Dramatis Personae

Exeunt, pursued by a Bear. – William Shakespeare, “A Winter’s Tale”

Enter Big Tom, with attendants (Narrator, Mikey). “This is the height of civilization,” declares Big Tom as we roll off the escalator of Frank R. Lautenberg Station, Secaucus, New Jersey, and the sun is out, the trains are on time, and the floor-tiles are green. He is only half-kidding. The far-flung company will assemble here, to depart together by car.

Mike isn’t sure. It’s a long way to Ocean City, and the station smells like Pine-Sol and purple drink. He says it, “purpadrank.” Margot isn’t here yet. Enter Margot. Yes she is. Sophia’s fixing her hair under the hand-dryer in the ladies’ room. The stage lights are white and oily. Enter Sophia. Exeunt omnes to Tom’s mother’s minivan.

The sundress was a bad decision. Mikey knows the names of all the rest stops, which he recites when he’s not turning around to toss nickels into my cleavage. Music of synth and bass, set to “Pussy Queen.” Narrator feigns sleep, despite the mix CD Tom has made of his favorite Sierra Leonian hip-hop. I’ve spilled my white cherry Icee, and I can already smell the salt water that surges under my skin. Looped video rolls outside our windows: evergreens, blue sky, the same hitchhiker. They do not move.

Exeunt minivan. Your humble narrator has striations from the vinyl in her upper arms and thighs. The sundress is sunning, the beach is free, the beer is not too cheap. Set onstage: towels and an umbrella that looks like the stripes in a tube of Aquafresh. Sophia wants boiled shrimp, but Mikey doesn’t. They bicker, with affection and when I laugh I ring like live train tracks after an express comes through. Sound of waves. Margot is drunk and wants to kiss somebody. She has twice lost her bikini top to the surf, a bolt of cobalt chiffon, shaken from offstage. I stretch across the horizon.

Night falls. A scrim clatters down behind the beach-house porch. Enter Narrator, alone to punch holes in it with the tines of a fork to make stars. I reach up to adjust the moon. I polish it with the sleeve of my sweater. Exit Narrator. Or, if you can conveniently, let a chair come down from the top of the stage and draw her up.





Portrait of the Artist as He Imagined Himself Laughing

After the “Character Heads” of Franz Xaver Messerschimdt

Childish Weeping
I run the length of Bratislava, from the clock at Old Town Hall to the brick-paved square, and walk the ledge of a fountain whose name my ancestral Prussians would not have pronounced correctly. Messerschmidt, I speak to you like you’re a foreign word, italicized, and I wonder what you would have thought to hear your name attached to those destroying angels of our Second World War – Komet, Gigant, Amerikabomber. Schwalbe, silver sleek and hollow as a ribcage.

Just Rescued from Drowning
In Augsberg, I probed the wounds of a plaster Christ with my fingers, then washed my hands for hours. I feel dirtied by the city waterways, but I keep falling in. My English is too big. Messerschmidt, how do you ask for cough syrup in German? I feel a head-cold coming. I can say, Ein bier, bitte. I can say the Lord’s Prayer.

Quiet Peaceful Sleep
It was a long day, Messerschmidt. They were out of one percent at the store, so I bought skim; I hope you don’t mind. Let’s have a quiet evening together, you and me and your fleet of cast-tin heads. I’ll work their kinks out as we listen to the television. I’ll set my palm to their corrugated cheeks. Kiss the metal goodnight.

The Difficult Secret
It’s not so cold yet that all the pretty girls have gone in to hibernate. We’ve got a few more weeks of them left. Let’s go to the Lech, Messerschmidt, and sink paper boats with rocks. Let’s speak to each other entirely in quotes from detective novels, or in mime. Let’s stare at the sun then run into the dark side-street behind the toy store and watch our phosphenes explode green and blue and neon yellow. Just don’t tell me yet.

The Artist as He Imagined Himself Laughing
I banged my chin against the hair dryer last week, and didn’t put Neosporin on the scrape so I would have an intimidating scar. But now I look foolish and lopsided. Everywhere, there is pain, Messerschmidt. Goethe said that. Everyone says that. Smile, for me, bitte.

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