Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lost: Turtle

I guess I'm a writer. No matter what I do, I'm thinking about writing: going back to work on something I've started, starting something over or starting something new.

Last weekend we went to a wedding in Westchester County, NY -- Chappaqua, to be exact, where the Clintons have a house. We arrived early on Saturday and Chris indulged me by joining me on a drive over to Ossining, to see if I could find John Cheever's house on Cedar Lane. I've been working on a one-man show about Cheever, using his own words from his stories and novels, letters and journals, but it's been difficult to find the story and the structure. Still I soldier on, and I thought if I saw the house where where he had lived it might give me a jolt. Of some sort. I've seen pictures of it and fully expected to be able to find it, to pull over for a few minutes, maybe even catch a glimpse of Cheever's widow (in her 90's now) who would come down the lawn to the road and, on learning why I was there, ask us in for coffee or a drink, show us around -- "Here's where John would do most of his writing... This was his favorite chair... Those were his slippers; would you like to have them?"

Suffice to say none of that happened. But it got my mind going again, unwinding, going back, restructuring in my head the material I've put together. I'll get it one day and the whole thing will come pouring out.

Likewise I saw a production of "August: Osage County" today at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia, a gorgeous production with an array of wonderful performances in a play that's brilliantly deceptive. As I left the theater I was awed by the mastery, the humor and insight of the writing. Yup, that sure did deserve a Pulitzer Prize! But ultimately, after a few hours to think it over, and to read a dissenting review of the original Broadway production, I found it left a kind of bad taste in my mouth -- I'll be glad to share with you why another time -- and I think, ultimately, it's a bit hollow at its apparently brilliant core. And my thoughts went back to another play I've started that I now think I have a better handle on. Thank you, Tracy Letts. So I won't write the big, gay farce -- it'll be funny, for sure, but a little dark, too and it will have heft and hopefully people will come away with something to think about. Of course, I have to write it first, but at least now I have a handle.

Meantime, I might turn back to a little poetry. I pulled out a manila folder full of old poems from my days in Los Angeles, when I was part of a group of writers that took part in regular readings at A Different Light Bookstore on Santa Monica Blvd. in Silverlake. Sundays at Seven, it was called. Some of us wound up being published in a little collection of work with the same title, and when I came back east I was invited to take part in a reading at A Different Light in Manhattan. My selection: a poem entitled "Lost: Turtle". I just read it again after a long time and it is, I think, rather fine. Let me know what you think.

Lost: Turtle

Out here where houses are solid and wide
and the trees, celadon and bottle-green,
scrub the sky, on a telephone pole a sign:
Lost: turtle.

Printed in a father's hand,
exasperated father
whose promise of replacements --
puppy, kitten, neon tetra --
meet son's small voice upraised
like a little fist: No! No!
Another will not do, and so:
Lost: turtle.

Forever, I'm afraid,
plodding and unnoticed as an old waiter,
in the shrubs, in the tall grasses
fizzing with insects.
Lost. Turtle.

Yet son sleeps soundly, fists unfurled
as father, empty glass in hand
sits on the dark edge of a bed,
feeling for an instant what the boy feels.
It grips his heart and makes him shiver.
It is hope. And it is in the house.

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