The Reading Club
Is dead serious about this one, having rehearsed it for two weeks They bring it right into the Old Fellows Meeting Hall. Riding the backs of the Trojan Women, In Euripides' great wake they are swept up, But the women of the chorus, in black stockings and kerchiefs, Stand up bravely to it, shawled arms thrash In a foam of hysterical voices shrieking, Seaweed on the wet flanks of a whale, For each town has its Cassandra who is a little crazy, Wed to some mystery or other and therefore painfully sensitive, Wiser than anyone but no one listens to her, these days the terror Reaches its red claws into back ward and living room alike, For each town has its Andromache who is too young, With snub nose and children just out of school Even she cannot escape it, from the bombed city she is led out Weeping among the ambulances, And each community has its tart, its magical false Helen Or at least someone who looks like her, in all the makeup she can muster, The gorgeous mask of whatever quick-witted lie will keep her alive At least a little longer, on the crest of the bloody wave, That dolorous mountain of wooden ships and water In whose memory the women bring us this huge gift horse, This raging animal of a play no one dares to look in the eye For fear of what's hidden there: Small ragdoll figures toppling over and over From every skyscraper and battlement hurtling Men and women both, mere gristle in the teeth of fate. Out over the sea of the audience our numb faces Are stunned as Andromache's, locked up there on the platform Inside Euripides' machine the women sway and struggle One foot at a time, up the surging ladder Of grief piled on grief, strophe on antistrophe, In every century the same, the master tightens the screws, Heightens the gloss of each bitter scene And strikes every key, each word rings out Over our terrified heads like a brass trumpet, For this gift is an accordion, the biggest and mightiest of all, As the glittering lacquered box heaves in and out, Sigh upon sigh, at the topmost pitch a child Falls through midnight in his frantically pink skin. As the anguished queen protests, the citizens in the chorus wail Louder and louder, the warriors depart Without a glance backwards, these captains of the world's death Enslaved as they are enslavers, in a rain of willess atoms Anonymity takes over utterly: as the flaming city falls On this bare beach, in the drab pinewood hall The Reading Club packs up to go; scripts, coffee cups, black stockings Husbands and wives pile into the waiting cars Just as we expect, life picks up and goes on But not art: crouched back there like a stalled stallion Stuffed in its gorgeous music box is the one gift That will not disappear but waits, but bides its time and waits For the next time we open it, that magical false structure Inside whose artifice is the lesson, buried alive, Of the grim machinations of the beautiful that always lead us To these eternally real lamentations, real sufferings, real cries.
From The Wind of Our Going by Patricia Goedicke. Copyright © 1985 by Patricia Goedicke. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.CopperCanyonPress.org.