The Shepherd Verses
The Shepherd Verses
The blistered wail of a train against rusted tracks. A tragic, splintered sound.
April 16th, 1986. Prypyat, Ukraine, USSR.
The curtain parts to reveal a makeshift firepit between the spokes of an abandoned railway. Four figures, still cast in shadow, huddle around the flame, seemingly asleep. The wanton child is huddled against a steel column, smoking and shivering quietly. Every so often, the train coughs and rattles by. There are dirty Slavic signposts on each of the iron columns that surround the scene, some are dated, April 1986.
RUACH (THE HOLY SPIRIT) is a green-eyed gypsy. The contours of her face are somehow hazy, her skin a fragile veil of blue: soft and broken like a swollen peach beginning to mold. Her eyes are dim and moist, hollow behind stagnant tears, as holy water in the crumbled stones of an airless church. Her presence is ethereal, vaguely holographic. Her cracked, pale lips shiver but she is muted by her thick, clotted breath that comes and goes in a steady, rattling whistle. She holds a bundle of paper-thin sheets to her breast- presumably a sleeping child.
ZAYIT (THE OLIVE BRANCH) has yawning, doleful eyes whose lashes blink in fragments like the broken wings of an insect. He is draped in trinkets and charms of all sorts; a chipped, nacreous pendant, fabric bracelets worn with bits of skin and tobacco, copper rings that bleed little salty green halos around his fingers. He chews compulsively on a black, twisted twig of cinnamon.
HAYARDEN (THE JORDAN RIVER) has cold, rigid limbs like bleached bones thrown together haphazardly. He wears the feathered blue scraps of an old mechanic’s uniform, a sheet of worn, purple crepe draped gingerly over the jaws of his shoulderblades. The frosted corners of his mouth quiver compulsively. He whispers to himself occasionally and his scabbed fingertips are wrapped tightly around a small matchbox. Every so often, he lights the stump of a liturgy candle and observing the little flame with alarm, spits to put it out immediately.
SENEH (THE BURNING BUSH) squirms at the crest of puberty. He wears an American metal band t-shirt and choking black jeans, torn and gaping to reveal sharp knees crusted with dark blood and cigarette burns. His wrists are still rounded, soft and petal-pink. He lights a cigarette once or twice, putting it out on the soles of his sneakers. The child speaks with hurried, uncertain fervor. He scratches at his arms, little needle pawprints like flaking freckles.
ANASHIN (MAN) is lightly dusted with coal. The whites of his eyes are boiled with carbon and red-rimmed. He wears a blank nametag. He is just a man.
(Softly singing a mournful Catholic hymn)
Goddamnit girl, you tryna drive me batshit over here?
why don’t you shut the hell up now? You ain’t say a fuckin word since you get here, you aint move or nothin, you got that goddamn kid, looks like a little demon all red and warm, always howlin like you sit it on fire. Now you finally git that thing to sleep and you go on singin like you got nuthin else in that bloody head o yours now who are you anyhow?
(Soft sighing whimper)
(shifting) Be gentle, kid, she’s a fragile little thing. You’ll give her night terrors with that bitter tongue of yours, don’t you go blaspheming around our delicate little Mary over here.
You give me one good reason not to, man. I mean, goddamn, this life don’t make you no goddamn saint. (Puts the cigarette out on the sole of his sneaker) (soft, sedated tone) I don’t believe in none of that bullshit anyhow.
What you say?
You ought to speak correctly, regardless of the value of what it is you have to say. (Shaking his head, begins to write furiously on a humid skin of paper by the cool glow of the fire)
What are you now, man, the freaking sewage-rat prophet? Don’t give me none of your holy lunatic bullshit, we got this crackpot over here for that, now don’t we, man? (tossing small bits of dirt and granite at the sleeping Tangled Mind)
(Shrieking) Blisters! Burns! Youuuuu! Go now go, you go! Don’t you touch me now, you go!
(A bitter cackled from SENEH)
You laugh, you laugh. (Lowering himself to his hands and knees, he recites a Russian nursery rhyme, crawling across the carpeted soot towards the Child) The horned goat is coming, to small children. Her legs go…clop clop! Her eyes go…. Blink blink! To those who don’t eat porridge, to those who don’t drink milk, she will go… butt butt butt! And down you go and down you go.
Now you stay the hell away from me man, or you’ll be the one to go down with the damn goat.
(Leaping up and dancing around the fire) TO HELL! TO HELL! Heehaw, seesaw, to hell hell hell! With a boxcar and a jug of wine! Down you go and down you go!
(RUACH chokes out a breathless moan of despair in between gasps for air)
Enough! Now you really ought to keep such morbid talk out of this godforsaken place, its already quite like an inferno in and of itself. Tell me something about beauty, about God.
(The Tangled Mind, startled, lowers himself with a gasp to the ground and holds a lit match to the waxy stump of the liturgic candle. As the flame ignites, he jumps with alarm and spits from between taut lips)
(Train moans past)
THE WANTON CHILD:
God… Now isn’t that an idea. One you shoulda given up on way back when you crawled into this hole, poet-man.
(Standing up, with glassy eyes, tracing patterns in the thick air with the tips of his fingers). I wouldn’t say such things if I were you. God is no glowing man amongst the stars, don’t you see? There’s something more to that. God is the warmth of another human being, one who matters more than you could have ever even imagined. God is the white hot crack of love. I knew a girl once…She drove me down to this furnace with her little white hands.
(Glazed, humid eyes, begins to recite).
In the splintered chaos of grey matter
Of indirection and ambiguity before the dawn
A soul as damned and fettered as mine
Made into cosmic fragments of space
Guided by the faded wake of an imploding comet
Through hollow testaments and rings of thorn
She came to me on a burst of atmospheric exhaust
She is pious in her irreverence
Combusting cones of incense to androgynous effigies
Of feminine lips parted like butterfly’s wings
And their coltish thighs of supple marble
Hair undulated in tides of shallow water
Frosted fingers dipped in iridescent wax, bleeding stars
Whose molten cores pale in the whites of her eyes
A supernova whistling in earthly snow.
We heard the owls drowning through late summer leaves
The first time that I saw the railway grease beneath the train
In medicated infancy and nubile indifference
Hand in hand, drugged and in love
Crumbling on the periphery of the cosmos
Through shadow and flame
We made our solitary way.
Now that’s a bunch of beautiful bullshit if I ever heard it.
I wouldn’t expect you to wrap your hormonal head around it.
You are a boy of simple words, you have not yet loved. A young, strung out kid like you. Such a shame. Tell me, where is your God?
God?! You don’t think I tried, man? He’s fuckin’ deaf and dumb if He aint dead. I gave up on God when I called and he called and he aint never answered. I gave up on God when my old man peeled the skin off my goddamn spine with a cow hide bootstrap. I gave up when I dried out my damn arteries and still he wouldn’t let me die, wouldn’t show hisself, the coward. And God gave up on me when I took a lick of speed, when I gave up them prayers for hot dope and strawberry ice cream.
(Unintelligible whispers, begins to weep quietly)
THE WILTED PROPHET:
Poor little girl, little Mary.
Mary, mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells
And cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row!
God! God! All this talk about dogs! Yeehaw, seesaw, God? A pile a bones, a pile a teeth and little white bones! Doggies drooling black and hungry beasts! The horned goat and the hungry beasts! God, God for the hungry little goat. No porrige, no milk, just God God God!
He is howling “God’ repeatedly as the train rattles by and RUACH begins to wail melancholically.
(a choked echo from a faraway tunnel) Hello? Hello!? Well how now! Whos down there? Can you hear me? Well hey there, folks, you cant be down here now! Do you hear me?
[ANASHIM enters the scene]
Well how now! Whats this!? You hear me, folks? You gotta move on out now, this aint no place to be! These here are train tunnels, dontcha know?
We gotta clear this area, there’s been some sorta problem up above right there. Some sort of issue on up at the Chernobyl factory, now don’t you be worryin yourselves but we gotta get folks down here so now you oughtta move along and I wont tell the supervisor, we got ourselves a deal?
We are waiting for God.
Ah. Well I can imagine that might take awhile, eh?
Terribly sorry, sir. We mean no harm. You see this fellow right here is not so right in the head. We were having a brief discussion about God. I’m afraid we haven’t found any answers yet, if you’d care to contribute. There isn’t much else to do down here, I’m sure you understand.
I see. Well the tunnels of the Pripyat metro system are a great place to start!
Well I reckon I can help you out a bit while I’m kickin you out from your dank little hovel right here, wouldntcha say? Lemme show you what I know about God.
[He leads them up the tunnel a ways and they stumble upon a break in the tracks. The ceiling has caved in on itself like a collapsed stomach and in a pale, gray shaft of light is a little camellia bush, petals swollen and waxy like a young girl’s cheek]
(pointing to the bush)
Now you look here, that’s God I tell ya such a pretty thing growin in such a dismal place! Gives ya hope for nature, don’t it? (They all gaze at it wondrously, smiling faintly) That there’s God. (He breaks out of a state of reverie and looks up sharply) Now we oughtta clear out boys – and little Miss. Whatever’s goin on up there don’t look too good and we gotta clear this area pretty darn fast, I’d say.
(eyes moist, looking up through the yawning break in the tunnel, illuminated by the shaft of light) Oh. Oh oh oh. God!
[A white-hot vacuum of light swallows the stage, radiating thick, smoked warmth. One dark, heavy bang sounds consumes the atmosphere for a second or two. Then- a hollow, heavy darkness. After a short while a thin, gasping wind sweeps through the air and an emergency alarm can be heard in the distance. The stage is slowly lit by a
pale, dove-grey light. Peppery flakes of dust settle to reveal the rubble of the train station. The tip of the camellia bush rises from out of the rubble, some of the leaves appear to have bled into one another, petals brown and sap-like. Two rescue workers in full radiation protection emerge from behind the rubble.]
Now, Aleksiy, how do you suppose this mightv happened, eh? That ruptured nuclear reactor wipes out all of Pripyat and this here little plant makes it through? I’d bet them kids over at Chernobyl’d have somethin to say about that there. (Makes a sharp clucking sound from between crooked teeth)
You damn blind, kid? (fingers the plant) This here’s some cheap plastic shit, this tunnels under the dump by the petrochemical plant. That there’s where they make pretty things that aint real.
Lights Dim for a moment. Stage is relit by a faint glow. The shadow of Ruach can be seen holding a branch of the Camelia bush.
(murmuring in Hebrew) “Barak zayit, barak seneh, barak Hayarden, barak Ruach”
Bless the beautiful futility of the olive branch, bless the flames of the burning bush, the tangled waters of the Holy Jordan River, and Lord, bless the Holy Spirit.
La’azazel itach, La’azazel itcha,
Man is damned, Man is damned, Man is damned.
LIGHTS FADE. END OF PLAY.