Charles Leggett is a professional actor based in Seattle, WA, USA. Recent publications include FRIGG Magazine, Graze, Latchkey Tales, Form Quarterly, Firewords (United Kingdom), Southword Journal (Munster Literature Centre, Cork City, Ireland), and Punchnel’s. Others include The Lyric and Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry; his long poem “Premature Tombeau for John Ashbery” is an e-chapbook in the Barnwood Press “Great Find” series.
FOR THE STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
The latter two weeks of the run,
First hour or so of Act One,
I set these on a page
As I sat on the stage--
I hope they will give you some fun!
--Intiman Playhouse, Seattle, WA, USA, July 2008
Stella laid all her cards on the table.
If the metaphor’s old, here’s a fable:
Of a love and Love’s War,
Of a child that she bore
And a bed frame, it seems, that was stable.
It is easily said of the Hubbles
That they live in a world full of troubles.
But their kiss-and-make-ups
Leave them grinning like pups,
And the plaster reduced to a rubble.
One senses, of Neighbor Claudine,
There’s little that she hasn’t seen.
If I speak out of turn,
Comes her hellish slow burn--
Here’s hoping you know what I mean.
Poor old Pablo, he really can’t win:
Exaltation expressed, or chagrin,
At the best or worst hand
In the tongue of his land--
Made to say it por inglés again!
That strapping young news-rag collector,
He kissed Stella’s sister—plumb wrecked her!
As for him, well, we yearn
At his age, then we learn.
He’s sadder, more wise, and erecter.
The whore with the dark ruby lips,
Just watch how she tosses her hips:
A card shark at poker
Just holding her Joker
And languidly tossing in chips.
If you think that policeman is buff
Then you don’t know him quite well enough:
Doesn’t work out with Mitch,
He just knows how to stitch
Downy diamonds to fill out his rough.*
Can’t help but say, speaking of Mitch,
Can’t help but say ain’t life a bitch.
And it helps that it rhymes
In the way spire chimes
Help gravediggers digging their ditch.
New Orleans folk mourning your dead:
That flower-girl, parse what she’s said!
If she knows you don’t know
How the language should go
She’ll sell you dead flowers instead!
There are things lying deep in that “purse”
That is carried onstage by the Nurse
That might make one unsure
Of a word such as “cure”--
It begins in the same way as curse!
As symbol, the Doctor brings Death;
Asks nothing from one but one’s breath.
His cold work, one may feel
(Though his scythe be cold steel),
Is this night not reckoned a theft.
And there once was a lady named Blanche.
Figure her as a bough, not a branch;
And as blossom, not flower;
Not a copse, but a bower;
Under drifts—must we say avalanche?
One said, “I am the glamorous type,”
And then, “I am the glamorous type.”
After Stan said, “So what?”
His stubbed cigarette butt
Went for compost, while Silence came ripe.
The streetcar named Desire
Has a hot seat, don’t you know.
It sizzles when it’s moving slow
But, as with wind through fire,
Consumes at faster speeds;
The streets a grayish, smoky blur,
Its riders’ speech ill-blent in slur.
Upwards through the spine--
Which tolerates the jolts and shifts
In gravity—then gravely lifts
The spirits through a fine,
Catalogue, a River Bourbon
Easing past Elysium.
Pomade-primped and hatless
In gusts of city air
The mild conductor calls them out
With his dry indifferent shout
And blithely turns to stare
At all the obvious
Tourists, visitors and bums
(He sees right through the locals), hums
Something rather tuneless
(Though mindful of the downbeat)--
As of what intoxicates,
As of where we meet our fates--
That someone in the hot seat
Can’t but hear and squirm
A little there, as if, in dream:
That far-off, nigglingly extreme
And half-forgotten worm
Of conscience sometimes found
To be—when under scrutiny,
And with uncertain irony--
Dream’s subject, crawls around
An ever-nearing corner.
A cat’s meow. A paper moon.
The crack of gunfire. The sultry moan
Of Adiós from a mourner.
A honeysuckle rose
Singing Della Robbia blues,
Brown spindly fingers drawn to muse
Along the pliant rows
Of orchard white and sable.
Perhaps a gull’s accusing shriek
Awakens you. A blinding streak
Of light—a gnashing cable
Showering sparks, or else
The sun, merely, the moon, merely,
Any naked bulb—you’ve nearly
Missed your stop! The shells
On beaches of the ocean
That you’ve contrived to die upon
Will whisper of it when you’ve gone,
This rattletrap emotion:
We’ll press them home and listen,
Our faces taut in expectation
Of certain sounds, as its oblation
Down our cheekbones glistens.
* The author, who played the policeman, had shoulder pads inserted into his uniform.
Charles Leggett is a professional actor based in Seattle, WA, USA. Recent publications include FRIGG Magazine, Graze, Latchkey Tales, Form Quarterly, Firewords (United Kingdom), Southword Journal (Munster Literature Centre, Cork City, Ireland), and Punchnel’s. Others include The Lyric and Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry; his long poem “Premature Tombeau for John Ashbery” is an e-chapbook in the Barnwood Press “Great Find” series
LAYOVER: EMPRESS HOTEL by Charles Leggett
outside Kuala Lumpur
This building rises nakedly up
from rows of yellow three-story flats
like an elegant wart from the crown
of a dentist’s hovering knuckle.
Lurching half-hour’s drive from the airport;
lobby and halls suffused in prayer
chants piped in through a subtle P.A.
system. “Help in Time of Need” leads off
the Gideons’ list of “Suggested
Readings” from the worn bible they’ve “Placed”
—next, as it happens, to The Teachings
of Buddha—in what I’ll call the drawer
of need. Now, techno dance beats debouch
from a stoop below, across the street,
next door to Naeshan Trading, where men
in t-shirts are hunched at card tables
under a naked bulb’s margarine light.
An equivocal phrase, “drawer of need”:
drawn as a bath is drawn—immersion;
or sketched, in lines of a face—mundane,
sweet, straining to become familiar
in a nakedness dressed to the nines.
THE AGENCY by Charles Leggett
Out here mumbling Poor Old Jason Bourne,
his third installment warm still in the tray.
Turns out he’d signed up for it after all;
he’d plunked his dog tags down upon the table
like hotel keys at check-out.
Landlady’s stained, forsaken particle
board stacked against the disused concrete planter,
raindrops licking coldly at everything
(two hours sitting on my ass inside’s
not helping with the cold.)—but it’s the clouds
of smoke that catch my eye.
The hill’s tilt south down Franklin, freeway noise
uncoiling, coiling; rocking back and forth
on balls of chilly feet, not even sitting.
Stealing the pleasure of smoke.
The waters Poor Old Jason Bourne began
these movies in were cleaner.
They didn’t give Matt Damon time to act,
much. His Bourne takes action, as if that
were all the world had left to offer him.
Damon simply has to be precise,
to be himself the narrative.
They put that Poor Old Jason Bourne up on
a rooftop at the movie’s end, allowing
the breathless agent who has somehow managed
to corner him the choice of…well, of not
shooting him right away.
Bourne’s had his brief and flashback-ripe reunion
with Albert Finney’s basso spymaster:
a version of Polonius stripped bare
without the foibles or loquaciousness
—albeit the pomposity remains.
(Polonius occurs because my mother
reminded me of him, three decades past,
advising me about my parentage.)
He doesn’t even have panache enough
to die, this humorless, this dry, on-task,
hermetic, old Polonius, his droll
pronouncements not a bit less obvious
for all their rumbling portent.
A spat of editorializing, then,
up on the rooftop, as to what’s been asked
of these two men by their superiors
throughout the years; then Poor Old Jason Bourne (or
whatever name does manage to be his)
jumps off into the river.
I still can hear in the tenor of her voice,
and see by angles that her face described,
the grace that conversation long ago
had asked of her. That it would be all right,
if I did want to know. That I was free
to seek the persons out. Her tenderness,
in saying that their feelings, hers and Dad’s,
were not what mattered—not against the weight
of that inquiry into a frightened
woman (likely younger, giving birth,
than I was when my mother spoke to me)
who carried me nine months and would have given
me a different name.
STORY I TOLD MY MOTHER ON HER DEATH BED
by Charles Leggett
“What happened?” comes a child’s voice ringing pure
From out among the patrons. All can hear.
And I am Prospero (a summer tour
Of parks), with beard and scepter, arms both flailing
From out a caftan, stormily regaling
My daughter with the tale of being thrown
From power to this “full poor” life she’s known.
And there’s a little present Shakespeare’s left,
A shortened line of verse, to catch one’s breath--
“What happened?” comes the child’s voice ringing then.
“What happened?” comes the same voice ringing when
Not ninety minutes later—all forgiven,
At revels’ end—falls one last grateful silence:
My daughter wending toward the changing tents
With old Alonso’s son. And I imagine
How all upon that island—“salvage,” human
Or sprite; betrothed, bewildered (or a touch
Besotted)—at the end could say as much:
No longer captive, soon “reliev’d by prayer,”
What happened ringing through the solemn air.
I told my mother so, not two weeks later.
Could say as much. And could not say it better.
—Wooden O Free Shakespeare in the Parks, Seattle, WA, August 2001