Friday, December 27, 2019

Haunted Theater

“Some discourses are stronger than we are.”

 “Who are your main characters? What happens to them? What happens to you? How and when does the story end?”

“If the first object had not been, the second never had existed.”


To begin with, it wasn’t 
Haunted. Then the ghosts broke in,

Wanting representation,
Solace, and entertainment

For their disembodied souls,
To feel themselves come alive.

In a sense, they belonged there,
And, in a sense, they did not,

Not without tales or actors,
Not without an audience.

But they hungered for that stage—
Society embodied

As sight lines and acoustics,
Yet as empty as themselves.


And how was that stage empty,
The theater abandoned,

And what did the place look like
From the outside, in the rain?

A warehouse, a globe, a skull?
It looked like a fallen bird,

Like a raven made of boards,
Shingled feathers, plaster bones—

A sodden, slumping object
From outside, like any corpse,

But, unlike a body, calm
And solemn as stone within.

It lacked imagination.
It had forgotten its name.

And what was this stage, if not
The day book of the night world?

Each performance of a play
Turns to myth in its own way.

Ideally, script and moment
Lean each other up like drunks,

And the next evening the stage,
Largely unharmed, hosts again.

But that’s with living actors.
What script ever structured ghosts?

These ghosts yowled and prowled like cats.
Then, like cats, they lost the plot.

Live actors’ lines state fake facts.
Ghost facts faked life’s lines as acts.


Whenever ghosts were quiet,
The bare stage seemed like a set

For a show about a stage,
Set before or after sets,

Before or after the props,
Backdrops, blocking tape, or play.

In dim light from the lobby,
Dusty, every mote intact,

The scenes began without ghosts,
But without them what would end?

Without them, all was silence
And dull, mahogany gleam—

So the ghosts were translucent
And anguished. They lit, at least.


The ghosts remembered. The ghosts
Were what memory became.

They gathered as faint moonlight,
Mother-of-pearl, bluish snow.

A lake of clouds lit the stage,
Every cloud a middle act

With a blurry central scene,
No edges, no beginning,

Just uncertain figures, sounds
That might have been dialogue,

Distant laughter, or thunder,
A requiem of faint screams.

They were not re-enactments
But condensations from fact.


The ghosts were only human
As puddles had once been rain,

As that rain had once been clouds,
Mist from the face of the lake.

(All waves puddle in the end,
Puddles that raise waves again.)

The ghosts were both leftovers,
Then, and also greater-than,

But they were not conclusions.
Conclusions only made them.

One little-known conclusion—
One life rarely makes a ghost.

It takes many lives and deaths
To get a ghost to condense.


A stage bare of narrative
Is a kind of ghost itself,

A residue of desire
Made manifest intention,

An arrangement of bodies 
Of work worked into bodies

Of wood, wires, lathe, and lightbulbs,
Ready for something to say

But not itself narrating
Anything, and not waiting.

This stage was black and tilted
Forever to empty chairs,

An illusionist showing
No one that its sleeves were bare.


On the black leaf of the stage,
Platform for clear-cut fictions,

Pale ghosts tumbled on parade
And danced with random phantoms.

They moved like Chinese dragons,
Like sea scarves, like water snakes,

Pale as cave fish, moon jellies,
As olms in a lightless world,

Confident as predators
Stalking, confident as cats.

Here slipped a ghost of proverbs,
There a fairy-tale’s daughter,

There a punctual sonnet,
Thinned and pining for slaughter.


Squirming worms of awareness
Consumed by their glowing tails,

The ghosts encircled themselves
With foolish flames, vanishing

Into their condensations,
Re-emerging somewhere else,

A dance of the underworld’s
Serpents uncoiling onstage.

Here gleamed Ra, there Osiris,
But their characters vanished,

Every one an alchemist,
Mercurial and famished,

Consuming self as other,
Each fetch mirroring the fetch.


A stage is not an author,
And an author’s not a stage.

One is an opportunist,
The other a blackened page.

This stage was not built by ghosts.
This stage was not built for ghosts.

But there it was, hosting them,
Stage nothing to do with them.

How unauthored ghosts were formed,
Distilled from forgotten lives,

Most of which authored nothing
More than any life authors,

Was a mystery to ghosts,
Including those on that stage.

Not all the ghosts glowed palely. 
Not all their thoughts lit the stage.

One ghost was a stage itself
Descending from the shadows,

Long black caochladh coming down,
Curtained in velvet cinders.

Most beautiful of them all,
Angel of soot in hoop skirts

Spreading out as evenly
And stonily as lava,

Ghost that obliterated
All other ghosts and stage both,

Or seemed to, but they flowed back,
That ghost becoming their stage.


Decaying, half in ruin,
The theater was aware

In a way that it doubted
The ghosts or stage were ever.

The theater was finished,
But it considered its ghosts,

Not as parts or properties,
Not as features, like the stage, 

But as alternative worlds,
As resident aliens

And visiting informants,
Wanting without knowing what,

Being, not being aware,
Awareness haunted by air.

Something’s always vanishing.
Eventually, it vanished.

No more haunted theater,
No more unlit, black-leaf stage—

The ghosts left with awareness,
Though neither took the other. 

A storm passed over the hulk,
A dark, gigantic shudder.

Every body comes to this,
With or without awareness,

Without or without ghosts, stages,
Scripts, actors, audiences.

Foundations soaked in the rains
Sprouted weedy woods again.


And could ghosts have visited
Raw woods without awareness?

Could ghosts want entertainment 
And have disembodied souls?

Could ghosts hunger to belong,
Haunt any corpse with longing?

Any ghost on any stage,
In stages, present, absent,

Is itself another play
On the game exquisite corpse.

But who is playing the game?
The god underground, woods, ground,

Body, theater, stage, ghosts?
Do you have any idea?

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