, and in its realm it is fully formed mind you, and I take it to a different context and translate it, or some might say, adapt it. –Donnie Mather
The Adaptations Project, founded by Donnie Mather, is a project that involves working with a rotating roster of associate artists to adapt, or translate, works from media other than theatre into pieces performed as theatre. Kaddish (or The Key in the Window), originally performed as part of the New York International Fringe Festival in 2009, is a play that adapts Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Kaddish” into a one-person show; Rising: A Dance Play, projected to premiere in NY in 2013, uses Yoko Ono’s album of the same name about Hiroshima as a source to create a piece of theatre where each of the songs is theatricalized—a dance theatre scene, a trio, a solo, a monologue. The source material doesn’t have to be a work of art. A Show of Force, conceived and created by Donnie, is devised from the work of journalists and interviews with war heroes as well as work of playwrights such as Charles Mee and William Shakespeare. Behind The Adaptations Project is the idea that inspiration could be found in a coffee cup, or a series of photographs, or a Kandinsky painting, and be the basis for a theatre piece. It gives the artists involved a kind of freedom—a freedom of expressivity. Adapting pieces that fall outside the realm of theatre also raises the larger question of what theatre is in the first place. The process of adaptation involves identifying, working within, and challenging the limits that define theatre; in so doing, there’s a possibility of creating something that is new. Ultimately the process of adaptation and of theatre has to do with telling a story.
To read the interview, click here.
You can survive on only ten inches of living skin.
While I count my birthdays, sticking white twist-candles
into yellow cakes, you grow a new layer of flesh
from your cambium, a ring of growth 1/100th of an inch.
In your rings, in your old skins, you’ve recorded the climates—
dry seasons, wet years, temperatures, and you tell us
about soil and wind and bedrock, even about sunspots.
Written in your rings is a story about us; we call it
dendrochronology, as if you were a fossil, or bones,
but no, your needles are green, you make red-purple
flowers in the spring, you are the oldest known still alive.
If I had roots like yours, if I could drink from limestone,
if I could endure through a mere twelve inches of rainfall,
I would make of myself a knotted, gnarled faith, a multi-trunked, branching desire.