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,