Brecht, St. Patrick, and genocide

This week was Genocide Awareness Week in Portland, and Friday evening Patty and I attended a cultural program at the Unitarian Church which included Zimbabwean dancers, Native American poet Ed Edmo, and a young African man who was one of the “lost boys of Sudan.” All very informative and entertaining.

Also on tap that evening was a performance of something purporting to be Brecht’s Mother Courage. It was so hacked up and awful that we had to leave about 20 minutes into the play. While I wouldn’t normally disparage someone with the courage to attempt something like this, especially for a free presentation, I can’t help but comment, for no other reason that the slim chance that I might save someone an awful embarrassment in the future.

Attempting to stage a Brecht play without understanding Brechtian methodology is the very first mistake. Professional actors and directors should also avoid this, and most do. But even if this play were a standard Jo Schmo creation, this performance would have been awful. Instead of fine Brecht-Weill songs, sung by the actors, we were subjected to awful recorded versions of 60s anti-war songs, played at entirely inappropriate times, while the actors merely stood on stage, evidently immobilize by the ponderous music.

The only thing I can praise is the makeup and costumes.

Now, the real reason I sat down to write this article is that at one point in the evenings program, someone, I think the MC, said something to the effect that we could now go out and celebrate St. Patricks Day with a heightened awareness of genocide.

Now most people don’t know a lot about this guy Patrick who was sainted by the Catholics, so let me fill you in. America’s favorite excuse for drinking beer and celebrating Irishness was made a saint for doing God’s work of driving the original indigenous culture (which we might metaphorically call “snakes”) out of Ireland. In the same way we whitewash the genocidal history of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Christopher Columbus, St. Paddy has been transformed into a cuddly little leprechaun with a pint in his hand. Will the ironies never cease?

waiting for the max

she leans against a post
waiting for the downtown train
puffs her cigarette
in short nervous bursts
pushes a web of blonde hair
from her once-pretty
addiction-pocked face
pale blue eyes darting
furtively seek some escape
brush mine
for the briefest encounter
I feel her wet tears
against my cheekbone
taste their salt on my tongue
I want to say to her
we are all drowning, my dear
as if this cliché
might be some comfort
as if those eyes
given a hold
would not pull
even a swimming man under

© 2005, duane poncy

from the skin

I enter the belly
of the cross-town train
        across from me
a young soldier
is gazing at Portland
        grim and gray
I look to see
what he is seeing
and what I see
is the crumbling
        of modernity
clinging desperately
to the old city inside
which is trying
to shed its itching skin

I’m suddenly aware
that under the plaster
lies something
closer to the truth
        old streams
that still travel their ancient course
breaking down bones
of wooley mammoths
killed by the last chthonic belch
this old tooth of a city
        I see
                no fossil
but some living carnivore
long thought extinct
like the methane beast
that waits in the bogs
beneath the Siberian permafrost
ready to devour
these latest upstarts
to challenge its dominion

in the newspaper
I read that the river
has swallowed a farmers field
        the storm
has swallowed a city
monsters have emerged
from the skin
of old and brittle men
who sacrifice to the dragon
this tender young flesh
which so willingly goes
into the gullet
to the flashing teeth

© 2005, duane poncy