“Eleven Actresses”

The one who says she is all finished
Demonstrates on stage all that is gone.
You Leave A Lot To Be Desired
Is the name of the play.
It’s a period piece.
Has what you’d expect.
Inherent bitterness against the world,
   resurgencies of grudges,
   lava the color of unreconciled childhoods.
The audience is appalled.
No man speaks.
Monologue — no; diatribe — no;
   pretty discourse — no; Greek — not really,
But there is death.
Oh my dears, I have not been ushering
   the aisles for these many decades
Without seeing the subtext.

The one who says she is all finished
Demonstrates on stage all that is gone.
It started as a novelty act
and blossomed into a full-fledged camellia
of blame
A pledge of indifference freshens the
deadness; I mean the sense of
no more happening, I mean the
act break where the producer
fake-jovially informs the audience
anything is possible — goodnight
and thank you for your cooperation!

She is dressed like an unsculpted
slab of marble.
Monument to her art.
Insight scaling insight.
Emotional high. Eyes yet.
Unshorn, unshaven, unchic.
It’s a look you see on
certain women after they’ve
finished a quart of whiskey.
But it isn’t a story of alcoholism.
That would be too easy,
too dilutable.
(I’m drunk now.)
No, she is on another track altogether,
Like I said, about Demise.
It’s a short trip really.
Not some Egyptian trek
Where you pass the Pyramids
that could have been your
monumental loves, your
sky-scraping career, your
complex progeny, all that
reassuring dust.
No, it’s quick.
Like some car accident
recalled later in traction.
Protracted but sudden,
Cast before you know it.
Plaster of fixed persona.

I am not enjoying the performance.
It reminds me too much of my own
squashed bouquets.
Of dress rehearsals that turned out
to be the real thing and I
acted badly.
I’m alone and evaluating the
She can’t be more than thirty. Forty?
Time hasn’t been so cruel.
There are roles left, other
significant headdresses.

The one who says she is all finished
Demonstrates on stage all that is gone.
I am mesmerized
But I fall asleep.
I dream.
I’m in a corridor of bright talented women.
They implore me to write parts for them.
One steps forward.
I detect in her a distinction.
The stamp of completion.
God’s inductee. Fatal audition.

By a trick of stage magic
She is seen in the finale
as a glowing new skeleton
Black light maybe, or trick scrims.
It is the special universal nakedness
the audience has paid for
despite their revulsion
despite their bourgeois outrage,
their half-price tickets
their reluctant catharsis
They think they’re seeing God’s handicraft,
Him at his worst,
I mean truest.

But God is no ghoul, I mean fool
It’s just that he picks
his actresses carefully
So that when they are discarded
He has his own catharsis.
The title, You Leave A Lot To
Be Desired, puts him off
But he decides to be a sport about it
And not incinerate the theater.

Anyway, the actress has fallen to her knees
Palms open and outstretched.
Classical, I guess.
I guess she’s about to die.

I came out tonight to learn something
about abandon.
I’m a bad student.
I drank and must have missed
the whole point to the show.
All the loss seems so petty now,
The actress who keeps saying she is all finished
Never seems done.
(Perhaps even in death she is afraid
of being out of work.)
I return to my wine-stained
and light a candle.
It’s chilly tonight
And the rain hasn’t let up

copyright 1994 by Harry Kondoleon

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