June, 2012

A Journal for Linking Poets  



A Post-Modern Noh in Six Scenes
r. witherspoon

(To my Mother and Father through Whom All Things Material Became Possible)


OLD WOMAN:  94 years old, still mentally alert and emotionally warm with a quiet grace of carriage that has never deserted her.  She is white-haired and brown-skinned, dressed in a white/silver top and dark grey underskirt and black slippers, a large crystal necklace around her neck.

DANCER:  Wearing an old woman mask yet a younger more energetic version of the OLD WOMAN, barefoot, she wears the same clothes.   


Scene One

[The sound of summer insects and the scent of pine trees.]

[The OLD WOMAN enters and walks down a side theater aisle with the beginning of  “Clair de Lune” by Gabriel Fauré and steps onto the stage by its conclusion.]

[The sound of summer insects swells to fill the theater then subside to a background murmur.]


[Except for the last haiku recited by the OLD WOMAN, the haiku and tanka are heard as the DANCER’s voice over the theater’s sound system.]

                            within a dream
               the dreamer dreaming dreams
                       the way out, the way


I, I, I, I, I – absent from the mind, where am I? 
Am; not am; am and not am; neither am nor
not am – There is no path where am is.  How
gorgeous the Milky-Way tonight! 

Sitting on that window sill age three at 2
o’clock in the morning, staring at the moon,
telling me:  "I’m thinking, mommy, I’m thinking."  
That's my son, not the composer, but the
performer, no voice, but not so bad. 
His piano’s better.  

[The OLD WOMAN snips some lily-of-the-valley.]
Aha, lily-of-the-valley, hiding down there, you
can't hide from me.  I want bunches and bunches: 
there…, there…, and there….
[She gathers blooms all through the next five scenes that she puts into a basket she carries over one arm.  The scent of each flower picked should fill the theater.]
My son loves western music, my daughter west
African dance.  All one to me:  mind flowers. 
Husband hunts possum and fishes in these pine
woods and likes his cards, the thrills of
strategizing and competing, a little corn liker. 
I sewed all my clothes, deft fingers, a seamstress,
my daughter’s clothes even her wedding gown,
pearls and peau de soi
[Frog splash.] 
There’s an old pond back among those pines. 
[Another frog splash and a rifle shot.] 
There he is trying to get that old possum.

[Another rifle shot.] 
He never does.  I still have all my marbles though
maybe a little chipped and not so shiny, but I’m
still capable of a good game.  I am fit:  heart,
lungs, liver, pancreas, stomach, brain still good
so reads the autopsy report.  But I move more
slowly even now even here.  At some point, I’ll
probably stop moving altogether.  Like any watch,
I don’t care how advertised. 

Self-confident with a strong will and
decisive actions yet a diplomatic negotiator, a
middle child, I still valued myself.  And a little
rebellious, I went my own way... even at the end.
There were not that many of us left that
mid-winter, a last wave after so many leaving
the shore.  I’m not lonely, alone, so few of us left
standing so many more gone on before.  There
are my flowers and tonight’s coming moon so
sad and so beautiful.


                           coming and going
                      where there is no there
                              no here either

 Scene Two

[Sounds of the pond’s frog occasional croaking and splashing and the call of a whippoorwill over the ever present sound of insects surging and subsiding, surging and subsiding.]


Ahh, flowers, nothing but white flowers and so
many of them.  And to think, I couldn’t imagine
astral travel.  But here my tools and water cans
even here wherever here is this night luminance
of white flowers under moonlight.  Earth, air, fire,
water bring us here and one or more of the four
will take us back.
[The OLD WOMAN selects some poppies.]
I always loved growing things.  In my living room,
I had no curtains, only plants over all the windows. 
Covering her head and eyes from the sun, a niece,
sleeping over, complained it was like waking up
on a park bench.  How we laughed.

And children loved my laughter and energy, my
patience.  They climb on my lap and touch and kiss
my face and play with my fingers.  Looking in my
bag, they could always find peppermint candy.

Ohh, at least several of you, solemn consoling
poppies, such heavy heads and heavy scents.
Such a long way to get to this garden through the
pine trees from the house.  But I want an oval like
a womb, not a 3-sided proscenium space facing
the back of a house. 
It’s the anniversary of my death.  I would have
been 95 that year, almost a century.  In a way, too
long and in another, not long enough.  And if I had
to do it all over again? 


                             the present moment
                     being all there is, is all there is

Scene Three


A white garden.  But don’t confuse the color white,
the presence of all colors, with the color of white
skin.  They are totally different.  A concept
confused much to the wreck and ruin of many.  One
can make a spiritual case for the one but not for
the other:  white being the height of European
spiritual development and not its lowest.  The
same can be said for misidentifying the western
symbolic color of black with Blacks.  White people
can be confused by this.  Yet, within eternity, it’s
all the same.  My garden where I’m the flower,
the night, the light, and the fragrance, too, wait
for the coming of the moon to bloom. 
[A whippoorwill calls and calls.]
No nightingale for me.  Give me a whippoorwill
any night.  The way men are.  They won’t leave a
thing alive alone.  If it were only up to them: 
gravel and some big stones equaling no-thingness
and its form.  I want green leaves, brown stems,
earth, and white flowers and fragrance attracting
insects and birds, not the other, dead as dust and
quiet as an old grave.  White on white under a full
moon, they both look their platinum best but in
different ways:  one alive and the other dead. 
Men want to turn everything into immovable
objects.  Women appreciate ebb and flow.  It's the
unencased blood. 
Mother night is black and cool and her earth black
and warm, generating materially in her blackness
all there is in the in-between.  White is bleached
bones and death.  Yet both the same immutable
continuum of a circle. 


                                gravel/rock garden
                            except for time passing
                                      not a sound

                        the full moon, arriving guest
                            beams its greeting back

Scene Four


[The OLD WOMAN cuts some jasmine.]
Pure and simple jasmine, bless you.  Oh…, how
many sprays?  One, two…, three?  I wanted to
come home.  I wanted to come home even if
my dying lay in that direction.  In a nursing home,
there’s no freedom except through complaining
and acting badly, and I didn’t want to got there.
I’ve always been more positive than that.  But
to retain that freedom, I have to be on my own
in my own space even if it's finally an urn. 

My daughter died before me totally unexpected,
my expecting the natural order of things when
there’s no such thing.  When it’s time, it’s time. 
That’s it.  But I still think, did I get the death I got
because I wished him a much more protracted
dying?  I wanted him to suffer worst, much worst
than he did.  He got off too easy, too easy, after
what he did to my daughter.  I knew after talking
to his mother for ten minutes.  She shouldn’t have
married him.  And after two years, she should
have gotten rid of him.  Even as stardust still I
hate him.  My daughter had a harder life than I did
and mine was no crystal stair, believe me, although
there were many more pluses than minuses.  I
meant her to have an easier life standing on my
[The OLD WOMAN cuts some camellias.]
Now for some camellias, smell you, absolute
perfection.  I can't be greedy.  Yes, I can.  At least
my husband supported how I ran our household. 
Our kids saw us standing together.  They couldn’t
play us off against each other.  He never tried to
sabotage me.  We were united.  Although at his
age, he could barely pull his own weight.  “Ask
your mother.” “What did she tell you?”  “Yes,” was
yes from both of us, “no,” a no.  “We’ll have to
wait and see,” came out of both our mouths which
was best for them.  The children weren’t confused
about what they had to do so they could get straight
to it.  Play came after work, like dessert after
vegetables, not before.  And if they wanted as
much playtime as possible, the work had better
be done right so they wouldn’t have to do it
over until it was.  And not the other way around. 
Children.  I bet over several millennia there are more
infanticides than ever get reported as murders. 
Sometimes they just don’t do right.  Other times,
the parents are crazy.  Sometimes both.

No escape, as I hesitate, missing the water, except
we’re 80% water and ⅓ oxygen at that.  We’re
barely here with such large spaces of nothing inside
and between our atoms.  Yes, we’re mostly not here. 
So much empty space we should be able to walk right
through each other.  But we can’t do that unless we
do it in our heads much emptier spaces. 


                            all the same river
                the dream that can’t be caught
                     upstream, down, ahead


Scene Five


I burned up on the outside.  Others like my son’s
friend and brother’s son’s wife burning up from
the inside.  Cancer.  It makes no difference. 
Any death.  Dead is dead.
[The OLD WOMAN cuts some roses.]
Mmmm, musky spicy roses, heady secret
innocence.  And, yes, I want your thorns, too: 
the bitter with the sweet.  All those people
committing to flying off those fiery towers.  Who
could think they had a choice?  There wasn't one. 
Letting impacting earth kill you instead of a fire
at over 1,000 degrees Celsius.  Never a choice
despite death's myriad faces.  And only one result.

I wanted to heat some soup.  But turning on the
stove, there was a whoosh, and I burst into flames. 
First the sleeves of my night gown then the rest of
me.  Blinded, my mind slipping, not turning right
to the kitchen sink’s water, not turning left to unlock
the front door, I stumble.  My nerves on fire, literally
aflame, wick to the wax of melting flesh.  My fingers'
dexterity over the years fails me aflame, my heart’s
erratic clutching squeezing my screams to whimpers
to moans to silence.  I collapse supine almost
immediately pulseless, unreactive.  Nothing like it,
not childbirth, not losing a husband, a child, not cancer. 
And the terror, the sloughing off of the flesh, blistering
and charring, hair alight, flames blinding the eyes. 

Wrapped in the cloak and crown of vengeance,
I twist and turn furiously in my dance with death,
screaming the ecstasy of our union into the
vastness of the universal dance over the shrilling
of my strung nerves and the slowing beats of my
heart.  I plunge into unconsciousness black as
that back-country swimming hole I plunged into, a
girl-child, screaming like that past ecstatic yelling
into that blackness into this light. 

I was glad my heart stopped.  Traumatic cardiac
arrest.  They cracked four ribs trying to start it
again.  I was so glad they failed.  I was ready to go. 
Already gone beyond, really.  Like those Indian
widows:  there was nothing anymore where I was
coming from.  Transversing the country of the old
is more difficult than climbing mountains when
young.  And having reached the top, beyond
countries and beyond mountains –
[Looks around.] 
Pain is sickness leaving the body even if it's
sometimes to death.  It didn’t go right or maybe
it did.  I’m here.  At least, gasoline wasn’t poured
down my throat like those buckra did my father’s
friend.  Continued pouring gasoline over him then
threw a match so the last breaths he inhaled into
his chest, he exhaled as fiery plumes out his
mouth.  No, the horror as my red flannel night
gown embraced me in flames was nothing like
having my ears, nose, lips, and genitals sliced away
for souvenirs. 

There was the parting of waters as I
dived and the stopping of my heart after me. 
Such bliss in the black cold waters.  The ecstasy of
escaping the material into its no-thingness.  I
would have danced if I’d still had use of my legs.  So
in my mind, I moved in elegant release, arms
waving, hips undulating counterpoint to the wave
upon wave of all the night fragrances of my white
garden.  The waves of my contractions giving birth
to myself as I gave birth to others, mid-wife death
assisting and cutting the cord releasing me.  Free
as before being born, free with the ancestors. 

I'm proud of my hair.  My hair is over a foot long. 
But it burned along with my eyebrows and
eyelashes.  All gone.  An accident.  First and second
degree burns over all my body:  head, neck, trunk,
extremities.  My son had me cremated. 
The fire detector and my screams alerted
neighbors.  The fire department, police, EMS called,
my son and niece.  All over in less than fifteen
minutes, blessedly, most of that unconscious. 
Did it take that long for my parents to make me? 
Ah, the moon and the silver coolness of its beams
awakens my garden into blooms of light, not
needing the too fierce sun burning petals and
evaporating scents.  Yes, the moon releases my
garden’s beauties into the arms of its lover, night,
as I was released, ablaze but with a cooler fire. 
I turn, bend my neck in dance, not enflamed like
that poor man, yet our outpourings together like
our last screams accompany us into a birth into
the no-thingness from which we come and go.  
Ah, the peace of it all.  This whiteness embraced by
and embracing its blackness.  At last, I rejoin all
there is and all there is not and the in-between
of this night’s white scented moonlight.  My mind’s
flower flowers into this and from this flowers
this fragrant white night light.


                         unseen source, unseen
                direction – why feelings of home
                         this momentary world?

[The OLD WOMAN exits as the barefoot DANCER wearing the mask of an old woman steps on stage and begins to whirl faster and faster in more and more anguish, but always gracefully.  Clothing should be loose enough to create a bell around the DANCER when she whirls like the wide skirts of a Turkish dervish.  She dances an elegant dance of death and transfiguration, rage and acceptance, a fusion of Asian and African forms, suitable for the OLD WOMAN:  the spirit of moonlight and darkness with her white hair and brown skin, dressed in a white/silver top and dark grey underskirt and black slippers, a large crystal necklace around her neck.]

[When the DANCER ends the dance gently whirling off stage, she takes the basket of flowers with her.  At the same time, the OLD WOMAN reappears on stage and goes to the exact same spot on stage where she first stepped from the theatre aisle in Scene One.]


I dance and return to enjoy my gardenias.
[The OLD WOMAN cuts a gardenia which she puts behind an ear]
Loveliest of all, under moonlight, such sweet,
sweet smelling petals of forgiveness.

Scene Six

 [A rooster crows.] 
Ah, time to leave, the Milky-Way at its brightest
behind the moon’s dark face my path.  So many
of us coming, coming and going, stardust. 
Centered, I can catch the next contracting and
releasing wave within the universal womb. 
There’s my song, my son again. 
[“Beau Soir” by Claude Debussy begins.] 
My son really loves this one.  He will show up, my
daughter and husband, too.  Even you.  Everyone
has his night or day.
[As the OLD WOMAN walks up the aisle to the back of the theatre, the stage brightens further under moonlight until the climax of the song then it gradually dims, leaving the audience almost in darkness.]

[The rooster crows again.]

[Then from the back of the theater, the OLD WOMAN turns.
Goodbye…, no, let me say, au revoir.
                                                                             [Slight pause.]
 Oh, and the sound of one hand clapping? 

–  there
                   the sound of one hand clapping
                                  here it is again –

[Slight pause.]


[Insect sounds surge and subside with the final sound of a frog splashing in the old pond and a whippoorwill calling.] 

[Theater lights slowly up.]

 [Final frog splash.]
That frog again.  All, all in our minds’ mind.






Clair de Lune, Op. 46, No. 2 - Gabriel Fauré  (1845-1924)

Yesterdays  (Miles Davis) 


Yesterdays  (Billie Holiday)


Beau Soir - Claude A. Debussy (1862-1918)











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