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Today, As I Eavesdrop…

This morning, Carlos went on a glorious five-minute rant against Socrates and Plato. He’s teaching Plato’s something or other today, and as he TEACHES just like he TALKS, HIS STUDENTS ARE SO LUCKY; IT IS GOING TO BE HILARIOUS.

Also, he must be teaching the Jabberwocky in either that class or the other, because I am hearing BRILLIG and SLITHY TOVE drifting through the house.

Meanwhile, in the next room, Miriam is teaching History of Theatre to another fortunate group of CUNY students. Or maybe this one is script analysis.

“You’re a big drunken knight,” I hear her telling them. “Drinking and gambling.”

Let’s see. My guess? Twelfth Night?

Oh, wait. She just said “King Henry…” So… Falstaff?

Anyway, our apartment is basically a university now.

So.

Thank you, pandemic?

Me? I’m like that Masters student writing her thesis in the library, while Zooming with theatre professionals (Carla Kissane, of Shakespeare Cabaret fame) in my persona as script consultant.

…only the library is my bedroom. (I mean, it kind of is ALSO a library.) And instead of a thesis, I’m writing FIDDLE.

I mean, if I could write FIDDLE for my Masters thesis, I’d go back to school LIKE THAT! But only if they gave me a free ride. LOL.

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The Poison Garden Project

I know I’ve told you all about Betsie Withey. Like when she was making my “Champagne Nebula” gown for an award nomination. Or when I hosted the “Art for Art” series on my blog, in which artists talked about how Betsie Withey’s fiber art inspired them (click through for parts One, Two, and Three).

But I don’t know if I’ve told you about her Poison Garden project.

Possibly, you have seen a few progress photos on her Instagram account. Possibly, you’ve bought a few of her elusive foxgloves or wolfsbanes from her Etsy shop, TheFaerieMarket.

Well. I’m here to show you more. But first let me tell you how it all started.

Betsie and Jess (poet, writer, editor, and literary critic Jessica P. Wick, that is) were visiting Carlos and me for some holiday. Let’s call it Krampus. It might have been any number of holidays. Or perhaps just a weekend of museum visiting and fine dining. Hard to say.

Maybe Betsie was bent over her embroidery. Maybe we were talking of hemlock. Or figs. Or tombstones. At any rate, something in our conversation prompted me to start quoting my favorite bit from The Lancashire Witches by Thomas Shadwell.

Something like:

Henbane, Hemlock, Moon-wort too,
Wild Fig-Tree, that o’re Tombs do’s grow,
The deadly Night-shade, Cypress, Yew,
And Libbards Bane, and venemous Dew,
I gathered for my Charms. Harg.
And I Dug up a Mandrake which did cry,
Three Circles I made, and the Wind was good,
And looking to the West I stood.

(Um. Exactly like that, actually.)

And then I might have said, oh so wistfully, “Betsie, you ever think about turning those mad textile skillz of yours to making POISON GARDEN PLANTS, like the medicine garden they have at the Cloisters?”

(We may or may not have just visited the Cloisters that day. Maybe for the Heavenly Bodies exhibit. Dang, what a great exhibit.)

However it happened, the subject came up naturally. In this version, I’m taking credit for the idea. But Betsie might just as easily have done it. Or Jess, murmuring into our ears like the sinister power behind the throne. Or Carlos, eavesdropping in from the other room.

BECAUSE ALL OF A SUDDEN, Betsie and Carlos were whispering and conspiring, and then–VOILA! Betsie had herself a major commission from my beloved Carlos, AKA Dr. Husbandpants, to invent a whole bouquet of new poisonous blooms, and from them make a wreath for me!

Because, like, I’m the luckiest bride of the curliest-headed English Professor, um, ever?

Now, in case you’re wondering, creating a poison garden from scratch is no easy thing to undertake. Since that inspiring day, it has taken Betsie years of painstaking labor–this, on top of running her own business, and, until the pandemic, working a retail job–to realize her vision.

Betsie had to find examples of leaves and flowers out in the wild and deconstruct them, to see how they were put together, so she could recreate them in silk. When she couldn’t find a live plant, she had to order examples online. She drafted flowers and fungus in drawings and practice scraps. She then created the flowers and fungus again in many hues and shades of dupioni silk, hand-dyed velvet, ceramic, wire, felt, and embroidery thread. She repeated the work until it met her standards and satisfied her. She wove a wicker crown on which to structure it all. Some pieces, she decided, would be free-standing, to clip in and around the hair, or wear as an addition band above the wreath. Some pieces would be part of the wreath proper.

Betsie Withey was, as she always does, making wearable sculpture art.

Well!

As I recently reminded Betsie, my 40th birthday is coming up in December! ALSO, my book, Saint Death’s Daughter–which, yes, has a bit to do with flowers and poisons, and a bit more to do with powers that (like the plants in a poison/medicine garden) can be perilous or helpful depending on their use–is coming out in April.

In other words, this is a perfect time to say: Poison Garden, you are PERFECT as you are! C. S. E. Cooney loves you, baby. And she wants to wear you LIKE WOAH.

To that end, I then I went to visit her at her studio in Westerly and try on all her flowers and fungus and leaves for the first time. I wanted, I told Betsie, for the poison garden to be the aesthetic of Saint Death’s Daughter.

O the wonders she hath wrought! She had made absolute heaps. An actual garden. Enough for, like, fifty wreaths. And some garlands. There were mountains of jewel-bright, lustrous, FATAL artworks just lying around her studio! It was stunning. Breathtaking! Rainbows spilling out everywhere! More tucked away in hidden baskets and drawers.

And, lemme tell you, there were Amanita Muscaria mushrooms FERDAYS.

I played the role of Betsie’s happy model. The artist fitted me as a queen for her crown. But we ALL know who the EMPRESS OF SILK REALLY IS. And we both got to glimpse for the first time an inkling of what the final Poison Garden will look like.

So. Sometime soon, within the next few months, this project will be complete. And on that day, you–yes, lucky YOU–will ALL be able to benefit from Betsie Withey’s extravagant genius! All her extra poisonous plants, along with anything else she cares to make along these lines, will be available for purchase on her Etsy page, with all her other treasures! (And don’t forget: she takes commissions!)

In the meantime, mi enjambre–have some PICTURES!

And don’t forget to support Betsie Withey and artists like her by shopping from independent creators!

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Shakespeare Cabaret: Whores and Weeping Women

I just want to remind you–and remind me, yikes, Carlos and I really need to buy our tickets!–that Carla Kissane‘s amazing, subversive, feminist Shakespeare Cabaret Whores and Weeping Women is next month. Next month!

What’s not to love about this human?

…and, since beginning this blog last week, now I must say… it’s THIS MONTH! THIS MONTH!

October 21st, to be exact! 8:30 PM for Arts On Site: Studio 3R Performances!

You can read all about previous iterations of the show here and watch video teasers and all that!

But for the latest and greatest in updates, may I direct you to: CARLOTTA BEE’S WHORES AND WEEPING WOMEN INSTAGRAM!

I just want to crawl inside this show and live in its fishnets.

I should also direct you DIRECTLY to the ticket site. That gets you to the calendar.

But this one goes directly to Carla’s performance on the 21st (it’s the one at 8:30 PM).

I’m Carlotta Bee’s biggest fan. Other fans will tell you otherwise.

I’ve been helping some with script and structure. As far as the Shakespeare and the songs, Carla (or “Carlotta Bee” as she’s known in this show) has no equal.

Beautifully directed by Miriam Grill and choreographed by Katherine McClintic, this show just about slaughters me. I have been moved to chills and tears and rib-straining belly laughs from the EARLIEST STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT!

I am so excited! Carlos and I will be going together, and I bet we’ll come out SINGING!

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Our Ample Hills Reading

I had many favorite parts of our Sweet Reading at Ample Hills Gowanis last night, like:

1.) OMGOSH I need to read all of E. Chris Ambrose’s BONE GUARD books (think Indiana Jones meets black ops), like, STAT, and:

2.) I can’t WAIT for Randee Dawn’s TUNE IN TOMORROW—out next year!!! From Solaris, like mine! BOOK SISTERS! Not to mention:

3.) THE ICE CREAM! It was so good I couldn’t even finish it. Tickets come with a “small”–which means two scoops. I got one scoop of this, and another of this. UM. YUM. NOM NOM NOM.

But I really, really liked when I challenged the audience to define for me the term “Necropants” without googling it.

LOL. Carlos was my minion. (Next month, he will be a Sweet Reading reader! Sign up now!) He ran around handing out scraps of paper and pens. Later, he and Ambrose went through them all, cackling like fiends. Then I chose favorites from their favorites. BUT REALLY THEY WERE ALL FAVORITES!

The two winners got DARK BREAKERS ARCS! Also, I laughed my butt off. We kept all the answers. (See below.) Maybe I’ll get a scrapbook…

Carla Kissane and Carlos both took some pics last night. THANK YOU, WONDERFUL PEOPLE! (Oh! Oh! ALSO! Check out Carla’s subversive, feminist Shakespeare CabaretWhores and Weeping Women” next month, Arts on Site: Studio 3R Performances, October 21st at 8:30!)

I read a scene between my necromancer Lanie Stones and her friend/pen pal/love interest Canon Lir (a fire priest of the god Sappacor) from SAINT DEATH’S DAUGHTER. And I read the first three short sections of “The Two Paupers” from DARK BREAKERS. Because Analise Field and Gideon Alderwood are perennial favorites, and always have been. PRE-ORDER LIKE THERE’S TOO MANY TOMORROWS!

I brought lots of postcards that our friend the artist Shannon Potratz made for us! They each have a pre-order QR code. I even brought one for NEGOCIOS INFERNALES! We did a little demo and pulled up actress Carla Kissane to help us with it. She asked the Deck of Destiny whether or not Shakespeare’s sister would ever rise up and walk among us (referencing Virginia Woolf’s famous passage from a Room of One’s Own). The deck responded!

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Sweet Readings Series at Ample Hills Creamery

Mi Enjambre! Tomorrow is the evening! Ice cream and rooftop readings at Brooklyn’s own AMPLE HILLS!

I am VERY excited about getting to read stories aloud with Randee Dawn and E. C. Ambrose (of DARK APOSTLE fame! Man, I read those books like necromancy was a new ice cream flavor and it was RUNNING OUT)–two VERY CLEVER and ENTERTAINING WRITERS–at Ample Hills Creamery for their Sweet Readings series.

Here’s where you get tickets–AND TICKETS COME WITH A SMALL SCOOP OF ICE CREAM, PEOPLE!

Maybe I’ll bring a DARK BREAKERS arc to give away! I’ll read bits from BOTH forthcoming books: Dark Breakers and Saint Death’s Daughter. WAHHH!!! Carlos is coming too! And at least a few friends.

FRIENDS! IN A ROOFTOP AUDIENCE! My inner actress is turning cartwheels. She’s like… wait… A LIVE AUDIENCE??!!! JUST FOR ME? (My inner Gilbert Gottfried just read that line out loud in my head. In his best Shades of Gray voice.)

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Today’s Playtest: THE GHOSTS KNOW ALL YOUR SINS

SO SO SO EXCITED FOR THIS PLAYTEST!

Carlos and I have been working all morning to upload a NEW ITERATION of Negocios Infernales to Roll20.

Today’s special guest playtesters are Jeremy Cooney and Rhiannon Parker-Cooney, known collectively as “The Pooneys.” (LOL.) They are both Master Game Masters, who run multiple D&D games–live and on Roll20–and we are SO LUCKY to have them testing for us!

We’re testing, among other things, a 2-person playtest (Carlos and I have done them, but we’ve never watched two other people do them), and one of our seven new modules.

Today’s is the Hueso Module: “The Ghosts Know All Your Sins.”

To follow our game’s development with Outland Entertainment, sign up for the Negocios Infernales Newsletter!

To be the first to get news of next year’s Kickstarter for Negocios Infernales, follow our page here!

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Forthcoming Appearances

Hello, hello, hello dear friends and readers!

I am so excited because as more of these huge, many-year projects are coming to fruition, I’ll be amping up appearances and performances to share my work with you!

I am so looking forward to sharing tantalizing appetizers of Saint Death’s Daughter and my Dark Breakers collection, as well as all the short stories, poetry, and TTRPG game Negocios Infernales that Carlos and I have been collaborating on!

To that end, here are a few places you’ll be able to see me–and often Carlos!–and some of our friends in the coming months! Many virtual experiences, and some in-person too!

September 18, 4 PM

Clock Star Rose Spine: Fran Wilde Virtual Poetry Tour

Fran Wilde is the Nebula Award-winning author of Updraft and Riverland, and she’s also a three-time Hugo Award finalist, a World Fantasy Award finalist, and a Locus Award finalist for prior work. She also has a middle grade fantasy novel coming out this June titled The Ship of Stolen Words. She will be in conversation with C.S.E. Cooney, author of Desdemona and the Deep.

– from the Eventbrite invite

Read more about Fran Wilde’s virtual tour for “Clock Star Rose Spine” at Lanternfish Press’s website!

September 28th, 7 PM

Ample Hills Reading: Randee Dawn, E. C. Ambrose, C. S. E. Cooney

A brand-new reading series is underway! Starting in 2021, the Ample Hills Creamery opened its upstairs to a special Rooftop Reading series curated by Randee Dawn, featuring a variety of emerging and established writers reading from their current works. Each month will feature different authors of different genres — science-fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult, mystery, humor … the sky’s the limit!

And bonus: There’s ice cream involved!

– from Randee Dawn’s blog

Read more about Ample Hills HERE!

Get Tickets HERE!

Sept 30-October 1

Origins Authors Library at the Origins Game Fair: with

Origins Game Fair (#originsgamefair) is the annual tabletop gaming convention held each year in Columbus, OH. On top of the 2,000+ gaming events scheduled throughout the week, we offer a wide variety of other activities including a massive 82,000+ square foot vendor hall with more than 200 exhibitors selling board games, puzzles, TCGs, minis and RPG games, Artist Alley, clothing and game related accessories plus video game tournament and retro video games, cosplay contest, LARPs, livestreaming program featuring play-through Dungeon & Dragons game, a robust Film Festival, Authors Area with workshops and readings from some of your favorite writers, a full schedule of Anime Programming, and even Comedy and Music Shows!

The Origins Library is designed to provide authors the opportunity to interact with their fans, sign autographs, sell books, and lead seminars during the show. Each of them have also participated in the Origins Anthology by contributing a short story to the publication. You can pick up a copy of Anthology from the Origins Store.

– from originsgamefair.com

November 17th, 7 PM

KGB Bar Fantastic Fiction Reading: C. S. E. Cooney and Robert V. S. Redick

Fantastic Fiction at KGB is a monthly speculative-fiction reading series held on the third Wednesday of every month originally at the KGB Bar in New York City, and now on YouTube, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel.

FantasticFiction.org

Robert V. S. Redick the author of The Fire Sacraments epic fantasy trilogy. His new novel, SIDEWINDERS (Book II in the trilogy) is a desert adventure, a meditation on peace and war, a book about brothers with a love/hate relationship, as well as dastardly global criminal networks, demon children and flying jellyfish.

– bio freely adapted from Robert V. S. Redick’s amazon.com author page

Where: KGB Bar (website): 85 East 4th Street (just off 2nd Ave) New York, NY 10003 map

Website HERE

December Date TBA

New York Review of Science Fiction: Reading with C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez

A group for the discussion and promotion of the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings. These events are *generally* held the first Tuesday of every month. For the duration of the pandemic, all events are virtual, and may be seen in this group; and we may extend the live venues. 

– from NYRSF’s Facebook Group Page

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Negocios Infernales is Acquired By Outland!

I cannot wait to share this game with you! And see the Infernal Salons you host with our writing prompts! There are going to be such rich, hilarious, mysterious times ahead for all of us!

Carlos and I have GREAT NEWS! The fabulous people at Outland Entertainment have acquired our Table Top Role-Playing Game.

It’s a GM-less, diceless, cooperative storytelling game, set in an alternate world called Gloriana (kind of like Spain in the breath before the Inquisition), and it uses a bespoke deck of 70 cards we created with art by Rebecca Huston!

To receive our Infernal Newsletter, sign up here at Outland’s Negocios Infernales page! To receive notifications about when our Kickstarter is kicking off, follow our Kickstarter pre-page!

We, meanwhile, had a great time at our first Planet Comicon in Kansas City, Missouri, meeting our publishers, making friends, giving interviews, signing books, and playtesting Negocios Infernales in the Game Room.

We’ll very likely be there again in April 2022, so look for us there!

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The Last Stately House: A Ten-Minute Play

I’ve been reading some of my old ten-minute plays I used to write for 24-Hour New Plays Festivals, for Columbia College Chicago, and then later for the Immediacy Theatre Project. This is one of the latter ones, which means it’s newer, though it’s still not very new.

I remember loving my actors, but feeling ambivalent about my writing at the time. But every time I read it, I still think (as Carlos says) that there’s a “there, there.” That’s one of his favorite phrases. “There’s a there, there.” The phrase reminds me of the word haecceity, which is one of my favorites. It means the “thisness” of a thing.

One of my actors was a beautiful young gay man who had played many a straight lover on stage. He wanted to play a lover who was more like himself. So I wrote him a role that starts melancholy but ends in hope. I don’t remember what inspired me to write the other two roles. I think that maybe one of the actresses was a trained opera singer, so I gave her a snippet of Gluck to sing. If I could guess from the text, I would say that the other actress always wanted to go hang-gliding, or was a trained hang-glider, or maybe just loved flying dreams. But I can’t be sure.

So today, I thought for something different I’d post this thing in its entirety, for your viewing pleasure.

CW for different manners of death discussed; the play takes place in a kind of afterlife, as so much theatre does.

I didn’t get to see it performed; I wrote it for the actors of the Saint Louis Immediacy Theatre Project when I was in Rhode Island, I think. This one, and one other called “Raven, Tiger, Woman, Tree” that maybe I’ll share with you another time.


IN THE GARDEN AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LAST STATELY HOUSE

by 

C. S. E. Cooney

CHARACTERS

THE THREE DREAMERS

Plague: a young man who watched his mother fall from the plague (ragged urban clothes)

Garden: an older woman who wanted a garden outside the city, mother of Plague’s lover (a crown of torn green leaves)

Cliff: a person who was hounded off the cliff by city people, broken and only half-mended (tattered wings)

The Three Dreamers are in a walled-in garden. Above them is the city, “The Big Smoke.” At the other side of the garden wall looms the Last Stately House. The windows are lit. Sometimes there is a flicker of movement behind them. The dreamers recite the invocation, perhaps with a drum, sung or chanted, in round or in harmony, repeat as needed.

CLIFF, GARDEN, PLAGUE (together)
Juntos romperemos todos los límites
Juntos juntamos las cosas disímiles
Juntos cruzaremos la ultima frontera
Juntos saltaremos al dentro la caldera

CLIFF
Now that that’s over with—

GARDEN
It’s a sacred ritual. No need to dismiss it so lightly. 

CLIFF
My bones are smashed and my wings are broken. I have to do something lightly. So, we all know where I came from. 

She points up, dives her finger down with a whistle and KER-PLOWy sort of sound, says to Garden:

But you, what, did you grow here or something? 

GARDEN
Oh, no. I’ve traveled some. Toured this city and that. 
Ended up here to tend a few things. The garden was only one of them.

PLAGUE
I’m from the city. 

CLIFF
The city, city? The one on the cliff? 

She points up again.

PLAGUE
 The Big Smoke, we call it. 
Dirt and bodies. Flies. One big sickness.
Nothing grows there, only dies.

GARDEN
Were you born there? 

PLAGUE
I don’t remember. My mother said so, anyway.

GARDEN
I was born in an opera house, beneath the naked thighs of a gilded caryatid. 
My mother was a chorus girl, my daddy was a phantom in the sub-basement. 
I grew up in greasepaint, but I always wanted a garden. And now I’ve got one. 

CLIFF
That must be very satisfying for you. 

GARDEN
And yet, I remain unmoved by your sarcasm.
 Look around you. The mossery underfoot, the ivy on the walls. 
No door, hidden or otherwise. 
Roses. Red, where the nightingale pierced her heart on the thorns.
All these statues.

PLAGUE
I’ve lived in the city so long.
I have longed for this quiet. To be a statue, like the statues here—

GARDEN
You know what I think? I think they’re watching me. 
Like those portraits of famous people? Celebrities and deities, that sort of thing? They sort of follow you around with their eyes?
Only with statues, it’s far more personal. It’s not just their eyes that move.
Their whole bodies reach out when I’m not looking.

CLIFF
That’s why I ran. There were people—horrible people—chasing me. 
Not statues, more like animals, baying at my heels. 
I wish I’d had a shock stick. I wish I’d turned around and smashed their skulls in.

GARDEN 
That’s what happens when you turn people into animals—you want to hurt them. I read a study about it once. Call someone a cockroach and you’re more likely to kick them.

CLIFF
I’d never hurt a real animal. I don’t even wear fur.
But human animals—when they hunt you, it’s either fight them or run.
And you saw what happened. I ran.

PLAGUE
We all run. 

GARDEN 
Not all of us. 

CLIFF
There was a cliff ahead. I knew it was coming, but I couldn’t stop in time. 
No. I didn’t stop in time. On purpose.
They were right behind me. They wanted to tear me, tear me, so I—

She can’t continue. A pause.

PLAGUE
I was with my mother, in the city. 
She wanted, I don’t know, the anonymity of the urban vastitudes.
But I could feel the city shrinking me. Every day I got smaller.
 Even my mother forgot, after a while, that I was there.
One day we went walking—even though it was dangerous—even though they warned us about the sickness. 
But she wanted to go out, and I wanted to protect her, so I followed. 
She never noticed. She walked ahead of me. Facing away.
All I could see was her back.
I called to her—Mother!—but—

CLIFF
I jumped. Before they could push me.

GARDEN
Yes. 

PLAGUE
She fell. Right in front of me.

GARDEN
Yes.

CLIFF
And then—flight.

GARDEN
Now, that’s something, isn’t it? Sometimes I fly, too. I never know why I do, I just do. I go to bed every night hoping I’ll fly again. It’s always such a treat.

CLIFF
It wasn’t like that for me. It’s just, when I jumped, I never hit bottom. 
Instead, my spine shattered into all these brave new bones—hang-glider-wide. 
My skin stretched to fill their new frame.
Such a delicate membrane: so thin, the moonlight might puncture it.

GARDEN
How long did you stay aloft? Sometimes I can fly all night. 

CLIFF
I flew—I don’t know how long I flew. But it wasn’t like that, it was—

GARDEN
It’s wonderful, isn’t it, flying? Just wonderful! 
One time, I flew from one end of the city to the next. 
High above the smoke. The lights.
I never plan my route.
There are no maps up there, only landmarks.

CLIFF
 It was, yes, wonderful—except, somehow, I knew it was for the last time. 
After that first flight, I knew, I’ll never fly again.

GARDEN
Well, that’s not very optimistic, is it?

PLAGUE
Look at her wings. Pulp and ribbons. She’ll never fly again. 

CLIFF
I know, because after that first flight, I went back to the city. Started over. I thought everything would be normal again. That I could just live, and be ignored. 
But they found me. They came howling to my door. 
And they hounded me right to the edge of the cliff. 
I jumped again—of course I did—but that time, my wings didn’t work. And so . . .

She makes the whistledown KERPLOW-y noise again.

Here we all are.
I always end up in this garden.

PLAGUE
Say what you will about it, at least it’s not the city. 

CLIFF
I’ll drink to that.

PLAGUE
I’ll never go back to that place. The cliff, and then the buildings like cliffs piled on top of that.

GARDEN
The only building around here is that house across the wall. What did we decide to call it again?

CLIFF, GARDEN, PLAGUE (together)
The Last Stately House. 

GARDEN
Ah, yes. 
I don’t think it’s at all bad—it’s not the City Opera House, but then, what is?—but those windows!
Eight black windows like spider eyes is hardly a cozy aesthetic.  
Why, I do believe that house is watching me.
But I really don’t think it means me any harm.

CLIFF
Wait till somebody chases you off a cliff. After that, nothing is harmless.

PLAGUE
I’m harmless. 

CLIFF 
Hardly. 

PLAGUE
I’m practically invisible. My skin is cold Lucite. Light passes through me.
When the city ate my mother, bones-first, when her skin sagged to the sidewalk like a bottomed-out paper sack, all I could do was stand by and watch.
She never saw me. She didn’t even know me when she died.
Sometimes I think my own lover would no longer know me.
He might mistake me for a waterfall, a glass coffin, the blur of his tears.

GARDEN
He might surprise you. 

CLIFF
I hate surprises. They’re like elevators cut loose from their cables. 

GARDEN
Where’s your sense of adventure? 

CLIFF
It fell off a cliff.

GARDEN
You know, speaking of heights . . . 
 I’ve been wanting to climb the the wall and sneak into that house over yonder.
I sometimes catch glimpses of a life behind the windows. 
Someone preparing a feast. 
A fine gentleman, decanting French wine, singing Italian love songs.
Gluck’s opera, do you know it?  Paris wooing Helen of Troy? 


O del mio dolce ardor
Bramato oggetto,
L’aura che tu respiri,
Alfin respiro.
Ovunque il guardo io giro,
Le tue vaghe sembianze
Amore in me dipinge:Il mio pensier si finge
Le più liete speranze;
E nel desio che così
M’empie il petto
Cerco te, chiamo te,
spero e sospiro.

PLAGUE
We all know how that story ended.
Doomed Paris. Doomed Helen.
Doomed Troy, and all the toy soldiers of that war.
Perhaps it’s the same for the man in the house. 
And for his lover, who hears his singing.

GARDEN
But that song! That longing. “Thee I call! Thee I seek!” It moves me.
Like the house itself is sighing for a gentler time.
Like a warm lilac breeze in the dark of November.

PLAGUE
There was no gentler time. The singer knows that. But he likes to pretend.

GARDEN
He has the soul of an artist. Like his mother. 

CLIFF
I don’t think you should go to that house. 
The man in there—what if he’s one of the ones who drove me off the cliff? 
What if he carries that sickness that eats you from the bones out? 
No, the house is too dangerous. The garden will protect you. Us.

PLAGUE
Don’t you understand? 
The garden is part of the house. 
The house is part of the city. 
The city was built out of the cliff that killed you.
Nothing can protect her. Or him. Or any of us.
And it’s too late for me anyway. I’m hardly here at all. 

GARDEN
I’m looking right at you. 

PLAGUE
You’re looking right through me. It’s not the same thing. 

GARDEN 
That’s right. I’m seeing right through you. 
Right to your bones. You are still here. We all are. 

PLAGUE
Whoever we are. 

CLIFF
I am poor smashed Icarus in the garden of the damned!

PLAGUE
I am Pestilence in barbarous attire.

GARDEN
I am the heir of the Last Stately House, and my son is waiting there. 

PLAGUE
Your son? 

GARDEN
Your lover. He is waiting there for you. 
He is filling your wine cup. 
He is singing for you.

PLAGUE
For me? 

GARDEN
He’s a tenor. Like his father.

PLAGUE
Yes. I know. 
He was born between the matinee and the evening performance, he told me. 

GARDEN
What else did he tell you? 

PLAGUE
That when I come to him at last, he will press his lips to my glass lips, and fill me with his wine.

GARDEN
He always was a poet.

CLIFF
What are you waiting for? Why don’t you run to him?

PLAGUE
I am afraid he will not see me. That his song will echo through my hollowness.
That he will turn his back on me, and walk away into the city, where I cannot follow.

CLIFF
If he does, you must not chase him.

GARDEN
If he does, you must stand very still and sing him back.

CLIFF
There are ways over the city. Ways above it.

GARDEN
Once you get the knack of flight, you’ll never walk anywhere again.

CLIFF
Even I had wings once. Maybe I’d still have them if I’d gone forward, not back.

PLAGUE
I never had any wings.

GARDEN
Well, none of us need wings to get over that wall. It’s not a very tall wall, after all. 
Stand on my shoulders.
I have a gardener’s shoulders, scarred and smelling of roses.

CLIFF
When you get there, will you tell us what you see?

PLAGUE
Listen.
When I get there, I’ll haul you up, too.

CLIFF
Me? 

PLAGUE
Do you think I’d leave you behind? 

CLIFF
But I’m . . . broken. 

GARDEN
We won’t forget you. 

PLAGUE
I’m bringing you with me, so you can see for yourself.

They climb the wall.

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Regarding “Spotlight”

After reading my first draft of “Salissay’s Laundries,” Mike Allen, who is also a journalist as well as an awesome writer and poet and editor, told me I should watch the film Spotlight (a little bit of homework, a little bit of pleasure), and I got nervous, because I get nervous of watching Serious Movies, so I talked Hernandez into watching it with me.

He was game, so after his Streetfighter Tournament ended, we ate cake and watched it.

Sheesh.

I mean, SHEESH doesn’t even. I don’t even have the expletives.

Look, I’m so behind on movies, and I always will be, and I knew nothing about Spotlight except that it was about journalism. I looked it up on Wikipedia after the movie was over, and saw that (of course) it won two Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble Cast.

Never heard of it. Because, me and movies.

WHAT ELSE AM I MISSING, PEOPLE?

I know, I know. Everything.

I have to say, Spotlight deserved EVERY DAMNED ONE OF THOSE AWARDS. Like a Chabon novel, all that heavy material was made electric and vivid by the energy of the characters, their relationship to each other, their stake in the stories, their bulldoggedness. I was thrilled the whole way through; I was even CHEERFUL. Until I wasn’t.

And then, afterwards, I was SO FURIOUS, and I cried all the tears of fury and envy and ART.

(I’m often pissed off after good art, even if it’s a bright end, even if there’s catharsis. My catharsis comes out as BLAZING ANGER. At nothing and everything. Like after that frikkin PS 1 “Structures for Life” exhibit on Niki de Saint Phalle last week? WAH! I mean, it was SO JOYOUS, and then it became deadly serious, and then I cried, and now I’m INFECTED; I’m stained, a bright scar.)

When the movie was over, I spent twenty angry minutes RAILING AT THE CEILING (and poor Hernandez), leaking and flailing, and deciding once more that I’ll never be a writer, never, and now I want to re-watch Good Night and Good Luck again, and also I want to watch The Cradle Will Rock, and also I want to kick things.

So that was a great night. Back to work tomorrow. Another day, another draft. amirite?

***

How our brains work:

To lighten the mood after my tantrum, we started discussing Liev Schreiber’s character.

I mean. Carlos and I went OFF on his performance. First of all, I frikkin LOVE LIEV FRIKKIN SCHREIBER. Ever since that weird rom com with the elevators, and time travel and Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, and he’s the inventor? Anyway, and then Everything is Illuminated happened, and I just love him.

But that CHARACTER! Marty Baron, executive editor at the Boston Globe.

“Another adjective,” he says, deadpan, removing it from the article, in the one scene/line of the movie where he’s actually comfortable in his own skin.

(CRIMINY I LOVED EVERY NON-TWITCH OF SCHREIBER’S CAREFULLY NEUTRAL FACE!!!)

We were lying there, trying to imagine Henry V giving his St. Crispin’s Day speech in the style of Marty Baron telling his reporters that they can take a moment, but they have to be back to work on Monday. Or William Wallace in a business suit, telling another bunch of strung out, nervous reporters, very uncomfortably, “So. I just got a phone call from Longshanks. Says he’s going to slaughter us on Monday morning. So. Everyone get some rest this weekend. They can take our lives, but they can never take our freedom.”

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