Dinner Along the Amazon
The light goes out.
The sky is all pale blue, seen through the lattices of Ezra’s roof.
There is a slow and careful fading-in of insect noise—and faraway a dog, and further still a cock, and further still, beyond them all, a bell.
Ezra—dragging an old grey piece of sheeting from his pocket—starts to clean himself, with spittle when he must, but he pauses now and listens. “You’ve left out the birds again…“he calls into the wings. “You hear me? Where are the birds?”
“What? You do this every morning and you still can’t get it right?” says Ezra. “Insects first: then birds, you dolt! And then the dog, the cock, the bell! Dear Jesus Christ…!” He looks at God. “You know what you need down here?” he yells. “You know what you need down here, you ditz?” And he points into the wings. “What you need is a new stage manager!” Ezra shakes his fist—his piece of sheeting at his imagined enemy. “You pea-eyed priapus! GET IT RIGHT! INSECTS—BIRDS—then DOGS…!”
Dorothy enters, falling up the steps from the auditorium; carrying her little folded chair and table; crawling carefully through the wires that are stretched between the stage and the house. She also carries—as always—her knitting bag, her old cloth shopping bag, and her parasol. Ezra hides in the furthest corner he can find.
All at once the birds begin to sing.
Dorothy says: “Good morning, Ezra,” setting her things on the ground. Ezra, as usual, does not respond. Dorothy surveys the mess in his cage.
“Looks like the birds have been at you again,” she says.
“There are no birds,” says Ezra. “All the birds are dead. Save one…” He glowers. “Good morning, Dorothy.”
Dorothy gauges the distance between herself and the cage with a practised paranoic eye and sets her chair in place accordingly. The length of her husband’s reach is known by heart: just as the depth of his thrust was known in earlier times. In youth. There had always been a part of her, inside, he could not reach. And now—when the reach is all external—she is determined each of the visible sanctuaries must remain inviolate: her wrists; her eyes; the nape of her neck; and, especially, her lips. She will never let him touch her lips again—as once she had—lest some unwilling word be drawn into the open and revealed.
Looking up at the latticed sun—the lattices of other bars than Ezra’s—Dorothy unfolds her small tin table, placing it beside her chair.
“So what have you brought this morning?” Ezra says.
“Tea,” says Dorothy. “Same as always.”
“Tea stands for Traitor…” Ezra snarls. “How dare you?” he roars.
“Every day you bring it here to taunt me! Tea! Tea! Tea! For Traitor…!”
“Nonsense,” says Dorothy, shaking out her handkerchief and watching it drift down towards the table—Dorothy’s tea-cloth, unembroidered, neat and square and clean.
“I only told the truth. Tea-tea for Truth!”
“Be quiet. You want them to come?” Dorothy lifts her chin towards the wings, where danger lounges, dressed as soldiers, barely visible to those of us who sit beyond the wires and watch. Ezra leans up close against the bars and reaches out with both his hands towards his wife and whispers at her, vehemently; “Aiuto, Dorothea. Aiuto…”
She ignores him, fearful of his languages, never quite certain which of them is real—and, if they are real, never quite certain of the meaning. Her shoulders tell us this: the way she turns away and produces from her shopping bag her cup and saucer, jar of milk, and thermos bottle. Also biscuits, each one wrapped in a separate piece of paper, each one very dry and thin and old.
Ezra squints and watches every item making its entrance into the growing light. Finally Dorothy lifts the cup and blows the dust from its rim.
“Me,” says Ezra. “I had an egg for breakfast.”
“That’s nice,” says Dorothy, and lifts the thermos bottle up, removes its cup, and pours a long bright amber stream into her cup while Ezra, watching it, recites his litany of teas for “treason…traitors…tortured…trapped…”
Dorothy sets the thermos bottle aside and replaces the cap; after which she reaches out for the jar of milk.
Ezra suddenly stands in the centre of his cage and roars at the top of his voice: “I AM NOT I THAT WAS BUT I THAT AM!”
Dorothy sits. And sighs. And is afraid. She sits with her back to her husband—looking at us, tired. She knows that now the soldiers will come. And they do. And Dorothy folds her hands in her lap and waits for whatever might be going to happen next.
Three of the soldiers come this time. And one of them bangs his swagger stick against the bars. “Shut up, in there, old man…”
“I am shut up in here,” says Ezra. “Fool!”
“I mean your mouth—shut up!”
“I’d rather shit in yours than shut up mine,” says Ezra, calm.
But the soldier to whom he speaks is enraged and heaves himself against the bars. “I hope they hang you by the balls, you fascist creep!”
The other soldiers pull the maddened one away.
“You mustn’t. Mustn’t. Don’t. He’s crazy. And he doesn’t know the meaning of his words. He doesn’t even know his name…”
“Ezra…” Dorothy whispers.
“What?” says a soldier, not having been aware she was even there.
“Ezra,” she says. “His name was Ezra Pound.”
One of the soldiers, fairly decent, motions the others away and stands there looking at Dorothy.
“He was a tall, great man,” says Dorothy, looking past the wires at time: the past. “With a great red head of snakes for hair and his eyes were green, like glass. He gave off heat. I’d never felt such heat. But his shadow…in his shadow I was cool. He loved the sun…”
“I was the sun,” says Ezra.
“Yes,” says Dorothy. “He was. The sun.”
Ezra walks away into the shadows.
Dorothy looks across at the soldier. “Can I help you? Is there something I can do?” she says.
“Then you could leave us—couldn’t you.”
This is not a question.
“Yes, ma’am,” says the soldier, turning to go. But before he goes he takes a final look at Ezra in the cage and mutters with amazement; “…was.” And goes.
Dorothy pours her milk from the jar, Ezra turns to the sound of it. Dorothy now undoes a biscuit, folds the paper, nibbles at the biscuit, drinks her tea.
Ezra looks along the bars and takes a little walk, then stops and adjusts his posture, watching his wife as she feeds along the biscuit edge.
“Fifteen bars, this cage,” he says. “How many teeth have you?”
Dorothy, not replying, fishes deep inside her bag and withdraws an envelope of raisins, nuts, and figs. “If you had to choose a death,” she says, “would you rather hang—or be shot?” She sets the cup aside and frees the saucer, carefully pouring out a ration of the nuts and raisins onto its gleaming surface.
“Fifteen bars,” says Ezra. “And sixteen spaces.”
“Seventeen,” says Dorothy, and sets the saucer down on the ground about six feet away from her chair, towards the precipice dividing them from us.
“Sixteen,” says Ezra. Adamant. Time for another outburst.
“Seventeen,” says Dorothy, taking her place again in the chair, lifting the strand of figs and beginning to unbraid them, laying the braid in her lap and each unbraided fig on her handkerchief, her tea cloth. “One space runs along the top,” she says.
Ezra looks. It is true.
The fifteen bars are set in cement at the bottom; but across the top there runs another bar, and this bar is set at either end in the walls. Between this bar and the lattice roof of Ezra’s cage there is a space at least six inches deep.
“All right,” he says. “There are seventeen. But only because
“Apparently, yes,” says Dorothy, still unbraiding figs.
“Whereas for me—for men—” says Ezra, running his hands up and down the bars “there is only the vertical. Hunh?”
“Only if you say so, Ezra,” says Dorothy. “But my mind tells me there was a time when every thought you had was horizontal.”
“God damn right there was a time!” says Ezra. Then he thinks about it. Youth. “And I was splendid—lying down. Splendid,” he says. “Recumbent. Rampant! I…!”
“Yes,” she cuts him off. “You. Recumbent. I…looking down.” She puts a fig in her mouth.
“What?” says Ezra. “You looking where?”
“Looking down,” says Dorothy, trying to finish the fig. And then: “I only ever saw you from above—when you were lying down.”
“You lie!” he shouts. “You lie!”
“Oh, yes. I’m always ‘lying’ aren’t I? Just as you were always ‘lying.’ Down.”
“Trouble is, I never did know who was underneath you, there…” She eats another fig.
“THE EARTH WAS UNDERNEATH ME THERE! Cow…!”
Dorothy swallows the fig.
“You’re God damn right it was the earth. You’re right. THE EARTH. IT WAS ALWAYS THE EARTH! ALWAYS! ALWAYS! THE EARTH…!”
Dorothy lifts her fingers to her mouth.
The sound of all the insects dies.
The dogs, off stage, lie down.
The ants are terrified: immobilized.
A raisin falls.
The flies, parading in the saucer, rise into the air and disappear. And Ezra’s gaze rises after them…
“Aye…” His voice is a long thin whisp of sound. “I would fuck the sky if I could…”
He looks at Dorothy.
“Your tea is cold,” he says.
Dorothy lowers her hands into her lap; her chin dips down toward her breast.
And Ezra says: “You mustn’t be afraid.” He wants to make her laugh. She won’t. “The sky is not afraid,” he says. “I shout at her all day—and look how calm she is. And not a cloud in sight…”
But Dorothy just sits. And then she says: “The sky cannot hear you, Ezra. She has no need to be afraid.”
For a moment both of them are still, till Ezra says: “I should rather, then, be hanged than shot…” He looks at the sky. “So I could be up there with her: silent. Yes…?”
Dorothy takes a biscuit from the table, slowly unwraps it, blows it clean, and stands.
“Yes?” Still looking at the sky.
Ci Are you afraid?”
He looks at her.
Dorothy turns and walks toward the cage. Very slowly she offers him the biscuit through the bars. “Thank you,” she says, “for telling me the truth…” and watches him. He eats. “What does it mean?” she says. “What you said before: aiuto?”
“Help,” he says. “In Italian. Help. Aiuto…”
Then Ezra smiles. “Don’t turn around,” he says. “Don’t move.”
“There’s a bird in your saucer,” he says.
And there is. It is feeding.
Out of the Silence
Prose scenes from a play in progress.
Tom and Vivien were married: always, it seemed, had been married, still would be married even when Vivien died. Tom said afterwards, in many different ways (and most of them oblique): “A death once started never seems to end.” And it was clear he meant her death would not be over till his own had taken place.
Tom was a writer; Vivien was not. Not that it mattered, should have mattered. But it did. Both, at first, were equally fond of silence. Out of the silence Tom made words and put the words on paper. Seeing the words on paper, Vivien caught the first disturbing intimation that the silence they had shared had not, in fact, been shared at all. Tom had been raiding her dreams, her privacies, even her nightmares. What was on the paper was her own, not his. Stolen. Worse: it was as if her voice was in his pen and unreclaimable. What might he do with the rest of her, then? Unless she got him first.
“Are you alive, or not?” she used to say. “Your self, I mean. Are you living yet, or not?” Always speaking down towards the top of his head (Tom always seated) or from somewhere off across the room: this woman wearing white, in shadows; hating any other light that did not emanate from her. “Speak to me. Speak,” she would say. “Tell me what you’re thinking. Tell me what you think…,” blowing out the candles; turning off the lamps: making out of darkness a new kind of silence through which to hear and then denounce his words. “You are not even you!” she cried at him once. “Look at you, sitting in the dark.”
“I didn’t make the dark,” he said, trying not to say you did. Succeeding, because he knew in his heart she had not really made the dark, only its counterfeit: the turning off of lamps.
Slowly, over time, she tried to obliterate the shape of words from forming in her mind, tried to avoid their presence in the house, said to Tom she had forgotten how to read. “Please don’t leave your work about. I’d rather not…” (“remember what I think,” she didn’t say.)
Daylight became so harsh she had to shield her eyes, pulling down the blinds at dawn. Afternoons were blotted out with pills, sometimes injections: anything narcotic, even, towards the end, with ether. “Light,” said Vivien—saying it to her doctor (later, the doctor saying it to Tom)—“is noise. Always, I want to stop my ears.”
“What sort of noise?” the doctor asked. “Tell me what it sounds like, please.”
Vivien waited, wanting to be precise—forgetting, because she had worked so hard at forgetting how to be precise. But finally she said: “The noise is of someone bursting through the glass.”
“What glass?” the doctor asked.
Vivien did not answer.
Tom, when the doctor told him this, sat very still. Vivien, twilit in her pallid dress, stood in his mind before her bedroom mirror, staring at herself. And he knew she was waiting for the bursting to begin. White, he thought, must be the loudest noise of all. And her wardrobe, now, was exclusively white.
Two days later, Tom had Vivien committed.
After the great dark car had driven away and the papers had all been signed; after the doctor had said, “You may sit over there, if you like” and Tom had seated himself in the straight-backed wooden chair; after the Matron had been told to wait outside; after the April afternoon was safely shut away behind Venetian blinds; after the noise of all the lights was dimmed; after the pause containing all these things had passed, Vivien began to speak, not quite aloud at first.
“I see two doors,” she said. “But if I walk across the room, I know that only one of them will open.”
Tom put his knees together, sitting as the chair demanded, letting his ankles touch—one hard bone against the other—his mind already ticking over, knowing that one of the doors indeed was locked, but the other would open. For him.
“This—the other door—is mine,” said Vivien. “The only difference is, it has a key.” She looked at Tom. “Someone else will open it and someone else will close it. You can still put out your hand and turn the knob: a gesture, with so many others, I must now renege.” She made a fist and opened it and made a fist again. Twenty years of opening doors and twenty years of marriage. Gone. She opened the fist and let them fall away. Tom even noticed that she wiped her palms on her skirts. He was thinking that she should have said, “A gesture I must now renege upon…,” that she’d left out a word, that her language—sense of language—was dying, dead.
“Doorknobs and fountain pens, eh Tom? Two ways of getting out. Two ways of pushing up the lid. Buried alive, we all want out…”
Tom looked down at his feet: the April mud on the edges of
“Me,” said Vivien. “Me, I was buried in you. I even lost my voice in you.” Now, she looked at the doctor pointing with her semi-fist at Tom. “Buried alive inside that man. Me.” She smiled and made the fist complete. “And when he leaves this place, you know what he’s going to say when he gets in the street?” She looked at Tom—Tom now looking back—and she raised her fist above her head and shouted, ” Lazarus. Me. I have come back to tell you all!” She looked away and dropped her fist. “In my voice.” (Whispering) “My voice…” (Weeping, silent tears and open eyes.) “Mine. Because it’s me that has to die. Not you.” And then she looked at him again. And shook her head and tried to smile. “Oh, no. That isn’t what I meant to say. That isn’t what I mean…If I had come in here to die, then I’d be lucky, wouldn’t I…? If I had come in here to die.” (To the doctor) “Can you promise me they don’t kill people here? Because, if they do, you should make him stay and let me go.”
The doctor slowly shook his head. “We don’t kill people here,” he said.
“You take them somewhere else to die?”
Tom stood up.
“Sit down,” said Vivien.
Tom sat down and wondered if it was force of habit, fear or both. That fear itself was force of habit.
Vivien said, “All we have to see is what there is. Yes? And you can’t deny we’ve seen it, all of it, together, you and I. I have gone mad…your word, not mine…and you have not. Gone mad. Or, so they say. Or so that open door implies. Yet, all we’ve seen is what we’ve seen together, you and I. Years of silence. All those…wonderful years of silence shared. Which you betrayed. Betrayed, because you never said to me, you never said to me, ‘We have seen what we have seen together. You and I. Landings, stairs and doors. Curtains, carpets, tables, chairs. Leaning out along the window sills, walking out along the streets. Cats and garbage cans and the sound of singers singing in the summer rain…’” (Here there was a pause: alarm that all the words had rushed out, bidden by forbidden memory, trampling down the sedation rampant in her bloodstream, streaming out in defence of her terror that the open door was not for her. Then, slower, drugged by the counterweight of what she had become, perhaps by choice…choices she could not remember: longings to sleep; longings to be forgotten; left, bereft of self in the safety of absolute anonymity, not to be Vivien any longer. Not to be Vivien, either Tom’s or her own.) “You betrayed me, Tom. You betrayed me. Not because you put me down on paper but you didn’t put me down on me. Out of the silence all you had to do was write across my forehead, scribble on my arm, print for me somewhere here…” (she pointed at her breast) “…1 am. That’s all. Just me. That I was here inside this body-flesh. In me and not in you. ‘Cause all we saw and all we saw and all we saw…” She was winding down, sagging near the wall, and the doctor rose and went and held her up. But Tom was afraid to go: he couldn’t cross the room. “All we saw and all we saw…,” he was thinking. “All we saw, and all we didn’t see.”