from “floating operas,” short surrealist dramas / by : John Bradley

Some notes on John Bradley’s background:

“My father was a traveling salesman and so our family moved constantly.  Growing up, I lived in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Long Island, Minnesota.  Attending many different schools meant that my library card was usually my best friend.

As a teenager, song lyrics were a kind of poetry for me, especially the songs of Bob Dylan.  I studied poetry with Jim Moore (my first poetry workshop!), Kate Green, Michael Dennis Browne, Thomas McGrath, Robert Bly (in a one-day intensive seminar), Bill Tremblay, and Howard McCord, among others.  Often, though, I felt I learned the most about writing poetry from my friends, especially George Kalamaras and Joe Gastiger. 

Surrealism always spoke to me.  I can still remember stopping by the public library one day in Southeast Minneapolis and finding a book of poetry by Thomas Merton called Emblems of a Season of Fury.  There I encountered for the first time the poetry of Cesar Vallejo.  I had never seen poetry quite like this!

Robert Bly’s The Seventies introduced me to other surreal poets: Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Georg Trakl.  Living in Minnesota for many years, Bly opened the door for me to so many international poets. I will always be grateful to him for that.

My work has appeared in Alligatorzine, Caliban, Hotel Amerika, Otoliths, SurVision, and other journals.  My chapbook Spontaneous Mummification recently won the James Tate Poetry Prize and was published by SurVision Books.

Currently I review books of poetry for the journal Rain Taxi and live in DeKalb, Illinois, with my wife, Jana, and our cats Kiki and Zuzu.”

————————————————

from “floating operas,” short surrealist dramas that take place on a Titanic not bound by time or space.

Edited by : Giorgia Pavlidou

Where Your Mouth Is

(From Titanic: A Floating Opera)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Emily Dickinson, in black dress and black gloves

Tu Fu, old torn coat, in a round, battered straw hat

Boy with a saw

SETTING

Dickinson and Tu Fu sit at a table in the Melting Spoon Tea Emporium of the Titanic, April 14, 1391, 9:02 a.m.  Nearby, the boy with a saw.

PRODUCTION NOTES

The boy takes a saw to a wooden balloon resting on a table, balloon string dangling down.  The sawing makes no sound.

DICKINSON

Since Romans first made the alphabet march, I have been waiting for this.  Look.  (The boy sawing pauses, listening to a song only he can hear.)  The mouth is an opening bearing twenty-six colors.

TU FU

Bees.  Whenever I open my mouth, so many bees fly out.

DICKINSON

You can hear those colors humming right now in the branching bones in your foot.  

TU FU

I’ve written ten thousand poems, but I never wrote one for a bee.  That’s why bees enter me.  That’s why bees leave me.

DICKINSON

Leave the house and wander near a sleepless bog.  That’s where the dreaming soil grows a finger, no, a slipper.  Sometimes even an axe head.

TU FU

Each bee has a copy of The Making of the Atomic Bomb in its abdomen!  I did not know that J. Robert Oppenheimer was so dear to bees.

DICKINSON  

No matter.  I’ve learned long ago to keep my mouth closed.  Even when talking.  Even when drowning.

(The sawing stops.  The boy looks around.  Goes back to his silent sawing.)

TU FU

Forgive me, bees, for my breath smells of blackberry wine and respiring ink.  Or is it ink made from expiring blackberries? 

DICKINSON

The mouth must never apologize to the tongue, lest polar green.  Polar purple.  Iron, buried deep in the ice, burns through the night, through the root of the tongue.  Watch the hinge loosen.  Watch the tongue swim forth from the missing mouth.

TU FU

(He stands, extends his arms out, look up.)  Oh, to look down from far above and see your own face.  Watch the place where the mouth opens, closes, holds.  See all that steaming smoke streaming out.

DICKINSON

Watch.  (She holds out her right hand.  Silence.)  The most neighborly moth just flew out of my mouth.

#############################

Where the Portal Will Next Appear (From Titanic: A Floating Opera)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Moon, as played by Oliver Hardy, in a chef’s uniform

Tituba, in a black and white striped robe

Mary Todd Lincoln, draped in a blanket

Conductor, in a gown cluttered with musical notes

SETTING

In the Hindenburg Bakery and Bowling Alley of the Titanic, April 14, 1976, 11:41 p.m.

PRODUCTION NOTES

A woman with two heads stands to one side with a conductor’s baton, conducting an orchestra only she can hear.

MOON

In Duluth, a car was mistaken for a large loaf of bread.  In Miami, a house was mistaken for a meteor.  In Portland, a dog was mistaken for a poem.

MARY TODD LINCOLN

The stomach can digest anything.  Sewing needles, bullet casings, a grape stuffed with rain on the tin roof of the butcher shop.

TITUBA

Zero is a humble number.  It denies everything.  It contains everything.  Even the moon.  

MOON

In Islamabad, the Mississippi hides under a wet blanket.  It will never be recaptured.

TITUBA

But the moon is not zero.  Though it’s often mistaken for zero, or the letter O.  Sometimes for a mouth left open for centuries.  

MARY TODD LINCOLN

I found a bowling ball in my bed last night.  It said that it was a victim of a bark beetle attack, but I knew it was lying.  

TITUBA

The moon can speak Hindi, Kurdish, Lakota, Punjabi.  Sky languages.  They hover, drift.

Live amongst us.

MOON

I once shaved the head of a woman who spoke a future language.  She poured a pitcher of cold milk over her shaved scalp.  And I sighed.

MARY TODD LINCOLN

A button should be sewn onto a blouse or shirt where the hole will appear, but you have to listen.  Listen for the threads that will tear.  Where the portal will appear.

TITUBA

Sometimes the Moon emits metallic sounds.  A dog made of iron ore running through a car wash, with no water or soap.  Gliding through a shredder with dull teeth.  Electricity running through the veins of the metallic dog.

MARY TODD LINCOLN

My husband believes I’m a spy from a cave in Afghanistan, but I swear I will never be recaptured.

TITUBA

Zero is a humble number.  It denies everything.  It contains everything.  Even the moon.  Even zero. 

MOON

In Portland, a car was mistaken for a large loaf of bread.  In Miami, a dog was mistaken for a poem.  In Duluth, a house was mistaken for a meteor. 

########################

Yet Another Thing I Must Try to Disremember

(From Titanic: A Floating Opera)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Minotaur, in a bearskin coat, played by Brian Jones

Minotaur’s Manager, in a pinstripe suit, played by James Earl Jones

Labyrinth Safety Official, in riding pants and boots, and carrying a whip, played by Rickie Lee Jones

Labyrinth Sanitation Official, in a white suit, played by Tommy Lee Jones

SETTING

In the Bill and Melinda Gates Grand Ballroom of the Titanic, April 14, 1209, 10: 46 p.m.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Sheets hang on lines that form narrow passageways in the ballroom.  Clumps of shredded paper on the floor represent the minotaur’s dried dung.  Giggling children can be heard, but not seen.

LABYRINTH SANITATION OFFICIAL

I’m afraid I cannot allow anyone into the labyrinth at this time due to health concerns.  It’s a public health hazard.

MINOTAUR’S MANAGER

How can a bunch of sheets be a health hazard?  Why they’ve all been cleaned and even ironed!

LABYRINTH SAFETY OFFICIAL

I believe he’s talking about all that Minotaur dung scattered about the place.  To be blunt, my friends, it’s not safe to breath that shit.

(Children giggling can be heard.)

MINOTAUR

You’re irritating me.  And if that happens, I’ll have to bang me head against your head rather hard.  And I’ve been told that it’s not a pleasant experience.

MINOTAUR’S MANAGER

Now let’s all stay calm.  There’s no reason to become angry.  We have a contract, a signed contract, stipulating that the Minotaur roams the labyrinth when and how he pleases.  It also stipulates that he not only may excrete dung whenever necessary, but it’s a requirement.  (More giggling.)  To make the labyrinth more realistic.  Therefore, I must insist that my client . . . 

LABYRINTH SANITATION OFFICIAL

You don’t understand.  I was not consulted about said contract.  It does not have my signature on the document.  Therefore, it is null and void.  As well as nebulous and vain.

MINOTAUR

I can hear my brain say, Oh Dear.  I can feel my blood saying, Bollocks!

(More giggling.)

LABYRINTH SANITATION OFFICIAL

I can hear my spleen say, Well, that happened.  

LABYRINTH SAFETY OFFICIAL

I believe it’s time for all of us to, ah, leave the premises immediately.  

MINOTAUR’S MANAGER

I’m afraid I’m going to have to complain to the International Minotaur Rights Commission.  And 

to the Association of Associated Labyrinths.  And to the Bureau of Better Labyrinths.

MINOTAUR

I’m afraid I’m going to have to recite my anger poem.  You would be wise to stand back.

    Let me testify—snakes can fly.

    Swimming through the very air.

    The air you find most everywhere.

(Only the MINOTAUR’S MANAGER applauds.  Then, along with the SAFETY OFFICIAL and SANITATION OFFICIAL, the MANAGER runs.  They flee in various directions, as children can be heard laughing.)

*****************************************

Time and Space May Flatten the Face (From Titanic: A Floating Opera)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Four stone heads of Mt. Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln

Crazy Horse, not visible

SETTING

Under the Great American Ocean, July 4, 2239, 12:01 p.m.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Four rounded stones, flat on the bottom, are all that remains of the famous four heads.  Crazy Horse has no stone, as his image cannot be captured.  The five voices sound a bit distorted as they’re speaking underwater.

CRAZY HORSE

Silt.  Slurry.  Rasp.  Scrape.    

JEFFERSON

Did you hear that?  It sounded like someone choking on a powdered wig.

WASHINGTON

My teeth ache.  Still.  Shouldn’t the salt water heal the damn gums?

LINCOLN

Mortality did not die.  Does ever yet not die.

CRAZY HORSE

Rasp.  Struck.  Throat.  Below.

ROOSEVELT

Isn’t that the Titanic over there?  I always wanted to smoke an inextinguishable cigar and make love to Mae West on that ship.  

JEFFERSON

And Joan of Arc.  And Greta Garbo.  And the Mona Lisa.  

LINCOLN

And Sappho.  And the Statue of Liberty.  And the Golden Gate Bridge.  

CRAZY HORSE

Rasp.  Silt.  Breathe.  Tilt.  Through.  

WASHINTON

Some of my teeth have escaped my mouth without my official writ of leave.

JEFFERSON

I’d play my violin for you, but it seems to have reverted back into molecular rapture.

CRAZY HORSE

Breathe.  Silt.  Below.  Open.  Below.    

LINCOLN

This reminds me.  I once attended a concert to hear an automaton that looked much like me playing “Moonlight Sonata.”  On a piano made of wood that had been tortured.  I wasn’t able to sleep for three weeks after that.

WASHINTON

I wish the sea would finish pulverizing me so I wouldn’t have to listen to this. 

CRAZY HORSE

Crust.  Struck.  Bellow.  Through. 

ROOSEVELT

OK, this was bully, my fearless famous friends.  Can we go back to our deep granite inertial sleep now?

LINCOLN

To look.  To carry such a height.  To come so near. 

CRAZY HORSE

Tilt.  Breathe.  Spin.  Below. 

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