Being a Compendium of Stuff I've Written

Hard Day at the Office
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"Did you have a hard day at the office?" 
I don't even know what that means. 
A hard day for me
Means clothes drenched in sweat,
Sore muscles, aching joints,
Blood trickling from sundry cuts
And still feeling a spoiled
Twenty-first Century American
Pampered and effete
Beside Second World workers
Or my grandfathers,
Or theirs before them,
Who built this nation--
Blood, sweat, toil, tears--
For the benefit of others.
A "hard day" at the office?
Bourgeoisie, please.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Review
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  Pity poor Peter Quince. He has hewn the cross borne by countless community theatre producers. He struggles with a poor script, dropped lines, competing egos, stage fright, and a bombastic prima donna with exaggerated sense of his own skills.

  Sidonie Garret has no such burden. This season's director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival has excellent scripts, a proficient troupe, and skillful technical production on every level.

  The central story of A Midsummer Night's Dream is the Hermia love triangle. This Athenian debutante loves Lysander, who loves her. So does Demetrius, who jilts Hermia's BFF Helena to pursue the former. By the end of the show it is obvious that “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

  There are essentially 3 casts navigating the Midsummer Night's Dream. These are the Court of Mortals, the Court of Faeries, and the Clowns. Each has something to recommend it, but the upper-crust Athenians get short shrift through the action. Despite what Robin Leach insists, the lifestyles of the rich and famous are just not that interesting. In this work Shakespeare is playing to the groundlings, and they want to see people like themselves dealing with the Fantastic.

  The set was Elizabethan minimalism at its best. Shakespeare—with wild departures from unity of time, place, and action—left scenery to his audience's imagination. This set did, as well. The three set pieces perform double-duty in the comedy, representing both the Court of King Theseus and the Enchanted forest beyond the gates of Athens. A simple revolution of a piece, low-key application of lights to flora, and the shift was complete.

  The costumes presented some intriguing choices. The Athenians wore costumes in the Regency style. Actors at the Globe, of course, would have worn costumes of their own era—Elizabethan--while “historical” accuracy would have dressed them in Bronze Age Greek attire. Director Garret picked costumes halfway between Shakespeare's age and our own. This was the era known as the Romantic Period when poets were discovering anew the Classical Age with its mythological wonders. As Shakespeare had no qualms about anachronism—slipping Roman Cupid and Vestals amidst the Greek Court of Theseus and Hippolyta—this costume choice works. (I may have been the only observer even to question it.)

  Costumes for the Faeries seemed inspired by the Persia of 101 Nights. The King and Queen had billowing, gauzy garb while their retainers wore bright floral colors. Most bore glittery colors painted like masks upon their faces. Their movements were a delicate dance. Glittery, sparkly music accompanied their movements. It was magical, as faeries should be.

  A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy of errors. Each of these errors advances the plot. There is the error of Puck enchanting the wrong suitor. There is the error of the amateur players picking an Enchanted Forest for their rehearsal. There is the biggest error of all—the one which gets the plot moving—when Hermia trusts her friend Helena with news of her and Lysander's plans to elope. Helena gets the illogical idea to inform Lysander's rival of that plan, hoping that Demetrius will reward her for this information with his love.

  As brilliant as Shakespeare were at psychological portrayal, he sometimes leaves gaping holes in his plots. For whatever reason, he never fixed these plot troubles in later Folio editions of the play. The writer's need to get Demetrius and Helena to the forest are understandable, and even the best writers have weak moments. Perhaps the music of the language was more important than strict narrative consistency. Perhaps Helena just isn't that bright. She is obsessed with a cad who dumped her for her friend. And pursued that friend by toadying up to her father. But observation suggests that intelligence has nothing to do with poor romantic choices. And Helena's witty repartee with Hermia in later scenes seems to argue against this.

  Regardless, embraced by the limbs of the Forest the three casts move in intersecting tangents with hilarious results. Shakespeare used the skeletal tale of the Athenian lovers on which to hang the muscle of faery antics and flesh of the tradesmen's theatrics.

  There is a hint of lampoon in Shakespeare's treatment of the so-called “patches” who want to perform a dramatization of an Ovidian story to honor their regent at his wedding. Any serious Theatre student will recall the medieval morality plays performed by various trade guilds which competed against each other. For this production those artisans-cum-thespians deemed best in Athens unite for the production. We can almost hear Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland exclaim, “Hey, gang! Let's put on a show!” Thus the Bard parodies the all problems of staging a play. His actors are vocal and adamant with their suggestions of how to change the plot, the characters, the staging. The hapless director loses control of his production less from trusting his cast's instincts than his lack of directorial ability. The result is a muddled mess which leaves not only the Athenian Court but the Kansas City audience in stitches, howling with laughter, tears rolling down our faces.

  Oberon's faeries were fantastic in a completely other definition of that word. Director Garret added liberal use of faery majik to wonderful comedic affect. Those who have read Shakespeare realize his spartan use of stage directions. Most of the show's blocking and all of the characters' “business” comes from either director or actor. With impeccable pantomime timing some faery—King Oberon, for instance—gestured the casting of a spell and, across the stage, another character caught up short, whirled around, and dashed in another direction. A sound effect gave those “spells” a tingly chime which all the audience willingly believed.

  All of the cast performed admirably. There were, unfortunately, too many to mention them all individually. There were three whose high caliber shot the production into the stratosphere. Matthew Rapport was the bombastic Nick Bottom, a weaver by trade, who thought himself a fine actor, indeed. He wanted to play all the parts and insisted director Quince compose a prologue to lest the genteel ladies swoon from emotions he evoked. Much bigger than life, Rapport strutted and fretted his hour to excellent effect., and when Puck morphed him into a jackass it had the flavor of just desserts.

  As that impish Puck, Jacques Roy brought the energy of a world class athlete to the stage. Or, rather, a Circe de Soleil acrobat. Puck is a mischievous sprite whose name comes from the Celtic pooka. Roy lept and tumbled with flips, handsprings, and somersaults. He soared in constant defiance of gravity and all eyes followed his magical movements, his masterful pantomime, his exuberant playfulness. Puck creates the play's mayhem both deliberately and accidentally and Roy communicates this with aplomb.

  Finally, an actress with a very faery name—Cinnamon Schultz—stepped into a role that didn't, technically, exist. The director used lines assigned to generic faeries and created “Faery” as Titania's ballast for Oberon's Puck. In some scenes Faery served almost as a fay cursor hovering around the focus of a scene's action or dialogue, watching it with curiosity or bemusement. She affected a stance reminiscent of the Swiss mimes, Mummenschanz, and moved with fluidity. Shultz donned the role and modeled the theatre maxim that there are no small parts, only small actors.

  As the magic winds down the Bard needs to move us back to the Court in Athens. The conclusion of the forest scenes deals with disenchantment. Becoming enchanted with Helena by way of a potion, Demetrius is disenchanted with Hermia. Lysander is disenchanted with Helena. Titania is disenchanted with Nick Bottom. Bottom is just disenchanted. (Apparently, Bottom never realizes his transformation. Just as alcohol often turns a man into an ass without him realizing it, this weaver the use of a potion—which is a plant extract, or drug—turns him into an ass.)

  The Midsummer Night is almost over, but not before Shakespeare treats us to a delightful denouement. Peter Quince's Players present their play to the Athenian nobles: who heckle them as much as any groundlings likely ever did the Bard, himself. The result is a uproariously uplifting conclusion to the show. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

  The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival performs A Midsummer Night's Dream in rotation with Anthony & Cleopatra under the stars at Southmoreland Park across from the Nelson-Atkins Museum.  Shows are Tuesdays - Sundays at 8 PM.  It is well worth seeing.

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Elegy
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It was Good-bye--
She passed his urn,
Put her fingers to her lips and
Kissed them
Carrying it down to
The coffer of ashes and dust
Touched her fingers to the lid
So kissed him
One final time
Before he boarded the barge. 
It was Good-bye
To her partner and friend
Companion
Foundation and crutch
Whom she had known
Longer than anyone
Except her own parents: 
Classmates and playmates and
One-flesh finishers of each others'
Sentences. 
It was Good-bye
And much too soon
Cut short--if not in his prime--
At least still clinging to
Illusory vim and vigor
Not yet three score and ten
And still too young
To embark on this last cruise
As she wondered
Who would finish
Her sentences now? 
It was Good-bye.

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Pigeon Holes
me
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Somewhere in the
Midst of Magic
Mists of Majik
Mystic Magic Magisterium
Non-Overlapping
Magisteria
Touching mental
Mass hysteria
We transcended
Natural Selection to
Select Unnatural direction
As if that
Were even possible
As Human Nature
Is part of Nature,
Too.
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Polynesia's Time Machine
me
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     I was working in the Plaza District of Kansas City. The job was in a second floor office area performing what is called a “tenant finish”. That's where contractors go into an empty office space and craft it to the owner's specification. This one easily qualified as up-scale.

     We had reached the stage of the job of tying up loose ends. Therefore there were stretches of inactivity. One of these periods found me in the office space allotted to the biggest of the Big Wigs. Two of the walls were plate-glass windows. The view was gorgeous, overlooking Nichols Road with its Seville-inspired architecture hosting shops and offices and boutiques of every stripe. It was a temperate autumn day. The streets and sidewalks were clean. Well-tended trees were donning their fall wardrobe. Lampposts, imitating the trees, extended trellis arms with hanging baskets of verdant vines.

     Well past noon, the sidewalks carried pedestrian traffic, shoppers and tourists and students from nearby UMKC, not crowded by any means, but a steady flow. As I looked out the window one gentleman caught my eye. He was strolling east on the sidewalk across the street, taking his time. On his shoulder sat an Amazon parrot.

     I blinked. The man had no peg leg. No eye-patch. No parrot poop dribbled down his back. It seemed so incongruous, yet the fellow was walking as if he were nothing out of the ordinary.

     I pointed them out to a coworker, a Colombian painter who called himself Sean. Sean opined—in colorful language that doesn't bear repeating—how walking with such a bird might be useful for meeting women. He offered a few phrases to teach the parrot. I thought those phrases might be useful in getting his parrot killed.

     In one of those memory tricks where an event or a sight or a smell thrusts one back through Time the parrot reminded me of a young woman I knew when I was with the Christopher Newport Theatre Department. She was a “techie” one of the vital cogs of any production whose aptitude lies in construction and design rather than strutting and fretting one's hour upon the stage. She was a cheerful and friendly person, though attractive enough she didn't need either of those qualities to garner masculine attentions. We were in the scene shop one day when she showed me a magazine photograph of a parrot. “Look!” she cried, “I have a parrot that looks just like this … except instead of red here it's orange with a little yellow around the edges.”

     I chuckled. “That's cool,” I said. “I have a kitten that looks just like that. Except instead of feathers it has fur. And it's black instead of green. And it doesn't have a beak.” I don't know why I say things like that, but she got a kick out of it. I suppose it could have irritated her. I've been told I'm obnoxious, sometimes.

     It wasn't long after that I was at her place with a couple other Theatre folk. She put on her new Rickie Lee Jones album and introduced us to her parrot. I wore a full beard in those days and the parrot liked men with beards. He sat on my arm and ran his beak through my beard. “It's because of the salt from your sweat,” his owner told me.

     I blinked again. I was back in the 21st Century, 30 years and 1000 miles from my memory. Time slides like a glacier crushing rocks and stones and human bones beneath it, yet leaving hints of Aster scent in places.

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Dead Reckoning
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Some people think I'm smart. 
All my life they've told me so. 
I memorize some facts with ease
And pull them from behind an ear
At parties to impress people
Who've had too much to drink. 
But I lack some key rigging
That would let me memorize
Facts I need to master navigation
Between the shoals and eddies
Of human interaction,
The rip tides of relationships
Or economic currents
In another way than as adrift. 
I would willingly exchange
Forty or Fifty IQ points
For a modicum of common sense
Or some of that savoir faire
That seems to allow other folks
To sail their way through life.
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Supposing
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I suppose
I should have some dinner
Other than Scotch. 
I suppose
I should turn a light on
Now the sun has set. 
I suppose
I should make an effort
To at least pretend
By dint of perseverance
And hard work
I can climb out of
This pit.


© 2012
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The Holy Name
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Every birth is a Nativity

From the fat, full-term infant

In a state-of-the-art birthing center

To the crack baby born

In a dirty toilet stall without a door

In a public restroom beyond

The playground in a park

To the anecephalic newborn

Doomed to starve unsuckled

On her mother's breast. 

Any birth may be Annointed

For the rise and fall of many

Might change the world

In ways unknown or be

Salvation to those whom she meets,

If only for the opportunity

To spark Compassion

Or Hope's frail renewal

In some stone-encrusted heart.

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E.O.D.
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They lurk
In boxes,
Envelopes,
And between the pages
Of books you read
This far and no further
So marked with
Whatever was at hand--
Photographs
Of happy times
Or birthday cards
Or notes Just Because
Somebody loved you:
Unwitting Mines. 
Now as you pack
To leave yet
Another shambled home
You open them
Gingerly
And read them
As they trigger
And explode.

© 2011
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The Willful Puppy's New Trick
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     Leon has a new trick.

     Well, maybe two.
     As I've mentioned elsewhere, I have a small, unenclosed back yard for my two large, exuberant dogs. I have a tether anchored in the lawn with a twenty-foot cable attached that allows them, in turn, a circuit around 125' in circumference. It's not that confining, and is the best we can do under our circumstances. Both dogs enjoy speeding around at the limit of the cable—leaving me what I call my “crop circle”—and both enjoy luxuriating in the sun. The arc of the circle touches the north and west boundary edges of the yard, dissuading folk from cutting across the yard when one of the dogs is outside, and the dogs have been kind enough to leave a little something by which those who cut across in their absence might remember them. 
     For months I have discarded the leash when taking Leon out, instead clutching his collar as he walks beside me. A couple of weeks ago I noticed him straining toward the door as we returned inside, so I released my grip, saying “Go!” Leon sped inside ahead of me. 
     Now, I'm not sure whether I have taught Leon to run inside when I say, “Go!” or he has taught me to say “Go!” when he runs inside. I think that ultimately it doesn't matter. I think it's enough if the word and the action are associated in his mind. 
     Sometimes, however, he chooses to make a break around the north corner of the house. He has done so three times. The first time he did this he trotted a rectangular path roughly halfway into the side yards on both sides of 16th Street where we live, across Moore Street to the south, and back. I say “roughly” because yards without fences he explored further into the back. Of course he diligently marked certain key spots—a rock, a tree, a fencepost—along the way. When he had closed the rectangle he stopped, sat when I told him, and let me put a leash on him.
     The second time he “escaped” was at night. This time he ran north to Walnut. Four other dogs live in the house on the corner and in daylight they are tethered outside.  Walnut is a busier street than our immediate neighborhood, though a four-way stop a block eastward keeps traffic from speeding through.  Still, I was apprehensive about him trying to cross. I called, “Leon! Come!” and to my great wonderment he trotted up to me.  Not directly, and not all the way up to me, because he still had to show that he had some kind of control.
     Eddie, my stepson's dog, is not so good at “Come.” Oh, he does so when he's on the tether and I want to take him inside. But when he's exploring the neighborhood … not so much. So I was delighted when Leon did.
     Saturday he did it again. 
     I should have known better and held him until we got inside. Eddie had been whining miserably and Leon barking like a fool, so my plan was to bring Leon inside and take Eddie out. But I didn't.
     I released his collar and said, “Go!”  He ran toward the open back door. I could see him hesitate, see him choose to turn aside from the door and dart around the corner. I yelled his name and went inside to get his leash.
     I went ahead and took Eddie out, thinking perhaps his presence would lure Leon. Leon was scampering beneath a tree across the street. I saw the fat black & white neighborhood cat speed with uncharacteristic rapidity up the trunk above Leon. That explained it. I tied Eddie in the back and went to retrieve Leon. As I did, a neighbor pulled out of his drive and cruised south down 16th Street. He went slowly past Leon, keeping an eye lest the dog dart in front of him, then sped up once Leon was behind him. Leon gave chase.
     He was a block away before he lost the neighbor. “Leon!” I called. “Come!” I had to raise my voice. To my utter amazement he turned back and began trotting toward me. He stopped to pee on things, just to let me know “who was in charge” but he came back and let me clip the leash on his collar. 
     He may be ready for a run in the park.
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