by Caridad Svich
u look at me, the river bends, swoon like an old song crooned on the radio, static comes through, half-heard phrases, u r to me rn, the smell of orange spice in the air, fragrant echoes of another time. u turn to look but u don’t see me, the river is across us & we lost the connection a long time ago, bedeviled by politics that weren’t ours but ones that nonetheless decided our lives.
U speak ur language, an alphabet of sight cited by philosophers on the burial sites of the un-named. U reckon with history, but it is a history made by those that knew something abt certain kinds of writing & thus could read this (even as one speaks).
One word, the second sound, the eyes focused on the horizon, some say should not be seen cos it is also a damned construct & our only job is to break, leave the rebuilding to others that know better abt the world & its halls of power; see the child being told by the parent to burn respect, burn tolerance, burn the lives of others, the lies of others, when it is their lies, the ones of the parents, that are being handed down to the children unbeknownst to them – this is inheritance, this is what they will carry, & this is how they too will grow up to enact & justify their cruelties toward their fellow beings & the earth.
These are lessons some are taught. This is not prophecy.
Rendered in the invisible walls of the ancient caves the pious wrote down all they knew & believed b4 it would be taken away from them, the walls would hear them, the walls would see, they knew this, cos the walls would be seen by others many years later as they became tourists & encountered these caves in the dead of day, blazing hot sun, baking into their pores, no shade cept for the cave & its mysteries.
U saw me there, but u did not see me, we are one to another across time, the one that toils in hope of being seen, the one that toils with no promise of recognition; but there is this, this thing called an encounter, we frame it in our hearts, it touches us & becomes a wound, this wound then becomes something we sing to or dance to or hold a candle to in the deep dark of our imagined days, under the duvet, we pray, like old sinners begging for a bottle of sharp liquor, mesmerizing our tongues.
This is how its been, the last days, these last… we call them “last” cos we do not know what else to call them, our elbows are rough, the skin of the night feels like sandpaper, everything we touch aches & bleeds & there is no surrender; sometimes u r there in the vapory waters of the past, shivering a timber, like that old song by the dead man with the sad guitar on his hip, u wait for the wreckage to rise up out of the water, to turn the tide.
We were here once. This is not prophecy.
Ghost of another ghost on the land, soil blue with rage, ppl carrying their burdens in their backpacks, out of sight from the everyday, the backpack weighs them down, & some think not to look cos once that backpack was a sign of something else & fires grew from it & entire villages were disappeared too. The backpack in & of itself is nothing more than itself. It sits on the back of one that carries it with tired muscles & a defiant song in their throats, the defiance of living against the times, would that we were all here once just like this, looking at one another with these eyes & truly seeing & even wanting to see, cos we were open to the surprise & beauty of another’s ppl-ness.
One was a person but then they became a body & then they became ppl & then no one thought of them at all cos everything were ppl, even there, those buildings over there, see them, they are ppl now, some ppl pray to them daily, acts of grace, it is amazing to behold. The person that is a still a person on the other side of the world doesn’t know that everything r ppl now but soon they will find out, once they try to cross the river. They will learn.
Today is not the day for everyday kindness. Cos we need something extraordinary.
One is sitting in the back of the café that used to be a real café, one is waiting, there is music playing, it is not Norah Jones but it could be Norah Jones, u r thinking of an old friend & how they told a story once abt a café just like this one & how whenever u heard that story, u smiled & thought of them with their smile & their teeth & their inquisitive eyes, it is a good feeling, u were going to say “was,” but to say this word right now makes u sad, & u don’t want sadness cos the world has too much of it, u even talked to someone abt this kind of sadness even when u talked abt someone like Johnny Depp, whom ur friend once called Johnny Deep cos they were deep in luv with their eyes & that soulful look they used to have back when they were just a kid from Florida that had run away from home to be a rock n’ roll star & instead ended up in the pictures.
The latitude of sadness sometimes brings u down.
It’s possible we were better once, more humane, more giving, b4 the Chicago Boys started to play with all our lives as if we were merely pawns in their game, somehow one day we found ourselves at the foot of the tall building & we couldn’t walk in without someone asking us for money, it was a strange feeling, one we could not have predicted cos once we were told we’d all have a bit of happiness & it would be shared.
On the farm, upstate, up north, where the wildflowers grow & the riverbanks r muddy with sudden catastrophic rains, a different life awaits, there’s even talk of sheep, it seems possible to live there until u think abt money & then that seems not so possible cos who will tend to the farmhouse & the chickens out back & the other animals in the woods nearby, but u heard stories abt this farm cos famous ppl went there & it was said that what happened there was magical & u wanted some of that magic.
U drive the long hours to the farm in r mind, u pretend u r an old Russian thinker, u carry a little red book in the bag u bought at the last Top Shop store that ever existed, u revel in the possibility of being wise & knowing things abt ppl & how ur wisdom will seep down through the generations until someone will decide u are canon, & once they do no one will want to listen to u, even tho u had no say in this canon-making bizness, u just wanted a drink & maybe a good laugh with someone & just to share some things between each other for a while.
In the old days u pretended everything was abt status, until u realized it was.
This is when u sigh.
Just like this.
U feel the fucking feel of all the feels as u wind down the road of no forgiveness, the numbers in your bank account meaningless, the jobs u have merely temporary, no security in sight. U catch urself thinking abt how the world has become (maybe always was) abt who is let into a space & who is not, zoning laws, redistricting the possibility of closeness, u see the person wearing the rouge jumper in the thick of a summer day & u wave hello to them as if u knew them, they look at u like the stranger that u are, & do not return the wave, but that is all u have with which to gesture.
These hands. Only these hands.
Cupped around a cup, late evening, the bitter aroma of coffee from imported coffee, u got it online, it was shipped from a warehouse somewhere where someone makes money under horrid labour conditions, u don’t know them, but this someone is in the box when the coffee arrives, their labour & sweat & long hours against the clock r there & u want to thank them, even if u don’t know their name, cos this coffee meant the world, just at this moment, when things seem irreconcilable, & not even a moonlit nite with its moonlit wonders can rock your soul out of feeling as if u r peeling.
The person across the river, the one waiting or perhaps in correspondence with u (remember correspondence?) spells the word wrong, they say ‘apeeling,’ (with two ee’s and an A b4 the p) & u want to correct them but u stop urself cos u r drawn to new things & suddenly this word u have known for many years has become new to your sight, & u r grateful to this person for being ur new eyes.
Some days u will hold me like this, & one will feel everything.
It’s a long walk to the corner store, it’s been ages since u have been, the owners have changed hands & u haven’t been cos u aren’t sure they will have what u used to crave, u r wary of this cos in other days b4 all this, b4 the all this (we won’t name), u counted on these small cravings to make ur day, like a treat u gave urself for being alive, it seems silly now, not even worthy of a happy dance, so when u approach the corner store which is on the other corner miles away, u breathe in, fortifying urself for what may be there now & how it may be different from ur memory.
The corner store person wears a distinct shade of green & clocks u as u walk in, u sense their eyes even without a camera, u amble down an aisle looking for comfort, u wish there were chocolate cigarettes somewhere like the ones u used to have when u were a child,
they don’t make them anymore, the person says from behind the glass behind the counter,
u turn, unsure how they would know what u were thinking but maybe now in this new intelligence, in this land of progress even our thoughts can be read from across the way, ah, ok, no chocolate cigarettes, u say, but there are jelly frogs. U blink at the thought of their taste in ur mouth.
On the street there is a parade of sorts, ppl carrying signs with hand-writ slogans of all kinds, justice is in the air & u feel hopeful, u remember the times of justice, the calls for accountability, u even remember when such calls could possibly make a difference, u feel as if u r the person across the river now, they too r carrying a sign, they too r demanding a better everything just as their ppl did b4 them & their ppl b4 that.
U join in the non-parade for a moment, jelly frogs leaping on ur tongue, feeling as if one. with all.
For a moment the sky is azure blue, right out of a movie made by a wanna-be cowpoke roaming the desert lands looking for a Hollywood deal, there’s a drifter on the tail end of the non-parade drinking out of a bag, they wear several tomorrows on their skin, u want to tell them u r kin, even if no one claims kinship now unless they know they r authentic, u say to hell with authenticity cos everything is sorta made up & u know every day, every act, is a performance, & u wanna be whomever u wanna be, ever in a state of glorious unfixed emergence, they seem to say by the manner in which the bag seems to be getting smaller with every sip that this is merely a state of emergency & the world should be ready.
This is an oracle speaking. From another time.
The non-parade wears out its promise as it faces the bull of the market, the ppl disperse like animals in a laboratory not of their own design, we’ve been here, they shout, echoes of protest on their lips, it’s a bright day for a new religion, if only it could be born.
Let into the after-party of the non-parade is the drifter with the bag squashed (now) under their arm, they ache for a cup of joe, the old word for coffee, u say u remember joe & they used to be swell even if they were a guy & u had had it with guys being guys & u wanted ppl to be ppl & stop saying joe to mean everyone cos not everyone is a joe, but u don’t want to get in their face, cos everyone’s in each other’s face right now, it is the mode, the new comedy of manners, just like this, in ALL CAPS, cos no one thinks they r being heard above the din, cos the din is made of screens which some ppl call technology when really technology isn’t equivalent to screens at all, ppl r so wrong, they don’t anything, they ache for joe when joe isn’t even a person, they ache for a place at the table when the table has been long gone.
In ancient days we dreamt. Lots of us. the dreaming meant something.
It still does, a voice whispers from the back. In the class, u can still sit at the back & pretend to be jaded & know it all cos even when you r off, muted, thrust to the back, u still have thoughts, & some of them matter, & u think u could write a big old book someday & not just to be famous either & get a book-movie-tv-everything deal out of it & become an instant ICON, but actually, like, u know, just have a conversation with someone – like that old strange record that everyone laughed at
Let’s be Gay. Conversational stylings. 1959.
Very old record. Very funny record. Lounge music but inside of it, yeh, what kinda style could be a conversation? This u think, from the muted corner at the back of the class, shifting in Ur seat, itching in your PJs, aching for ur own cuppa joe called jane, is something u want. A talk that isn’t chatter, a chat that isn’t hahaha, a real honest to goodness WTF I don’t want anything from U conversation. Imagine.
In the dark night of shared solitude u re-render the whisper across the glitch of time, u live in the same desert as that other person in that other desert, even the one in the wanna-be cowpoke’s movie, u share a beer or maybe a beetroot tonic & there’s nothing trendy abt it, it just tastes good, & u r spent, u r wailing burnt out OMG, but u also carry on, through the haze of signs in the verse of the multiverse where ur projected selves sometimes SHOUT & sometimes quiet murmur little luv songs of despair & daily rage, u know this rage cos u have felt it ur entire life, even when u didn’t know what to call it, but u don’t let the rage define u, cos u know what can happen if u do, u can just BE rage & shut everything else off & the Russian and non-Russian thinkers wouldn’t know what to do with u when they put u in a story & called u a character.
U have this war with characters, even here, when u r counting how many there are against the word count of ur lives, u thought when characters died everything would change & things could rlly begin again, only to find that ppl rlly didn’t know what to do if they couldn’t name a character & assign it to a person.
Sometimes ppl r lost.
There’s this poem abt being inside a machine, like this one, it spits out vowels & consonants in many languages, it says u r just a splinter in time. u reckon u don’t imagine urself as sticking into someone’s skin, under their thumb, & being a nuisance until u r plucked out, but u believe in the words in poems, cos they come from ppl who live on the other side of night, & so u contemplate the fact that u r lodged inside a kinda wheel that ticks & beats & measures days & u think
Is that all there is?
Sad sanguine torch song from another century, sung in the languorous swagger of a woman saying no to the limitations placed upon her life. Everyone mis-read her. U know this cos u saw this. Even now u see this. Ppl misread each other all the time. even the children, the ones being taught to burn respect & tolerance & kindness, they r being misread too. U wanna tell them, if u could, across the noise, that someone is looking, that someone took their picture, & in ten years’ time they will see this image of themselves & perhaps they will wonder who they were then & why their parents behaved the way they did & maybe they will be feel shame.
Caridad Svich is a text-builder and theatre-maker. Her plays include 12 Ophelias, Red Bike, The Book of Magdalene and Theatre: a love story. Among her awards are an OBIE for Lifetime Achievement. She is Editor at Contemporary Theatre Review (Taylor & Francis), and on the advisory board for Global Performance Studies. She is published by Intellect Books, Seagull Books, Methuen Drama, and more. Her film (as co-screenwriter, based on her play) Fugitive Dreams has been seen at the Manchester Film Festival, Tallinn Black Nights Festival, Austin Film Festival and Fantasia Film Festival. Her second film (as sole screenwriter) is currently in post-production.