The lights in their dimming gave no hint of it,
nor did the indifferent orchestra’s cracked theme,
or the programme: Act 1, the Scene an average room.
There was no forewarning that we, thus lulled, should sit
in comfortable expectation — then scream
silently from the appalling exacerbation
of a re-enactment of our most private doom.
The writer’s guesswork stormed us by surprise,
for by no means could he have heard our plot
so pat and ready-made. Had it been a book
one could have read gradually, closed one’s eyes
when a chapter plunged with pain. Here we cannot
escape an instant. Eyes and ears are bound
half-strangled to the stage — as if a hook
dangling into a stream caught two fish, jagged
by some coincident fluke, and the fisherman
had said: ‘They have no nerves and feel no pain
and, cunningly angled I shall have them dragged
into a net.’ But one fish is a man
one is a woman, and the barb rips bare the wire-
like ivory nerves, and stabs on human brain.
From the first words we knew, and: ‘Shall we leave?’
one asked the other, and: ‘Wait it can’t be so
the farce is too exact and will not last,
mere artifice!’ For how could we believe
the play would range minute by minute to the same sorrow,
the too well-known denouement, and abandon
the identical questions unanswered in that past
here copied, yet seeming travesty of passion.
Reprieved by the dark we patched and stitched our pride,
almost could hear the scissors snip and snap:
— Here’s a torn sleeve which might serve to re-fashion
a semblance of covering for your torn left side.
— My cold friend, take these silken rags and tags,
it seems your gown is slashed by some mishap.
The curtain down, I could not meet your eyes,
instead I turned to observe the audience.
Each face, to me, looked naked with distress
and skeletal, as if too sharply wise
too recently. We cannot bear sapience
so brutally taught, or easily concede
the repetitive irony of life’s ordinariness.