LETME is alone on stage. She speaks.
For all you know I’m a woman. This is what you see and what you think. This is what I tell myself. This is what I have been told. And I accept this, you know. As I accept so many things that are not clear or true. Or even possible.
I think I am standing here. I’m told I have legs and feet. I’m told this is a body. I’m told I’m pretty or pretty enough to look at without going crazy with lust or love.
I am not sure what “pretty” means. I have looked it up and I understand. Pretty much. You see that’s the thing. They gave me a language. This comes from the tongue. I think it does. They explained what a tongue is. I immediately stuck it out at them. It was my instinct. But I don’t really know what instinct is. When I stuck out my tongue, they told me it was my instinct doing that. I was trying to make words. They told me words were sounds used to communicate. I had no idea what “communicate” meant.
So, you see how it is with me, right? It goes on like this. Not knowing. Being told. And then knowing. Or at least knowing what it was I was being told. Very briefly. But then they had to explain the idea of being brief.
And then “idea.” They had to tell me about ideas. That I didn’t have any.
They told me I’m a woman and that women don’t have ideas.
They told me this is insulting. And that I need to develop indignation. Come on! Indignation? I was still trying to figure out “pretty.”
Then they told me I had twenty minutes to figure all this out. I asked them why twenty minutes? Why not thirty or a hundred and thirty or a thousand and thirty.
This didn’t help. They told me I was abusing what they had taught me. That a woman only has so many options, only so many things she can say or think. Thinking. This had to be explained to me also.
After a while I just walked away and out into the street. It was late at night. The moon was in the sky, full, round. I felt a connection. I felt drawn to it. I walked as fast as I could and as far away as possible.
But they followed me. Five of them. Tall, short, ugly, powerful. All five walking about fifteen feet behind me. It was pretty funny. I laughed out loud. This seemed to help. I felt better. I wasn’t sure what I was comparing my feelings to. But better seemed to be what I was feeling. Not great. Not even good. But better. And the more I walked the better I felt. They never told me what to wear. So I didn’t wear anything. Walking like this was liberating. They told me I was naked. Naked I didn’t understand. What is naked, I asked them. They, all five of them, conferred- get that, “conferred,” and turned to me with stern faces. Naked, they said, was only reserved for women. Pretty women most of all. So I was left naked.
I was okay with that. I had some kind of secret power, evidently. They told me this would all work out in time. Naked and secret powers combined. I had to laugh, really, since everything they said was a kind of code. “Code,” wow. I was really picking things up faster and faster. I felt my head and thought I must have a brain. “Brain”! I was flying now. Walking so fast I thought I’d lose all of them.
It was only a little while later that I realized I was running. Running so incredibly fast. Air was flowing over me. I was stimulated. Excited. Thrilled. Whatever this was, it was good. But they were still behind me, only about ten feet behind me. No matter how fast I ran they were there. Scowling at me. After a while I began to think they were part of me. As if there was no separation between us. All five of them and me. The language they had me speaking. Off my tongue. In this naked body. I was pretty, they had said and after a while I was pretty in my own mind. Mind, that other part of me, inside my head.
I looked up and it was nine minutes. Only nine minutes to figure all this out. As if the world depended on my figuring it all out. With only nine minutes. Maybe even eight now. Time lost in the words, in my running, in my naked body. Time was inside my naked body. Seven minutes. This was pretty impossible.
All I wanted was to find out. Figure it out. What this pretty thing was. How it was possible in the first place. All of this with maybe six minutes left. Now five. Now four, now three. Now two. Now one.
I just kept running.
LETME is lost. She speaks.
I’m in here, inside. How I got tied up like this I have no idea. I can’t move. Can you hear my voice? Can you hear me? Can you hear my voice?! What if no one can hear this? They told me I was asking too many questions and that it was not the way it was meant to be. They told me I was making demands, the very last thing that was supposed to happen.
I’m thinking these thoughts: last week I read parts of plays by William Shakespeare. Lady Macbeth, Cordelier, Ophelia, their speeches. Now I have that much more inside me. I read the diaries of Catherine Blake. I read Emily Dickinson. I read the Brontes. Now I have all this inside me. I read Sylvia Plath. I am trapped.
I’m in here. Stuck. Somehow they wrapped me up in this… stuff. I don’t even have a word for what they put me in. I am embalmed. I am dead.
How it is I can feel this way when really I am still alive and thrilled and vibrant, I don’t really know. What I did, I don’t know.
Here’s how it went.
It was midnight. The moon was directly over my head. I was exhausted. I heard their steps. I felt their hands and arms on me. I think I was being kicked. I could smell them. They stank of engine oil and old musty libraries, the kind you find in dying cities. The kind no one goes to any more except the homeless.
They had weapons. This I hadn’t noticed earlier and should have. They had things that exploded inside my head and inside me.
Pain became my only sensation.
I tried to escape.
I heard music. My crying became singing. I sang my heart out while everything was happening to me. Then they stopped.
As soon as they heard my song they stopped.
They methodically, almost like surgeons, wrapped me up.
Then they left.
That’s what I can say. They left.
RICH QUATRONE is a poet and playwright living in Spring Lake, NJ. He was educated at Rutgers College and Mason Gross School of the Arts, both at Rutgers University. He and Lorraine Quatrone founded PASSAIC REVIEW in 1979, inspired by Lunch magazine and the groundswell of poetry that was then in the Passaic-Rutherford area. Other mags to come out of that period were Footwork and Lips. Footwork became the current Paterson Literary Review, headed up by Maria Mazziota Gillan. Quatrone introduced Gillan to the poetry world by having her read at Passaic High School, publishing her first efforts in PR, and by having her interviewed on EYES OF THE ANGELS, the cable television poetry show, produced by Paul Juscyk and Rich Quatrone. Gillan turned her back on those who endorsed her and has made some kind of mark on the poetry world.
Rich eventually left north Jersey and the life and wife he loved there. Much of this was brought about by a rigged prosecution of Rich as a home instructor in Passaic and Lyndhurst. Some people knew the truth and encouraged him to fight the bastards who set him up, but Rich knew he’d been tried and convicted in the Herald News by people like reporter Steve Marlowe, so he accepted a very, very unjust plea bargain. This is a decision he has regretted often in his life, since he allowed the State to strip him and his family of every cent they possessed. He has never really recovered from the financial poverty. He received an expungement in 2006.
After the infamy of September 11, Rich began an all-out, six year campaign of reading hard-hitting poems, poems to educate, poems to connect personal love and world love, at the Java Hut, which later became the diluted Coffee Blue, in Belmar, NJ. During these six intense years, Rich founded CHILDREN OF SEPTEMBER 11, along with Timo Scott, as a guerrilla theater group taking on social issues often left unaddressed by too many others. Online Rich resurrected (actually the third incarnation) of Passaic Review, following the original magazine, then Passaic Review Millennium Editions. The new PASSAIC REVIEW EZINE, published some 1600 online issues, covering every conceivable part of Rich’s political, social, and personal imaginative landscape. Joined in this effort were scores of poets, including Bob Quatrone and Amiri Baraka. Rich kept the Ezine going until he abandoned it after the invasion of Iraq. Rich felt the country was no longer worth the risk involved in speaking so honestly publicly.
Rich is also the producer of PLAYWRIGHTS ON THE RISE at Lakewood’s historic Strand Theater. He’s done this series into, now, its seventh year under his helm. This is a staged reading series of new plays from predominantly new playwrights. Rich has two sons, John and Eric, both poets, musicians, and athletes. Their band THE LYRIQS is on the rise.