Saturday, February 28, 2009

28 Poems - 28

Deus Ex Machina

The first act was perfection. When the Author
Entered, the cast deferred to him, and let
Him lead them through the scenes they played together,
Spoke their lines word for word, according to
The script, and never questioned where they were
Or what their motive was, because the Author
Centered it all -- he was the answer to
All questions asked and unasked, and he gave
Order and tone to each proceeding scene.

But after intermission, when the lights
Came up on the next act, the Author was
Out in the audience, lost in the dark
Beyond the spotlight and the scripted scene,
Watching. Just watching.
No one knows why he did it, but he did --
Perhaps he had a point to prove to those
Who hailed his writing and ignored his acting;
Perhaps he was convinced the play would flop
Without him holding it together, and
Set out to prove how vital his part was
To those who criticized him as a type,
A humorless and lifeless block of wood --
To show them firsthand how the scaffold must
Collapse without its one foundation stone,
And how the script would suffer from mistakes,
Chaotic blocking, ad libs, and confusion
Without him center stage. And so he watched.

The catchphrase is that the show must go on,
But it is not the same show, any more
Than Heraclitus is the same Heraclitus
Who steps into that ever-flowing river.
Even with all the actors in their places
And all the words correct, all, all is change.
And if you take one part, the central part
Away, then there's a hole dead center stage,
An open trap that all must play around
To the scope and proportion of their talents.
And so it happened, as the second act
Began, and the lights rose up, and the cast
Saw that the Author was not on the stage,
There was a moment when all eyes took in
That hole, that vacant space; then looked away.
There was a pause, unnoticeable to
Everyone in the house except the Author;
Then she, who had the second line, began
The second act, and so the show went on.

How far from perfect is reality?
The Author had the time to contemplate
That distance as he studied the brand new
Act Two. He saw some actors who looked lost
And some who did their lines as if he was
Still center stage, pausing and slowly nodding
After they spoke, like priests hearing a God
Who only spoke exclusively to them
And them alone. And watching these two groups --
The cocksure and the lost -- the Author saw
How both of them focused the audience
On what was missing, not on what was there.

And what was there was fascinating stuff.
Some actors had begun to strut and preen
Because they were convinced this was a test
That they could only pass by taking center;
The biggest hams were speaking all his lines
(Though none of them could really play his part)
Or saying they knew what he would have said
And what he would have done in every scene;
Still others acted like a five-year-old
Who's left alone without a baby-sitter.
And there were some he'd never seen before --
Some of them played their scenes not for themselves
But for each other, which made parts of this
Chaotic second act a play the Author
Could never have created by himself;
Some who'd been in his shadow, but were lit
By spotlights now, and who still played the play
That he had written, even though his role
Was nowhere to be seen in it -- a play
That was perhaps just that much more alive
Because the Author was not there to take
Attention from the joy of his creation.

In fact, while to the trained eye of the Author,
The script was lost in thousands of mistakes,
The audience, which knew no better, took
The play as given -- they were riveted.
They saw the life behind the work and striving,
And fed on it as if it was their own.
Yes, it was far from perfect, and the scenes
Themselves were not what he would have constructed,
But it was still a play, and in some way,
Still his.

That's when he said, "I'll never act
Again." He never did. And when he's asked
Why he prefers to watch from a dark seat
On the aisle, he always gives the same answer:
"It's truer now," he says. "I'm after truth.
And there's more truth in chaos than in order."

copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

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