by Monty Jones
How hard it is
when you start to think about it
to get everything together.
Even a “bare” stage
will have its slant,
its curtain, a shadow on the wall.
Someone will come on with a pipe
or a well-thumbed book,
someone will look at his watch,
someone will light a cigarette.
You have to think of everything.
It can keep you up at night
as much as those dreams
of not knowing your lines.
Still, it can be surprising
that so much of what you’ll need
can be found in the basement
or in that odd space
behind the dressing rooms.
The ordinary stuff of any world
that has been used again and again,
while the characters come and go,
the plot twists or wanders,
emotion soars or slumps,
illusion is perfected or shattered,
the hero draws back from the edge
or falls, flailing, headlong over it.
Once I was asked for a length of rope
although it wasn’t in the script.
I didn’t ask any questions,
just rummaged in the back
and found a coil of twisted manila
and about four feet of double-braided nylon.
They said the nylon would do nicely thank you.
Enter, it said,
through the French windows,
and go to the small table
and look through the mail.
Take a letter from the stack
and cross to the window,
tearing the envelope open as you go
and taking out a letter.
The paper makes a rustling sound.
Read the letter,
turning to the second page eagerly,
and then stare in distraction out the window.
The telephone rings.
The noise causes you to drop the letter.
Jane enters, stage left, and says,
“Aren’t you going to get that?”
The first time, the French doors stuck.
The second time, you hit your knee
on the table and knocked the mail to the floor.
The third time, you tripped on the rug,
which no one said would be there.
The fourth time, the paper wouldn’t rustle.
The fifth time, the telephone didn’t ring.
The sixth time, Jane forgot her line.
You walked back again to your place
behind the French doors,
the thought coming to you
that none of this was worth doing anyway.
It was dumb and slow and you went through it
with less naturalness than a huge puppet.
You walked as if your joints were screwed together.
Your hands felt like they were made
out of flour and water and torn-up newspapers.
And Jane was an idiot.
But you learned to do it.
You got through it.
And hardly anyone noticed
the strips of paper that had begun
to peel loose when you moved your hands,
even when you lifted, stiffly, one of Jane’s
chipped teacups to your lips.
No one who remembers is left
except me. I alone can say
what was said and what was done,
and when I am gone
those parts of the past will be gone too,
the last ripples widened, the last snows melted.
The birds are flying over the hill calling,
the wind is shaking the trees.
Who will walk among the broken stones
trying to read the names,
who will see his long shadow
flailed by the shadows of the bare branches,
who will turn and latch the gate
and drive away, failing again
to find what he was looking for?
For R. L. L.
The morning after one of the assassinations
he dropped his file folder on the desk
without a word and went to the window,
where he stood and looked out at the world,
the wind shaking one of the blossoming trees,
long enough for us to begin to worry for him.
At last he faced us and said he had no words
of explanation except for the presence of evil,
and no advice except that we must go on.
So with some sense of duty we turned again
to the unimaginable French Revolution, thinking
what part we might have played and might play still
in a burning world and a world upended.
At some point in every course he taught,
he liked to recall the student – Sister Martin,
he may have called her, making his fond joke
about that protestant world of piety and spires,
rubbing daily against “the rich, the wise, and the good” –
a girl who always sat on the back row and knitted
as he talked from Nivôse through Floréal.
She would look carefully at him and the blackboard,
when his eyes began to glisten as he laughed
or when he mentioned a book we ought to read,
but never took any notes – her needles clicking
faintly through each hour – yet she remembered
everything, she and history seeming to make a perfect fit.
Mostly I fell in with the Mob, when I wasn’t
admiring the Bureaucrats, who went to their offices
through it all, and it was impossible not to wonder
which of us might be the next Marat or Corday,
the next Robespierre or Talleyrand, or the next
little Napoleon, turning the page on the Rights of Man.
He often sided with the philosophes, clearly longing,
despite everything, for an outbreak of public reason,
and could consider the 18th Century, or certain
of its houses on certain streets, where certain music
measured out the evenings, the last good time and place
to live, before history rose up, a fire in the night,
shattering the world with slogans and blood and broken glass.
He never forgot getting off the boat,
never, through all his lives, could forget
trooping down the steps, everything he owned
over his shoulder like a big bag of toys.
Gangs of lime-green parrots skittered overhead
and disappeared beyond the swaying trees.
Trumpets rang like bells beside the fountain
in the square, a boy and two men straight-backed
as they played, the bright notes arching over the town
and coming to earth again against the red hills.
In the church the saints were carved from sabino wood,
their robes had been painted once in green and white.
People talked to him about jaguars and gold.
The food was cheap, the water made him sick.
He always remembered it as a version of paradise.
About the Author:
Monty Jones is a writer in Austin, Texas. His book of poems Cracks in the Earth was published in 2018 by Cat Shadow Press of Austin.