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  1. THE HAUNTING OF AMBASSADOR JEFFERSON, ACT 5 Cast of Characters Mr. Pozzo: “Assistant director” character. Age 50 to 55, male, balding, somewhat stocky of build. Sam: Foreman character for stage hands. Stage Hands: Stage hand characters (real ones acting, or just actors.) Fortuna: “Playwright” character (and presumably for the preceding scenes, as well). Audience Character: Male or female seated front row, left. Chair marked ‘Reserved.’ Shopkeeper: Keeper of a shop specializing in breads and pastries, age 45 male. James Hemings: 24 year old brother to Sally Hemings, servant to Jefferson in Paris; currently chef de cuisine at Jefferson’s Paris residence, the Hotel de Langeac. Prostitute: Prostitute frustrated by lack of business. Age 30 female. Steward: Steward from the hotel, assisting James Hemings. Age 30 male. Thomas Jefferson: American ambassador to France. Second Voice: A French revolutionary who figured in Act 4. General Setting Partially assembled stage: when complete, will display a street with shops in pre-revolutionary Paris, France, leading to a bridge on the Seine River. Time Now. Action of fully assembled stage begins just before dawn July 5, 1789 - nine days before fall of the Bastille. Synopsis Eve of French revolution: James Hemings, Jefferson’s slave, and Steward negotiate with Shopkeeper, Prostitute onlooking. Jefferson is discovered disheveled on nearby bridge. Jefferson confides visions disclosed by shade of Abraham Lincoln: Paris upheaval and liberation; American expansion and emancipation. All depart except Prostitute, who experiences revolutionaries entering and dismantling scene. SETTING: Theater lights are up, remain so for first part of scene. Curtain opens on a portion of bridge over the Seine River, extending RC to R, shrouded in fog just before sunrise. The unrecognizable figure of actor (also named Tom) playing Thomas Jefferson slumps against the parapet with back turned to the audience. He is collapsed from the waist up, head in arms, in same attire as Act 4, but with mud caked on trousers and bared head. Blowing fog often obscures and persistently prevents clear view of him. He is motionless until action calls for movement. AT RISE: STAGE HANDS come in while curtain is opening, setting up floor lights (in places, underlighting fog, but also illuminating street) and simulated sun behind the bridge. Others come in at the same time assembling a street light placed at the bridge entry and a row of shops, one with an interior light and exterior door lantern lit. (MR. POZZO enters the theater from a rear or aisle door, walking briskly but distractedly, holding an open copy of the script. He alternates glances at the sheaf of paper with impatient assessments of the staging operation and the audience. On theater floor, he approaches foreman, SAM, on stage.) MR. POZZO You there, does everybody know this is a dress rehearsal? SAM Yeah... Hey, you guys with the lightpost! You think that thing’s a tree? Set it straight! Use a level, wouldja? MR. POZZO This is how it will go when we open? SAM That’s why we rehearse it, I guess. Takes a while to clear that second scene. Hey, straight, I said! MR. POZZO People start reciting their lines in less than two minutes! Are you going to be ready? Where are the actors? SAM I only work here... (to STAGE HANDS working sun prop) How is Mr. Sun doing today? You guys doing alright? We got less than five minutes... (SAM strides off, still talking behind the bridge where a golden spotlight has come on, flickering and sweeping in random directions and intervals. Enter FORTUNA from a different theater door than MR. POZZO. Young and perky, she carries an open palm-top device. She walks directly to Pozzo, opens her mouth to speak, but he speaks first.) MR. POZZO Fortuna, have you seen Tom, or the other actors? FORTUNA Do you people know this is a dress rehearsal? MR. POZZO Of course. What about the actors? FORTUNA Why are all these people here for a dress rehearsal? (to audience) Hey, do you people know this is just a dress rehearsal? MR. POZZO Fortuna, nobody has seen Tom today. Have you been with him? FORTUNA What’s that supposed to mean? MR. POZZO Oh, for the love of God! I’m not trying to rehash that. As Assistant Director, I just want to know if the principal actor is here for the dress rehearsal of this scene. FORTUNA Don’t be so snippety. I haven’t seen Tom, but the other actors were ready to come in, last I checked. MR. POZZO Good, I think we’re ready to go. Sam? (Several props wobble as they are raised and resettled into supports.) MR. POZZO Sam! It’s curtain time and you’re still settling things! FORTUNA Agh! You’re way too easy on them. SAM Sorry, Mr. Pozzo, I think we got it now. FORTUNA Way! That’s why you’ll never make full director. MR. POZZO Okay, Sam, clear the stage. What’s that you say? FORTUNA You heard me. You never tear into people, you never say the f-word, really let it fly. How about some accountability! MR. POZZO You think f-bombs make you a director, eh? Good thing you’re a writer, huh. Go sit down while I do my job. Sam! FORTUNA Nobody takes you seriously. SAM We’re gone, it’s all yours! FORTUNA (approaches AUDIENCE CHARACTER seated in a chair marked ‘Reserved’) I think you’re in my seat. MR. POZZO Actors take your places! (Enter JAMES HEMINGS, STEWARD, SHOPKEEPER, and PROSTITUTE, as dialogue continues. JAMES, STEWARD, and SHOPKEEPER (in doorway) take positions outside shop. PROSTITUTE slouches watchfully around lamp post.) AUDIENCE CHARACTER Excuse me? I paid for this seat! FORTUNA You paid to get into a dress rehearsal? Give me a break. AUDIENCE CHARACTER Nobody told me it was a dress rehearsal! MR. POZZO James, you’re standing up too straight. You’re playing the part of a slave here, remember! Fortuna, just stand audience left. You can see things better there anyway. Stool! (This last over his shoulder. A STAGE HAND immediately rushes out with a director’s chair and holds it while MR. POZZO is seated, then climbs back to stage and exits stage left. All the while, theater lights slowly dim, leaving only the stage lights and a spotlight each for POZZO and FORTUNA just below the stage. Simulated sunlight is extinguished, set to continually grow a yellowish glow from behind the bridge throughout the rest of the scene. Fog continues to swirl.) AUDIENCE CHARACTER (Addresses nearby audience, then gives up and slouches in chair) Did anybody say to you this is a dress rehearsal? MR. POZZO Somebody tell Tom we’re getting started, he better be ready to come in on cue this time. Spotlight on James. James, you’re still standing too straight. Spotlight! FORTUNA Too straight! Are you starting this again? We talked about it! There is no slavery at this time, in France. James Hemings is a respected person around Paris, a Dagoo figure, a... an Ahasuerus of a man! MR. POZZO We’re talking about a nineteen year old boy, raised a slave in Colonial America. He is the property of a man who would free only two slaves in his lifetime. This is an abject... FORTUNA What are you talking about! How many facts can you get wrong? Have you read the script? Do you know this “boy” FORTUNA (Contd.) was mostly raised in post-revolutionary America, and besides, we’re in France now! Do you know that he is... MR. POZZO Would this be a good time for an f-bomb? FORTUNA And that he is now a 24-year-old adult in that day, a man who has been chef de cuisine at the Hotel de Langeac for two years? This person thrashed a collector who came to the hotel back in January of the same year, and was... MR. POZZO Well, that might have some merit. He also had a reputation for tipping the bottle. Maybe a playwright entered his life to drive him to suicide at 36. We’ll try it your way. If I use the s-word a couple times, might we begin the scene now? James, as you were. Start the scene! SHOPKEEPER Monsieur Hemings, I have brought you my third batch of dough, as well as my freshest loaves as requested. (SHOPKEEPER hands packages to STEWARD) JAMES Take care to not spill those loaves. SHOPKEEPER The third batch is always best, no? Try a sample. JAMES Second batch is best, but you reserve that for the royal house. This will be adequate. SHOPKEEPER Tres bien! I sometimes think Monsieur Combeaux and I have taught you too well, mon ami. Please convey my compliments to the master of your house, Minister Jefferson. PROSTITUTE Come over here, dear, and I’ll teach you something can’t be learned in a kitchen. SHOPKEEPER Ignore her. She is desperate or she would not be ON THIS SIDE OF THE BRIDGE at this time of day. STEWARD I wouldn’t mind something warm besides these loaves in my arms right now. JAMES Careful with those loaves! PROSTITUTE (sauntering closer) Now that’s a dear. SHOPKEEPER I should tell you, Monsieur, that with all the unrest in Paris and surrounding countryside these days, it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain shipments of basic ingredients, even flour. It is regrettable, but the next time you come I shall have to raise the price. PROSTITUTE I’m on this side of the bridge all the time and Monsieur Grumpy here knows it too well. JAMES The Ambassador will not be pleased to hear of any raise in charge. Nor am I. PROSTITUTE Why don’t you and your nice looking friend come back with me for a while? You won’t find me charging no extra. SHOPKEEPER As you know, I am enfranchised to the royal house. So don’t try any rough stuff with me, as you did with your poor language instructor, or so I hear from Monsieur Pettit. JAMES That is no concern of yours or Pettit. Monsieur Perrault has resolved matters with the Ambassador to mutual satisfaction. SHOPKEEPER And to yours, no doubt. JAMES My illustrious instructor has had his redingote returned to him fully restored. I will not discuss the matter further. (At this point, the morning sky is half lit and fog proceeds to dissipate from bridge and street, though still seen swirling behind bridge. Slumped JEFFERSON resolves into clear view.) PROSTITUTE Aw, don’t just stand there, dearie, what to do you say? I’d knock off a little extra if I could lay my hands on one of those loaves you’re carrying. SHOPKEEPER (suddenly advancing on PROSTITUTE and driving her backward to the bridge entrance, she bumping violently against the lamppost en route) How! Many! Times! must I tell you not to harass my customers? MR. POZZO Don’t knock the lamppost down! PROSTITUTE Oh, you are a brute, aren’t you? STEWARD Sorry, sweet lady, it’s all business. Maybe another time. JAMES This is where we take our leave. Where’s, uhm, Master Tom? PROSTITUTE Well, if you ask me, this is him right here on the bridge, slouched all dirty and useless like Mr. Bake-and-Grumpy-Shops here. He’s at least been minding his own filthy business for the last hour. JAMES So? (walks to JEFFERSON, brings him erect) Master Tom, is it you? Where have you been to be in such condition? We must get you home, put some warm broth in you! (brief glance back at POZZO) How did he get so muddy? MR. POZZO You call that an entrance? Where have you been, Tom? FORTUNA Well, that was no idle oath! Just let the scene pick up from here, okay? I want to see how it plays out. MR. POZZO How it plays out! This is a dress rehearsal! JEFFERSON James? JAMES Right here, sir. JEFFERSON James, you are here! Good fellow. Good fellow. (straightens coat as best he can, blinking while taking in surroundings) Can’t think how I came to be in this nondescript locale. And in fact I have looked better. Chilled to the bone, to boot. I seem to have lost my hat. SHOPKEEPER It is a chill morn for early July, all right, for starting out such a warm night. PROSTITUTE Oh, I’ve got a little whiff of something, take a swig. JAMES Thank you, but I have some here myself. That’s it, Master Tom. Can you walk the rest of the way to the hotel, or should I call a cab? It isn’t far. STEWARD Easy for him to say. JEFFERSON That helps! Just let me collect myself a moment and we can leave on foot, thank you. JAMES What happened, Tom? JEFFERSON Not what happened; what will! Shades of the past and present visit me this night. Of them I shall not speak. But this last specter shows events about to unfold, extending far into that undiscovered country that is the destiny of our own. And that of France. JAMES The night is gone now, Mr. Jefferson. No figures haunt the breaking day to vex you. JEFFERSON No. This is nightfall such as no day star to merely rise can hope to dissipate, though Alexandrian Pharos reconstitute her ancient stones and shudder up renewed in fabled obelisk to ward the way of ship on periled sea. SHOPKEEPER Of perils, sir, you speak while honoring me by pausing here SHOPKEEPER (Contd.) at such a humble enterprise as mine. Would please your Eminence to explicate the nature of such dangers in imperiled times like these? PROSTITUTE Well, hear who’s talking fancy now! JEFFERSON A mourning figure was it, stalking tall in shadowed silhouette and speechless, crowned with top hat, dignified yet lanky, his visage masked as by a shroud, eyeless, with but the silvered knob atop his cane made visible as though no finger grasped its eagle head. Upraised it indicates the way that I should go. I follow blind to any sight save that prescribed path through parkways strangely empty, to a wall or curtain, a darkness cast upon the face of formless deep as though creation were undone. Beyond I hear the coming of a great sound, multitudes, the voice of many waters rushing common deluge to that spot. And one voice cries above the din - though whether its source be Heaven, Hell, or Earth’s composite groan o’er all the nations and ages, I could not tell – saying, “This is the coming JEFFERSON (Contd.) of a Next Life in the ways of humankind. It comes of blood. Prepare ye the way of it.” Then curtain parts to show what shades foresee: a city dominated by the axe; numberless victims imprisoned, awaiting doom; so many peasants fight, most know not why; so many homesteads in black terror weep. It is a reign, but one of terrors seized upon the streets of Paris like a flood. STEWARD Mon Dieu, Monsieur! This is a saying dark and who can hear it! (JEFFERSON returns from a trance-like state to look JAMES in the face) JEFFERSON James. Your hopes are known to me. In part I share them, knowing what chains of power wait to fasten round my hands in service to my country. Polly, Patsy, friends and debtors: all constrain the lure of exile found by merely taking purse and scrip on foot, converting daily walk to unannounced escape, the world a house more great than pretty Monticello’s dome. Nay, not for me. But you...! JAMES What say you, Tom? JAMES (Contd.) You deal most fairly with Sally and with me, paying wage and tutor like free people. We share with you in danger, ploy, and fortune, as when the British force of Arnold came to seize you as a traitor, wife and child alike forfeit to the conflict entered. I led them out of Richmond at your command. But even here in France, where tenets of the Freedom Principle declare us free, we walk as slaves beside you, destined freight of Monticello to resume our station there. Why should we submit to that than dare emancipating toils by staying here? JEFFERSON It will not work, dear Gimme. Forces born of brightest hope transmogriphy and blacken like burning scrolls curled to shapes of brute malevolence that knows no subject from another as fit object for its hate. This is no place to found your freedom’s purchase, nor that of Sally. STEWARD Excusing your Eminence, but all this talk seems thin and speculating. Why should our James return with you to certain servitude by customed law enforced? We like him plenty here. JAMES Our friend the steward speaks for doubts my own heart harbors, Tom. What extraordinary privilege awaits the exercise of faith you recommend? JEFFERSON No privilege can be sufficient, though I should not incline to mean withholding of it. Such trifles can arrangement make of wage and household situation, more such fare. No, we must make an end of slavery itself on soil still fresh with patriot righteous blood, a liberty of peace and safety as no promise may afford you here. JAMES Indeed! And has your spectral visitor apprised you of such imminent utopia? JEFFERSON No. Though I am loathe of tame acceptance for such disappointment. I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny over the mind of man. One’s moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not JEFFERSON (Contd.) make him a thief. And yet experiments to date give pause for swift abandonment of those raised side by side with children of the household. Case after case exhibits failure of liberated soul to make his livelihood. But you can show the method for it, Gimme. You! Confound ungenerous visions of the turmoiled void! Your trade and talent, literacy, empower flight on eagle wing to place and stature opportune with no embittered grudge taint friendship to your former master race. MR. POZZO (flipping sheaf) Hold on! Is that how it reads now, Fortuna? Nobody told me! Can’t we wait for the historical revisionists to finish revising before we re-revise them? FORTUNA (fascinated) They went off script again, but let it go for now. Listen! SHOPKEEPER Yet none of this your vision apprehends? What future then must occupy your land of fragile liberties, if not this, too? JEFFERSON A future blessed, magnificent, though made through dreadful enterprise and abortive justice. PROSTITUTE But what of France and Paris? What of us? JEFFERSON (seeming not to hear her) From horrid scenes of smoking France, the shade leads on with stately hand outstretched while borne with weight on hand invisibly set to cane. My native land we enter though I can mark no traverse of intervening coast or ocean. A mist is parted, rolling to obliterate the scene as though some silent bomb has sent the whole to improbable ruin immediate. In its place, as from cloudy height appears the Earth outstretched immense, a prospect wide. There I, Thomas Jefferson, see a continent united from Virginia to the land where rolls the Oregon to meet that wide pacific world raised at the furthest sea. PROSTITUTE I always wonder what those poor folks already living there might think about all this. JEFFERSON The Indians, you mean? For kindness sake, they must not know the cycle of absorption and dependency prepared for their own profit, but conciliations tendered in their own age. JEFFERSON (Contd.) The needs of Earth entire require we place those lands in sovereign custody to build a citadel of self-ruled people, strong, from which to guard democracy, and that spread through all the budding world. The people there, through kind assimilation or removal, must yield before this gentle providence. MR. POZZO This is completely out of hand! Fortuna! FORTUNA He’s right. Tom, why are you so far off script? (Ignoring them, Jefferson advances to center stage looking first into floor audience, then slowly raising vision.) JEFFERSON It’s here my qualms arrest, replaced with calm exhilaration. Destiny manifest sows cities to the banks of Mississippi and spreads our nation reach to farthest shore, plowing verdant soil from which the stalks of our prosperity shall rise as guarantor of liberties enshrined. Ten-part amendment, about to pass its legislative trial, will make more peaceful way to close the hand of freeborn men and women on rights secured, than waits the cause of slaves emancipated. Here the vision regains its blackest aspect; JEFFERSON (Contd.) the spectral figure, its mien most terrible. A telescope of years distills the conflict finding full expression in the blast of Armageddon rifts that cry, dumb mouths in all the hundred thousands of our wounds. “Behold! This is the First Death! Many shall its maw enclose before the debt of blood be sate and writs of liberties more dear ensue for those who plowed beneath the whip.” This, renewed in the voice that cried before, is followed fast by blast more terrible, clarion of a dark archangel. Before me rises in garments shaken like the seven thunders that spake at Patmos, a towering woman of pitiless visage wielding a sword, her stride calamity. She walks among the might of men on either side and spares not any till seen like Israel from collapsing seas the called out remnant shedding shackle and iron emerge from behind her billowed train. (Jefferson pauses panting, looking from face to face.) JAMES Say on, Master Tom. What happened then? JEFFERSON The numbers abruptly swell and swarm around her ankles, then dissipate and are gone. I raise my eyes and find the visage changed like the aspect of Justice softened, seeing afar. She calms. Her garments cease their turbulence. Draped arm lifts the sword before a rising sun catching its fire, consumed until it is a torch brandished high, the beams reborn as spikes in her tiara, seven like the continents to whom she beacons, speaks with silent lips: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Here my guide steps between this vision and me. Abrupt as Virgil’s exit from purging mount, the spectral cloak swirls lightless, ocean huge. All vanishes with windsome collapse to nothing, with me left to step my unremembered way. (Several seconds of silence.) SHOPKEEPER You spoke of France, sir. STEWARD Yes, what of her? (MR. POZZO throws up hands, disgustedly dropping the “script.”) FORTUNA The script! Doesn’t anybody know one thing about the script! What’s going on? Somebody answer me! (FORTUNA and POZZO spotlights go out.) PROSTITUTE Please, sir. What of Paris? JEFFERSON I see smoke low, crawling like an ebon blight beneath the towers of churches where no prayers are said. And a silence in Heaven. Still falls the rain. JAMES Dark are these sayings, Tom. We don’t understand. JEFFERSON He showed me all at vision’s misborn starting. Before the flight across the sea, before the blackened wall, we paused beside the central garden haunted by statue and gurgling fountain, stilled-water octagon shed its troubling angel, where rose a tower of bleeding wood that all were compelled to worship. An edifice, they called it Guillotine. From out its skirt there radiated absent light. All who touched that ink effusion fell into shadow drear and seen no more. And climbing through slant beams of waning moon, its whetted blade renewed to downward smite a litany of souls from every station. I close my eyes and see it fresh: fall of Bastille, bruising mobs. Along the Paris streets the death-carts rumble. Such anguish rules from palace to hovel most base! PROSTITUTE What? All of Paris, you say? And what of my sweet mother on the outskirt with my brother? Must they fall also to this horror you paint? SHOPKEEPER A care, sir. Your ghost tale chills the fog anew from out the river’s banks and fills this poor girl’s heart with terrified misgiving. Have you no word of hope to pacify outstripped fear? Come sit down, dear. ‘Tis but a tale of fury. JEFFERSON Just this. This retributive instrument shall cease of imminent use, expiated in a human rush like water releasing oppressors new upon the corpses of the old with the innocent slain with them. But after these shall come a Paris beautiful in cloudy splendor, freed from those oppressions and envisioned abyss. (JEFFERSON turns to face them and the sun newly risen between end of bridge and lamppost, completes his lines with arm outstretched.) Let Roland wind his horn once more, for this crusade surpasses Charelemagne’s in glory. Bright freedom beacons through the misted veil for France has lit her lamps throughout the land! It is a bridge of light descended to us with the river sparkling under. Hark! Shall not the nightingale forsake her piping for the lark, and she in full throated song ascend our glimmered sphere on extended wing! (In the silence following soliloquy, spotlight on JEFFERSON makes a wavering motion. After a moment, JAMES advances to take his arm.) JAMES Tom, why don’t we go now? You could use some cleaning up. (glances at the audience) Uhm, Steward, come take his other arm. Let’s get him out of here. Don’t spill the loaves! STEWARD Nor fishes, eh? No multitudes will these baskets feed! (PROSTITUTE dives into vacated spotlight to scoop up a dropped loaf of bread. She begins to gnaw one end while still crouched, slowly rises while stage hands gather murmuring at right portion of the bridge and the other actors exit. JEFFERSON is escorted past the shops by JAMES and STEWARD to exit stage left. In the meantime, SHOPKEEPER extinguishes exterior lamp, opens the shop door, then pauses gazing across the bridge.) SHOPKEEPER Panem et circenses! I think this rabble brings its own circus to play soon. Take care, dear, to get you home. God pleasing, may the Ambassador be wrong! Such times. Who knows how it will go? (Exits closing shop door behind him. PROSTITUTE drops the bread and looks around her in confusion as stage hands cross the bridge to dismantle the shops, exiting to all wings with triumphant cries. She looks back and forth between the spots where MR. POZZO and FORTUNA had been.) PROSTITUTE What do I do now? What are my lines? (SAM and SECOND VOICE re-enter from opposite sides, together extinguish streetlamp, then begin to dismantle it. Fog resumes flooding stage, as sun goes from golden to red-orange.) FORTUNA (off stage right, fading) This has been illuminating. Excellent work. MR. POZZO (off stage left, fading) The Prostitute must hold the stage now. Hold it. You’re doing fine. Hold it... PROSTITUTE What are you doing? Don’t go away! Who is in charge here? (SAM and SECOND VOICE exit with the lamppost crossing the bridge in the direction of offstage cheers. Floor lights extinguish as they leave and cheering abruptly stops, leaving only the spotlight on PROSTITUTE and sun directed like a spotlight just above the floor audience. As she utters her closing lines, the sun begins to switch from dim to bright, starting at one second intervals, but increasing to strobe speed, its spotlight decreasing diameter throughout final soliloquy directed at the audience.) PROSTITUTE You people! You’ve got to tell me! You’re all that’s left now. I don’t even know which way they took the shops and lighting. So what do we do? Am I supposed to fix it all? (Sun goes out. Spotlight on PROSTITUTE narrows to only cover the lip area.) PROSTITUTE Are you there? How do we rebuild the set? Even the bread is gone now. Is anybody there? Help me! Please! Help! (BLACKOUT) (END OF PLAY) previously unpublished © 2015 David W. Parsley Parsley Poetry Collection
  2. THE HAUNTING OF AMBASSADOR JEFFERSON, ACT 4 Cast of Characters Sally Hemings: Slave woman aged 16, owned by Thomas Jefferson, serving in Paris as house servant and chamber servant to Jefferson daughter, Polly. John Adams: American ambassador to England; known to be residing in London, his appearance here is a mystery. Thomas Jefferson: American ambassador to France. Shade of Martha Jefferson: Ghost of Mrs. Jefferson, deceased wife of Thomas. First Voice: English speaking collaborator of French revolutionaries. Second Voice: A French revolutionary. Shade of Abraham Lincoln: Ghost of America’s 16th President; dressed entirely in black, with knee length cape, top hat and cane; featureless though bearded. Setting Various locations around pre-revolutionary Paris, France. Time Act begins late July 4, 1789 - ten days before fall of the Bastille; ends near midnight. Synopsis Sally Hemings starts at appearance of John Adams who claims to be responding to her summons (mysteriously delivered.) Thomas Jefferson, American ambassador to France, emerges from residence at the urging of Adams. Shade of Martha Jefferson, late wife of Thomas, appears and leads Jefferson (who follows alone) down the broad Champs Elysess and eventually to a bower in the Place de Concorde, an extensive park in central Paris. Hunkered in the dark bower, the couple overhear a pair of conspirators plotting escalation of revolutionary activities. After their departure, Shade of Martha Jefferson warns Thomas Jefferson to flee France with their daughters and servants before imminent Reign of Terror. She indicates approaching Shade of Abraham Lincoln and disappears. Scene 1 SETTING: Night outside the main entrance to Jefferson residence, Hotel de Langeac, on the Champ Elysess. Bottom stage right is a wrought iron city gate known as Grille de Chaillot. It is partially covered with a climbing plant now in full flower. There is a lamppost left of gate. The hotel is two stories, set on a shallow slope, at the bottom of which is a wrought iron fence. A dozen steps lead from street to the entrance. Breaking off from the stairway to the left is a walkway leading to a garden at the end of the hotel. There the path winds back behind a tree. AT RISE: SALLY HEMINGS emerges from hotel entrance bearing a candle. She quietly closes door and quickly descends to garden path, which she walks halfway to the tree. JOHN ADAMS emerges like an apparition from behind tree, startling her. SALLY HEMINGS (Speaks while walking backward to far side of stair, coming to a halt. JOHN ADAMS advances in pace with her.) What figure lurks there in the shadow? Shade or flesh, declare yourself! If flesh be not deceived, I’m but a girl who serves this house and carry naught of value on my person. But alas, if shade! JOHN ADAMS (Continues gliding advance until on same stair as SALLY, where he stops.) Nonsense. The girl who serves this house must surely know who has been summoned to it. Adams. John to be precise, and shadow serves as cloak and prudent mask to prying eyes unpried. SALLY Mr. Adams! So good of you to come. Wouldst sit awhile? ADAMS By Heaven, no, Sally. I yet perplex myself if this be chimera or fact. These months have seen me not yet housed where I had yearned to be, with Tom left here to tend affairs of state more suited to his temper in situ a place of Cleopatran baths ADAMS (Cont.) and dainties, welcome land of anything that’s new. I left it. Now beseeching dark (from you!) bids restoration to what I cared to never see again. SALLY How can you doubt? ADAMS Well do I see the Champ Elysess, the Grille de Chaillot barring ingress even as it bears recline of fleur-de-lys which paints the air on such a night as though bid foppery while bringing somber news. SALLY None more somber than this moment’s errand. You will see. If only Jemmy had come, too. ADAMS Saucy girl, don’t you know your place? That’s Mr. Madison to you. Again I say we both are met in nothing more than dream. SALLY Dreams indeed are what have brought us here, though not conceived in torments of your head or mine. No, Mr. Jefferson invites the phantoms that parade this night. Dreams! I shiver to my soles remembering the shouts and fevered stammers from which I could SALLY (Cont.) not wake him, driven from his bed distraught as Onesimus who fled far Colossae to apostolic duty. ADAMS To this place? SALLY Yes. To sights my sixteen years are not prepared to deal with. Many times have I been summoned out since first his cries propelled me from his side. ADAMS I’ll not pose queries on that count. What dreadful thing conspires to prompt entreaty from a slave girl to my ear? SALLY A spirit, sir. ADAMS Whose spirit, girl? Speak! SALLY I can’t. I daresn’t say the word aloud. I only know he has to come. You told him, didn’t you? Like I asked you to. And see you do not call me slave, sir! Slave! This land prohibits such barbarity. My brother, James, and I discuss it often since my arrival. Why should we not take SALLY (Cont.) presented opportunity and leave the service of our Mr. Jefferson when he returns him home, daughters in tow? ADAMS He will come. I daresay I heard the garden door. Unless I mistake, that is his footstep crisp upon the winding walk. Ah, there you are, Tom. A close night don’t you think? THOMAS JEFFERSON (Walks from garden to stairway.) Good fourth July. Please say again, John. What brings you here? ADAMS Visions. This girl appears distressed by apparitions; you, the party of concern. She thought it meet that I should summon you. Naught else. JEFFERSON What meaning, Sally? Do Polly or Patsy know of this? SALLY Nobody knows but us and maybe Mr. Madison. JEFFERSON The hour is late. The waxing moon takes liberty to step JEFFERSON (Cont.) his branching way along the avenue and taunt such girlish fancies, gait afloat to rise above the ministries of state. ADAMS Diana’s paramour is not alone in such pursuit on France’s boulevards where every yokel thinks he knows what best objective should be served, till liberty itself’s at liberty to take its own. JEFFERSON How say you, John, when brackish plumes of tea still belch the edge of Boston Harbor, shells and bayonets still litter New England fields? We have our Tree of Liberty while theirs seeks root to split the walls of privilege guard to opulence and oligarch. I’ve seen it myself on strolls about the town and countryside: unequal division of coin and property sustains minorities of birth and station as employer to the flower of France retained in servitude and taxation; the rest are left to beg. Such wealth in few hands held, in holding, press those who do not have, to means desperate else continued destitution absolute. ADAMS I take back what I’ve said: you can speak more than three sentences together after all. This is no Philadelphia, Tom. It is the beast itself that coils and indicates what punishment is meet, not justice throned. Leviathan straight from Hobbes stirs even now in Paris and abroad, a veritable sea at yonder gate and who will let! JEFFERSON Aye, it does. And like the sea its many hands ply blind its will to wield, though not so blind machine as balls and bombs on battlefield, still blind and like as not to mete the fate of enemy to cordial friend as well as tyrant. Aye, this stalking tragedy now must run Achilles to his Hector, vaunt, victorious while shield is lowered, prey to less blind shaft while others dispense the topless towers, seized of hope renewing that which is most good and virtuous on this very ground, else moved a new Aeneas founding freedom in fresh soil. ADAMS We speak of anarchy, not revolution. This people so long ruled, are not prepared for self-rule yet, as our New World breakers ADAMS (Cont.) of the wood - if even they be so. JEFFERSON You yourself advocated valiantly such clause in mutual Declaration. Fifteen years gone today since life and sacred honor sworn, a fledgling nation wrought. What has changed? I affirm the tragedy so precipitous a leap will occasion here. The Marquis Lafayette has heard my mind on this. He does not see the carnage summoned to be unlike our own. But think of it: freedom! not alone some purview of our native continent. Do you suppose our brief experiment, that just as lief conduct itself across the Moon or in depths of Fingal’s cave, concludes the matter? Foul wretchedness persists all over Europe in instances without number. Liberty of the whole earth depends on issue of this contest. Could ever such a prize be won with no little innocent blood? Time and truth will rescue and embalm the memories of such martyrs, while posterity enjoys that very liberty for which these would not hesitate to offer life. Sooner I would that half the earth be plunged JEFFERSON (Cont.) in desolation than see failure of the cause. Were but one Adam and one Eve preserved in every country and left free, it would be better than as it now is. ADAMS God save us all! SALLY God save, indeed, and forgive you both! For just as Mr. Jefferson was finishing, I saw the eyes of that cat statue move and shadows lean from every side like devils, some with pennants and flags, one red like blood holding a yellow silhouette shaped like headstones. Hist! The shade I told you of comes gliding through the gate as if the bars were only shades themselves. See how she approaches, gaze on Mr. Jefferson, with sparkling sash, candle held before. (Enter SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON stage right, seeming to pass through a groups of iron bars covered with fleur de lys. She proceeds during succeeding conversation at a slow gliding pace, face turned toward THOMAS JEFFERSON until passing the stairway. From then on, stares straight ahead with blank expression, until disappearing stage left.) ADAMS Steady, Tom. I see it, too. JEFFERSON Is it not like my beloved Martha? ADAMS As you are to yourself. Why do you stand amazed, man? She makes as if to pass on. Hold, spirit! JEFFERSON She does not pause. Sally, John, from here I go alone. Fie, do not restrain me! (Exits stage left quickly in pursuit of SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON.) (CURTAIN) (END OF SCENE) Scene 2 SETTING: Night outside an entrance to Place de Louis XV, a large park near the center of Paris. A narrow street runs through center stage, passing over an arched bridge spanning RC to LC. The wall of a modest church extends from URC, to UL where there is a set of closed double doors. Stage right is occupied by moonlit street running from UR to RC, intersecting C street. Downstage is occupied by park gardens separated from C by wrought iron fence which has a gate open at the right end of bridge. A copse of high-trimmed, dense trees are below the bridge. AT RISE: Enter THOMAS JEFFERSON and gliding SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFESON upper right, approaching park entrance. JEFFERSON Again: no guard to mark our progress here. Where is the Watch? Again you don’t respond, addressed these seven times. Seven times seventy, there’s no assurance of reply or silence obdurate. If dream is what besets me, better done anon; JEFFERSON (Cont.) and if the night has truly called this shade to lead down Paris streets to Place Louis, then all the more, no need to multiply past sorrows with renewed perplexity. In either case, no further will I go. Float onward. I am quit of this charade. (SHADE continues through gate toward copse of trees. JEFFERSON walks to summit of bridge, then hurries back to join SHADE in recess of trees.) SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Shout not, but catch me up - I cannot stay. Follow to the orchard’s border where night’s cloak may hide us. See, I dim the candle’s flame. Do not rush so, I am here. And see you touch me not. JEFFERSON It is you! It is. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON But isn’t that why you came? JEFFERSON Don’t mock me, dear one. How are you so fair! No trace of wasting illness haunts you here to drain the honey of your breath or bosom. How star-like, your hazel eyes, returning fast my gaze, as though a new made bride you could JEFFERSON (Cont.) dash off, forsake this lonely place, discard whatever mission prompts you, as when we two broke from abandoned carriage. Through driving snow we took unharnessed steeds upmountain to Monticello’s waiting walls. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON The mount did not seem very “cello” on that ride. Your horse came near to miring on the road. JEFFERSON Twenty-four inches deep! With only eight more miles to home, it seemed a little thing to take familiar mountain track, ascent that wide hushed world. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Ah, Tom, you never feared to leave the well worn road! A wide hushed world it was, that forest filling up with snow. I never saw it more alive than then. You with your stallion, I with mare, toiling through stumble and snag, a fright for limping hare and flapping owl, to unseen clearing’s edge. Brave Monticello emerged as though by curtain drawn of starting sleet: my home revealed. JEFFERSON A lightless home with servants cabined fast in private hibernations. We let them sleep. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON I never told you that Old George appeared while you were finishing at the stables. JEFFERSON No. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Yes, there he was of sudden, like some patient holy man. I started worse than the hare! He smiled and asked if I was well. Perhaps we should like to call Angela? JEFFERSON I’m glad that you did not. The night was ours. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Oh, yes. Still he took a moment to cross the room and slyly show where I could find some wine if it would suit, touched forehead and was gone. JEFFERSON I thought I found that wine myself! Oh, well. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON I think you knew the hiding place. You came in seconds after, silhouetted like some totem resurrected from that ground. JEFFERSON And you, as door closed tight behind me blinked as though a story figure conjured to unexpected life, your clothing still disheveled with exertion, poker gripped like Dido’s willow wafting me inside. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON In such a night I think bold Porphyro spied dreaming Madeline supine and bore her as his peerless bride across the moor. JEFFERSON In such a night sweet Martha asked if Tom might somehow get the fire started. Aye, how you tossed your rakish curls as eager as a mare watching the blazon breathed to life responsive wood to my beseeching hands. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON So happy we were. Yet the wine we shared in sheer delight will not distill us here. Touch me not! My mission is not renewal of earthly bliss. JEFFERSON Naught else do I desire. The oath you asked as Death enforced departure, I keep. No other shall I marry. SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON Oh, Tom. JEFFERSON Such hours succeeding silence unbrookable presses mere thought to its walls. Each treasured poet forsook his art to solace or illuminate – sweet tongued Ossipon and Homer alike seemed schoolboys making sport, Milton more so. High tragedy alone assayed to mirror like a troubled pool my grief and horror at such sundering of joined soul. Alas, even there: no angel to mend my halt. The hills called me out and I trod them, often alone, sometimes with little Patsy who, sharing her portion of common loss, found greater genius than scripture or blotless bard to summon my spirit back to semblance of life. Even now, I stand ready to seek what means… SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON It is not to be, dear Tom. Not yet. Listen, for time is short. A pair of men elude by dark and separate paths the Watch’s eye, approach the border of this bower whose spray now shelters our exchanges tender. Stay! I snuff my flame. Attend what you will hear. (FIRST VOICE enters stage left, walks to bridge summit. SECOND VOICE enters stage right and meets him there.) FIRST VOICE Hist! Something moved as we came up. It’s gone. SECOND VOICE Bonsoir, “Jacque.” Jacque? FIRST VOICE What do you say? Oh. The greeting. Of course it’s me and that is you. Forget the coded messaging. Speak English as agreed, to thwart any unseen ear. SECOND VOICE To thwart any unseen ear, Jacque! As agreed? FIRST VOICE Very well: Jacque. There I said it, Jacque! I have no patience for forced intrigues and handshakes. Have you the purse? SECOND VOICE Safe, here. What of gunpowder? FIRST VOICE First the money. Ah, that weighs right the palm. Too dark to count it now. I trust you, Jacque! About the cargo that so interests you: delivery has been suspended. Orders. The way I hear it, no one thinks the stuff is needed now. Them that’s got it’s sitting pretty fine behind walls four feet thick. With shipments not so easy to secure... well, you should understand that part of it. FIRST VOICE (Cont.) No looking at me that way, Mr. Jacque. Fair is fair. Intelligence is what you asked for; this is solid as it gets. If you want powder for your plots and riots or whatever else: the Arsenal at Bastille. Not sure they’ll want to give it up to you. “Ten barrels for the riots, sir!” coupled with “Simon dit!” or “S’il vous plait!” perhaps... SECOND VOICE Mon Dieu! I do not speak of vases and stones! This riot, as you call it, is but a splash across the dam. Behind it is revolution. You laugh. At me. Our cause. Perhaps that’s well. FIRST VOICE I do not laugh at you, my friend, nor your cause which moves as just as any in this world of servicers and their string pullers. Why not try to call account of them and theirs? A little trouble to them might wake a few. SECOND VOICE It is no gentle remonstrance we seek but revolution, I say. The council waits the outcome of our meeting, and what bring you? Futility and proffered platitudes. Regard our outcast Goshen where no house is without its dead while oligarch in Theban SECOND VOICE (Cont.) splendor remains unjudged. My only boy whose eyes were bright from birth, was taken from his mother’s arms for stealing bread. Fourteen years of age and yet they sent him to the galleys: he who never harmed or cursed now toils beneath the whip, one face among a tide of bobbing heads, mere breakers foamed before the feet of tyrant, merchant, God unpitying. To that, cry, “Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!” FIRST VOICE You must be mad to seek such things. Think! Countless dead you summon from their quick. Your France is Europe’s foremost to enact reforms. Could not those innocent heads you bless more meekly inherit that New Earth you plot to seize? SECOND VOICE Such musings occupy indeed the meek among us, cannot prevail against that monster Time, ally of the status quo, numbing brief outrage which must be taken at her crest to loose the grip of clinging tyranny. Heads, you say! Aye, they are forfeit, tribute to coming reigns that oust and burn the frame of privilege most rank, till it be buried as by flood. For that revolution there SECOND VOICE (Cont.) are never sufficient heads, nor blood to tide. FIRST VOICE ‘Tis from your heart you speak. I see it now. ‘Gainst monster Time, you pose another: reign you call it, aye, but one of Terrors loosed. Take back your coinage. Here. Such gold like salt has lost its savor. I repent me of this, and say goodbye. May you yet do the same. (FIRST VOICE drops money bag and exits stage left.) SECOND VOICE He is gone then, just as well. May he hie himself with haste in gentle exile, lest he should be found and that hour is his last. Repent? I? Nay, but take the gold he drops and keep it as a prey to what’s afoot. (SECOND VOICE picks up money bag and proceeds down bridge, hesitates, then goes up street R and exits UR.) JEFFERSON: Most sobering, this, and as we feared in council. Such forces must not usurp and lead the cause. I’ll urge the Marquis anew: gradual steps, positions acquired through stealth and reason, good will… SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON: You cannot stop it, Tom, though persuasively SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON (Cont.) contended. Oh. The next visitation approaches trailing curtains of what must be. Attend. JEFFERSON: Another? (SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN enters scene DR and stops at gate.) SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON: Yes. Our time together lent untimely stay, now closes like the lid of Eremite’s dreaming eye, proved not eternal, nor yet forever closed. Remember me. To Polly and Patsy must you attend, and James, Sally, the rest. Take them from this place. JEFFERSON: (Turns to see approaching SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, as SHADE OF MARTHA JEFFERSON vanishes) I’ll not bid thee adieu! This latest shade I see approach, detached a shadow from its fellows as though a very tower lurched along the garden, gaunt though stately meined. Martha! Are you so soon gone? And I, once more distractedly deprived, said not adieu. Adieu, adieu! Fled is that music leaving me here with stars and blooms less graced. JEFFERSON (Contd.) (Slowly turns to waiting SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN) Are you the spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me? You answer not, but shroud in silhouette with downward outstretched hand on silver crested cane and somber head bowed, prodding like some prairie lawyer calling witness to deeds whose trial reveals when arguments commence. Beloved sprite you drive from me. Nevertheless, lead on. (SHADE proceeds towards JEFFERSON, passes him, and exits DL. JEFFERSON turns and begins to follow SHADE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.) (CURTAIN) (END OF ACT) previously unpublished © 2015 David W. Parsley Parsley Poetry Collection
  3. David W. Parsley

    The Bridge at Tsavo, 1898 (PG-13)

    THE BRIDGE AT TSAVO, 1898 "Descent approaching now," the guide had said perched familiar to the hunching train. Steam obscured valley and track, dead tangles glimpsed forming patterns like pain housed in the far-off smoke where toil channels extension of an awakened skein to bridge two worlds. Hours it has taken to join the work camp, passing walls of thorn in which the animals blink and turn, avoid confronting the mystery (as though war were not raised amongst them) harboring vague monitions surpassant the hunt only in horror: no such contest convenes for sentences bred of our inner coilings. "Lions," responds the guide when asked why many laborers have fled. "Theirs are not the eyes you see, though - they bide the night to stalk from uncompleted span. Last male branch of a disfigured pride, "they acquired their appetites from discarded men grafted to servitude. Human bones still mark points of stoppage for those caravans." He pauses staring at abandoned work benches and tents as the scenery slows then stops. "It is a wonder, these lions. Boma and bulwark "have not sufficed. No cleverness foretells the drop of paws among us, victim's retreating cries. Many think them devils. Sahib does not. "He calls it a dream, but I heard the lions outside my tent flap. They spoke as you or I would, breath hot upon my upturned face. I kept eyes "battened to dam betraying waters. 'Not death,' continued the one named Ghost. 'I look beyond this local contagion to futures of broader swath 'tabernacle to conveniences, adamantine bonds and confinement, vivisection, enjoined disease.' 'I will halt them,' said the Darkness. 'Hand 'and foot I bind individually, with joy seize and carry stammering prey along the banks of River Tsavo to the den of trial and feast 'where waves lap black as the air, stones dank, no insulting light to glimmer on their tears.' 'I, too, take them,' said the other, 'eagerly drink 'blood and marrow, reading skull, tooth, femur, if any you have not broken. And I tell you I have seen one who has come and will, father 'to orders eschewing battery cage and cell, stranger alike to feedlot and silent spring. His silhouette comes at sunset striding our hills 'where the sparrow flocks to outstretched arm and song.' More I do not recall." Heat clings to fade of light on the empty platform, lone lantern hissing in sudden quiet. Somebody's throat clears. "I say, where is that station master? Shouldnt one of us go and see?" The lantern creaks, gutters, sways. previously unpublished © 2014 David W. Parsley Parsley Poetry Collection
  4. David W. Parsley

    House of the Dead face page and quotes

    HOUSE OF THE DEAD Book 2 But none heed the sorrows of the South Wind even when he driveth his tears out of the South, so that though the South Wind cries on and on and never findeth rest none heed that there is aught that may be known, and the Secret of the gods is safe. The South Wind, Lord Dunsany And the King said: “Who art thou that knowest so much and has not told it?” And he answered: “I am The End." The Journey of the King, Lord Dunsany
  5. David W. Parsley

    Kyoto - Variations on a Theme by Basho

    .................................. NOTES FROM THE COMMON ERA .................................. Kyoto - Variations on a Theme by Basho . Through dark pagodas winds the invisible stream - lamps bobbing, fire leaves. * * * * * * * * Strange light spreads across ice where the sun pulled from view. Swifts return. No sound. * * * * * * * * After rain, branches release pink blossom torrents. Hear the cuckoo’s cry. * * * * * * * * Warm breeze in curtains wakes me to sunlight, white wings, dove curled at my breast.
  6. David W. Parsley

    Athens, 1896 [in work]

    [to be provided]
  7. David W. Parsley

    The Spheres (face page and quotes)

    Once in an arbour of the gods above the fields of twilight Night wandering alone came suddenly on Morning. Night and Morning, Lord Dunsany And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God... Book of Revelations 21:2
  8. David W. Parsley

    The Enchanted Wood [in work]

    A teaser for those who are interested enough to visit on occasion (apparently quite a few, thanks): This section will be modeled on the final journey of the poet in Shelley's "Alastor", but it will be done as a rewind from the tranquil ending to the start at the seaside harbor where he finds, among other ships, the Pequod, Beagle, and Calypso at common anchor. There will be included a detour or two (or more?) that will visit places like Grendel's lair and Dante's entrance to the after-life. I hope you like the result. [to be provided]
  9. David W. Parsley

    Olifant [in work]

    [to be provided]
  10. David W. Parsley

    Golgotha

    Golgotha . Spikes protrude like black horns from the wounded palms. He is naked and dumb, strung on the slivered beams above earth he may not touch. . Ankle deep the faces ripple to his horizon. Essence of sweat and vinegar floats above boisterous wagers and gossip spreading quiet as shadow touches the sea of them. . Darkness climbs the milk-white body of God with clouds ascendant the face of heaven, breath rising pitch by pitch into cries, wind pushed like an army of lightning back to the city. . It blows through gates and courtyards spilling shewbread beneath the pitch and snap of curtains surrounding the Holy Place, tearing like a withered scroll the hallowed veil. . And the eyes of saints around Jerusalem come open in their graves.
  11. David W. Parsley

    Canterbury (in work)

    [to be provided]
  12. David W. Parsley

    Cornerstones face-page and quotes

    There in a valley that from all the earth the gods had set apart for Their repose the gods dreamed marble dreams. And with domes and pinnacles the dreams arose and stood up proudly between the river and the sky, all shimmering white to the morning. Time and the Gods, Lord Dunsany Then upon earth the gods played the game of the gods, the game of life and death, and on the other worlds They did a secret thing, playing a game that is hidden. When the Gods Slept, Lord Dunsany
  13. David W. Parsley

    Prefatory Quotes

    A great waterfall I climbed. I stood on the shore of Balki the pool, which is the place of most awe in all worlds. The walls of it go up for ever and ever and huge and holy images are cut in them, the work of old times. Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis So that when Kings are dead and all their deeds forgotten the harpers of the future time shall awake from these golden chords those deeds of thine. The Cave of Kai, Lord Dunsany
  14. David W. Parsley

    Proem

    Proem "Notes from the Common Era" is an unusual work. As of this writing, it is still in the process of composition. The completed piece will represent not so much a culmination, as a stopping place on one person's journey through the literary, intellectual, artistic, historical, and spiritual landscapes that have helped to frame an individual development - that of the current realization of my own self in the context of both a common cultural heritage and a particular alienation that is the signature of individuality. But I believe it can also facilitate a kind of way station for other seekers and self journalists as well. In chronicling this experience as distinct, apparently unconnected episodes, it is inevitable that choice must occasionally intrude, but I have attempted to minimize anything that feels like judgment. For it is the experience in itself that I wish to share in the hope of achieving the sense of common consciousness, even revelation, that is the aim of all Art. My hopes in this regard are very broad. To speak plainly, if you are reading this then you are my intended audience. Most of the narrative and dramatic development in what follows should be understandable to any attentive reader without expending great effort. It can be read as a collection of stand-alone verse stories and dramatic scenes. To address an audience so broad necessitates a level of accessibility in the writing that is sometimes frowned upon in certain aesthetic circles especially as relates to poetry written since around 1920 CE. While I often find such poetry personally gratifying, I sometimes regret the loss of readership that the standard occasions. On the other hand, if you are the kind of reader who enjoys a high level of plot complexity, meticulous development of symbol and metaphor threaded through multiple individual settings, subtly manipulated ambiguity coupled with simultaneous expression of multiple levels of meaning and action, perhaps even the intricacies of discovering the advent of an evolved style of prosody in the context of a new poetic form, then allow me to suggest that you also may find the work not totally lacking in rewards. In fact, you represent the bulls eye of my audience target. For it is a new poetic form and manner that is attempted here. Prosodic notebook; symphonic poem; notebook in sonata form; episodic poema; book length poem written in commemorative forms: these and others are titles I have considered giving the new form. Maybe we should put the question to open forum and see what other suggestions might come forward. The strictures adopted for this composition may prove non-universal for others who might want to give it a try, so it may be a little early to settle the question. My own initial effort was interrupted one afternoon by the belated realization that the form really is new, and I was proceeding without a precedent to guide me. Not wishing to unnecessarily fail in what I consider a very worthwhile attempt, I put the 'Notes' aside and used a general set of guidelines to practice within the less serious genre of parody. The result was a much shorter and less formal work, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at 50+ Years of Poetry." (Some may find it useful to re-examine the interactive discourse surrounding the initial posting of canto III for that piece on Poetry Magnum Opus.) This proved a highly useful exercise that helped me to mature and solidify the objectives of the present poem and its form. It had the incidental and delightful consequence of affording fresh insights into the Wallace Stevens original which formed its unwitting model. A salient feature of the new form is deliberate imitation of stanza and diction from works the piece seeks to celebrate. In the ‘Notes’, to be sure there are entire cantos written in my “own voice” using either traditional stanza patterns or free verse. But there also occur adaptations of Chaucer-like rhyming couplets, terza rima in the style of Dante, Elizabethan blank verse, narrative stanzas modeled after some of the earliest epic poems of our age, Song of Roland and Beowulf, etc. Clearly a principal hazard of the form is the inadvertent display of parody, rather than commemoration. But the form goes beyond mere echo. I also choose for this piece to integrate historical events into scenes that evoke memorable sequences from Dickens, Milton, Shakespeare, Dante, and the New Testament, among others. I freely acknowledge that this could be interpreted as any of a number of heresies, including parody or satire, lack of originality, insult, even outright plagiarism. That is not the intention at all. Celebration, rejuvenation, rediscovery, affirmation, fusion: these are the goals. The method also provides a way to expand the meaning and context of the condensed poem by incorporating these classic treasures attended by their broader canvasses, a device taking the next step beyond “mere” allusion. Of all the aspects of the new form, this is the one that most sobers me with the prospect of failure. But I think it is worth daring, for the potential rewards that await success. So what else? Isn’t that enough? Well, no. In order to contain the size and concentrate the emotive power of the piece, it seemed convenient to illustrate the material through a series of vignettes. These individual pieces should stand alone as individual narratives, along with a few purely lyrical pieces. But the larger themes and even something that could be called a storyline must thread through them. But how to sustain such coherence in a fractionated narrative that doesn’t even follow a single time sequence or set of characters (did I happen to mention that)? What the reader will find is a recurrence of themes and motifs. It would be ungenerous to spoil the fun by explicating them here, but the penetrating reader should have little trouble recognizing and perhaps compiling a short list of such devices. These are what I call the inner voices of the piece. With use of the term, inner voices, I introduce the final aspect of the general form which I should mention here: explicit incorporation of concepts from the theory of music. I confess inspiration from, and some indebtedness to, T.S. Eliot and his work with The Four Quartets. In many ways, my ambitions are much less, yet still present a potential difficulty if not explained. The development of both the major theme and the accompanying inner voices of the piece will follow what is known as the sonata form in music: exposition of the theme, development, and recapitulation, followed by a brief coda. Much of the poem’s aesthetic merit will depend upon how successfully I manage this compositional method. That just about completes the technical discussion of the more general aspects of the poem’s form. The reader will be forgiven if he or she found it better to skip the preceding four paragraphs, at least at first reading. What is paramount is the experience itself, unabashed celebration of literary heritage, enjoyment of each of the sections (or, cantos composed as individual poems) and the way they are arranged. Organization of the poem’s books and cantos derives from patterns used in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The poem is divided into four books. The first is Cornerstones, which serves to introduce principal themes, forms, and sources of the ‘Notes’. It approximates the function of “The Prologue” from Chaucer and even starts with a canto titled, “Canterbury,” the most personal of all the individual cantos here. There are twenty-nine cantos spread across the four books, equaling the number of pilgrims featured in Canterbury Tales. A canto may be a narrative, lyric, or even a drama, but in any case recognizable as a stand-alone poem composed in a unified style. The remaining three books roughly follow the framework adopted by Dante. The title of the first is House of the Dead, which corresponds to The Inferno, first book of the Divine Comedy. My original intention was to follow a downward spiral to increasingly desolate views of my subject, in strict observance of Dante’s mode of progression. I am already finding that it may be necessary to modulate that outline to honor the more imperative development of theme and motif. The jury is still out. Similarly The Trials commemorates The Purgatorio; The Spheres, The Paradiso. Whereas Dante personally explores aspects of divinity and humanity through the variously dark and luminous halls of the afterlife, Notes from the Common Era chronicles a similar investigation within the walls of our own history since the birth of Christ. Whereas Dante finds personal renewal and salvation, the journey here achieves a more earthly state which the reader is invited to evaluate in relation to that transfiguration and ultimately the realization of oneself. David W. Parsley May 30, 2013
  15. NOTE: THIS SITE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION (see Proem for details) Welcome to "Notes from the Common Era,” or as affectionately abbreviated here, ‘Notes’. As stated in the title, I invite you to browse this little user’s guide, then plunge wherever you like into one of the books or sections (a.k.a. cantos) of this epic in miniature. If you are curious about why it is presented as being a single book-length poem, duck into the Proem for a little guidance. Otherwise, just feel free to have fun reading individual cantos as if the whole thing is just a short story collection. Some things to keep in mind: Each of the cantos first appeared as an individual poem on Poetry Magnum Opus (PMO) website. You can access the original posting by clicking on the title for a canto. Once there you can peruse commentary by PMO members. If you are a member, you can contribute a comment of your own. No comments are accepted in the PMO forum collecting the books and cantos all in one place. You can use the Table of Contents to navigate to individual book divisions and cantos. You can use arrows at the bottom of each canto to “turn the page” back to the previous canto or go forward to the next. Book divisions are not blank: they contain quotes from other authors that should not be missed. Think of this piece as a literary adventure. It is my fervent hope that it provides you with whatever you are seeking: thrills, chills, perplexity, mystery, a sense of wonder. Whatever. Enjoy! David W. Parsley **** *********** WARNING! *************** Material contained in "House of the Dead" is not suitable for certain readers. Poems in this book are often frightening and disturbing, even nightmarish. The later cantos enact and describe sequences of graphic violence, intense suffering, genocide, and other mature situations. Original postings in the general forum will be tagged appropriately with 'R' or 'NC-17' designators; those in the book may not. Reader beware! **** *********** WARNING! ***************
  16. David W. Parsley

    Dedication

    To my father, who communicated to me his own passions and ideals, and an abiding thirst for knowledge.
  17. David W. Parsley

    Copyright

    © 2013 David W. Parsley Parsley Poetry Collection
  18. David W. Parsley

    Proem

    NOTES FROM THE COMMON ERA Proem "Notes from the Common Era" is an unusual work. As of this writing, it is still in the process of composition. The completed piece will represent not so much a culmination, as a stopping place on one person's journey through the literary, intellectual, artistic, historical, and spiritual landscapes that have helped to frame an individual development - that of the current realization of my own self in the context of both a common cultural heritage and a particular alienation that is the signature of individuality. But I believe it can also facilitate a kind of way station for other seekers and self journalists as well. In chronicling this experience as distinct, apparently unconnected episodes, it is inevitable that choice must occasionally intrude, but I have attempted to minimize anything that feels like judgment. For it is the experience in itself that I wish to share in the hope of achieving the sense of common consciousness, even revelation, that is the aim of all Art. My hopes in this regard are very broad. To speak plainly, if you are reading this then you are my intended audience. Most of the narrative and dramatic development in what follows should be understandable to any attentive reader without expending great effort. It can be read as a collection of stand-alone verse stories and dramatic scenes. To address an audience so broad necessitates a level of accessibility in the writing that is sometimes frowned upon in certain aesthetic circles especially as relates to poetry written since around 1920 CE. While I often find such poetry personally gratifying, I sometimes regret the loss of readership that the standard occasions. On the other hand, if you are the kind of reader who enjoys a high level of plot complexity, meticulous development of symbol and metaphor threaded through multiple individual settings, subtly manipulated ambiguity coupled with simultaneous expression of multiple levels of meaning and action, perhaps even the intricacies of discovering the advent of an evolved style of prosody in the context of a new poetic form, then allow me to suggest that you also may find the work not totally lacking in rewards. In fact, you represent the bulls eye of my audience target. For it is a new poetic form and manner that is attempted here. Prosodic notebook; symphonic poem; notebook in sonata form; episodic poema; book length poem written in commemorative forms: these and others are titles I have considered giving the new form. Maybe we should put the question to open forum and see what other suggestions might come forward. The strictures adopted for this composition may prove non-universal for others who might want to give it a try, so it may be a little early to settle the question. My own initial effort was interrupted one afternoon by the belated realization that the form really is new, and I was proceeding without a precedent to guide me. Not wishing to unnecessarily fail in what I consider a very worthwhile attempt, I put the 'Notes' aside and used a general set of guidelines to practice within the less serious genre of parody. The result was a much shorter and less formal work, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at 50+ Years of Poetry." (Some may find it useful to re-examine the interactive discourse surrounding the initial posting of canto III for that piece on Poetry Magnum Opus.) This proved a highly useful exercise that helped me to mature and solidify the objectives of the present poem and its form. It had the incidental and delightful consequence of affording fresh insights into the Wallace Stevens original which formed its unwitting model. A salient feature of the new form is deliberate imitation of stanza and diction from works the piece seeks to celebrate. In the ‘Notes’, to be sure there are entire cantos written in my “own voice” using either traditional stanza patterns or free verse. But there also occur adaptations of Chaucer-like rhyming couplets, terza rima in the style of Dante, Elizabethan blank verse, narrative stanzas modeled after some of the earliest epic poems of our age, Song of Roland and Beowulf, etc. Clearly a principal hazard of the form is the inadvertent display of parody, rather than commemoration. But the form goes beyond mere echo. I also choose for this piece to integrate historical events into scenes that evoke memorable sequences from Dickens, Milton, Shakespeare, Dante, and the New Testament, among others. I freely acknowledge that this could be interpreted as any of a number of heresies, including parody or satire, lack of originality, insult, even outright plagiarism. That is not the intention at all. Celebration, rejuvenation, rediscovery, affirmation, fusion: these are the goals. The method also provides a way to expand the meaning and context of the condensed poem by incorporating these classic treasures attended by their broader canvasses, a device taking the next step beyond “mere” allusion. Of all the aspects of the new form, this is the one that most sobers me with the prospect of failure. But I think it is worth daring, for the potential rewards that await success. So what else? Isn’t that enough? Well, no. In order to contain the size and concentrate the emotive power of the piece, it seemed convenient to illustrate the material through a series of vignettes. These individual pieces should stand alone as individual narratives, along with a few purely lyrical pieces. But the larger themes and even something that could be called a storyline must thread through them. But how to sustain such coherence in a fractionated narrative that doesn’t even follow a single time sequence or set of characters (did I happen to mention that)? What the reader will find is a recurrence of themes and motifs. It would be ungenerous to spoil the fun by explicating them here, but the penetrating reader should have little trouble recognizing and perhaps compiling a short list of such devices. These are what I call the inner voices of the piece. With use of the term, inner voices, I introduce the final aspect of the general form which I should mention here: explicit incorporation of concepts from the theory of music. I confess inspiration from, and some indebtedness to, T.S. Eliot and his work with The Four Quartets. In many ways, my ambitions are much less, yet still present a potential difficulty if not explained. The development of both the major theme and the accompanying inner voices of the piece will follow what is known as the sonata form in music: exposition of the theme, development, and recapitulation, followed by a brief coda. Much of the poem’s aesthetic merit will depend upon how successfully I manage this compositional method. That just about completes the technical discussion of the more general aspects of the poem’s form. The reader will be forgiven if he or she found it better to skip the preceding four paragraphs, at least at first reading. What is paramount is the experience itself, unabashed celebration of literary heritage, enjoyment of each of the sections (or, cantos composed as individual poems) and the way they are arranged. Organization of the poem’s books and cantos derives from patterns used in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The poem is divided into four books. The first is Cornerstones, which serves to introduce principal themes, forms, and sources of the ‘Notes’. It approximates the function of “The Prologue” from Chaucer and even starts with a canto titled, “Canterbury,” the most personal of all the individual cantos here. There are twenty-nine cantos spread across the four books, equaling the number of pilgrims featured in Canterbury Tales. A canto may be a narrative, lyric, or even a drama, but in any case recognizable as a stand-alone poem composed in a unified style. The remaining three books follow the framework adopted by Dante. The title of the first is House of the Dead, which mirrors The Inferno, first book of the Divine Comedy. My original intention was to follow a downward spiral to increasingly desolate views of my subject, in strict observance of Dante’s mode of progression. I am already finding that it may be necessary to modulate that outline to honor the more imperative development of theme and motif. The jury is still out. Similarly The Trials commemorates The Purgatorio; The Spheres, The Paradiso. Whereas Dante personally explores aspects of divinity and humanity through the variously dark and luminous halls of the afterlife, Notes from the Common Era chronicles a similar investigation within the walls of our own history since the birth of Christ. Whereas Dante finds personal renewal and salvation, the journey here achieves a more earthly state which the reader is invited to evaluate in relation to that transfiguration and ultimately the realization of oneself. Enjoy! David W. Parsley previously unpublished © 2013 David W. Parsley Parsley Poetry Collection
  19. David W. Parsley

    Golgotha

    Golgotha from NOTES FROM THE COMMON ERA . Spikes protrude like black horns from the wounded palms. He is naked and dumb, strung on the slivered beams above earth he may not touch. . Ankle deep the faces ripple to his horizon. Essence of sweat and vinegar floats above boisterous wagers and gossip spreading quiet as shadow touches the sea of them. . Darkness climbs the milk-white body of God with clouds ascendant the face of heaven, breath rising pitch by pitch into cries, wind pushed like an army of lightning back to the city. . It blows through gates and courtyards spilling shewbread beneath the pitch and snap of curtains surrounding the Holy Place, tearing like a withered scroll the hallowed veil. . And the eyes of saints around Jerusalem come open in their graves. previously unpublished © 2013 David W. Parsley Parsley Poetry Collection
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