Monday, March 28, 2022

The Death of Thomas Painte

Shakespeare collaborated, in this play, with an impecunious young playwright by the name of Thomas Painte: Shakespeare was to take a couple of the silliest romances of the age and write the poetic speeches for them, and Painte was to fill in some touches of continuity and plausibility. But poor Painte died of a sudden ague before the work had fairly begun, and -- King James having hinted that he wanted something new -- the play was rushed to the stage without Painte's work. "Never mind," said William. "The audience will never miss it. I've got some songs that will knock their socks off." And so we have Cymbeline.


A ghostly Spring comes: faint clouds of new green appear, in some lights, around the bare branches; fruit trees and tulip trees lay out enormous sums on gorgeous designer outfits, which will be ruined by the first good rain. None of it seems real to me. Here, too, we miss the work of young Thomas Painte. One thing was supposed to be connected to another. One Spring was supposed to promise another. Winter was supposed to yield, not to vanish. At any moment Summer is going to stumble onto the stage with his wig askew, blurt out a few lines, and exit, pursued by wildfire. 


But over the housetops, a young birch tree like a fountain, sketched in white, with greeny yellow lines smudged in here and there: so much that ought to be familiar and reassuring, but which only seems sinister. I am not thinking clearly. I may not ever think clearly again. Oh, Thomas: God took you too soon, poor friend.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Sweet and Low

 The wind comes down from the hills, bitter cold;
it's not spring yet. There's another war, and people
are surprised. A folded-up Russian at the end of a long table
struggles not to grow old. He's surprised too. We're all surprised.

At night, I walk, and the glare of lights 
makes the sky illegible. Is that Jupiter? A plane? Is that
the wink of a satellite? God knows: so much in orbit above,
so much light below. The clouds glow softly, like 
the radium dial of a watch. I remember

the deep black skies of my boyhood. 
Long time ago now. 

My dad sings "Sweet and Low":
his doctors advised him that singing 
would strengthen his voice. It's a song from a songbook
already old when he was a boy: we're drifting backwards,
as old men do.

His voice wanders back and forth across the notes,
hitting some by accident. We used to sing in the car, 
driving home at night from a day on the mountain,
and I'd watch the snowflakes in the headlights:
they'd fall sleepily into view, and speed up
suddenly into white streaks that flickered away:
somewhere in the dark behind us 
they must have settled softly to rest.