The auditorium is packed and stuffy.
Everyone dressed to the nines
Fanning themselves with programs
Perfume wafting in thick waves
With deep baritone cologne
A rolling tide of lipsticked murmuring
But we’re all watching an empty stage
Waiting, waiting for the show to begin
Men in masks bring out the props
Nothing but blank canvases
Looming over scattered brushes
And tubes of unlabeled oil paints
In the pit we find an orchestra of muted instruments:
Plugged horns and stuffed woodwinds
Waiting for us to unfurl
The strings wrapped around our necks
Impatient opera ladies keep jangling
Smuggled piano keys in their compact purses
Actors begin to emerge from the audience
They speak in hues
And lilting mellifluous cadences
Others start applying swaths
Of color to blank spaces
With sweeping flourishes
Of imaginary brushes
Everyone left goes silent for a few hours
I drift into dreams
When I come to I'm standing
In the middle of raucous applause.
I don't even know what I did
To warrant such a reception
I can’t draw or play a note
I never learned any lines
I usually miss my cues
If you offered me a microphone
I’d probably refuse
My only talent is a hard science
I don’t deserve any of this
I remember to check the program
To find out my assignment.
Apparently I have played many roles—
Only briefly the lead protagonist
Mostly the villainous suitor
who failed to rescue the damsel in distress.
The poverty stricken child wise beyond his years
who became a rich man years ahead of his wisdom.
Son of Charles (in white shirt, red shoes) who arrives with apples
that everyone knows not to eat
Cousin Hal from Alabama.
The clueless kid eating Spaghetti-O’s
while parents scream at one another upstairs.
The adjunct professor of human frailties.
The nice driver who waved the red truck through.
The unshaven man in a black hat
who wants to be seen
but never encountered
The stern father who allowed it all to happen
The failed lover
The brother to a stillborn son
The boy who said goodnight every night to a dozen stuffed
animals arrayed around his head on a pillow,
with the implicit understanding that they would protect him
in exchange for such consistent rituals of love.
The boy who conjured autonomic forms for unseen noises
The boy who listens in his sleep
while all the world is talking
The man passing through market
on his way to his own sell off
The achiever of minor dreams
The slayer of the asking to be dead
The dying notes of the dirge
sung by my anonymous elegist
I thought I was just here watching.
That was a role too.
It says so right here —
The man who was just watching .
After the show someone
will surely tell me
the honest truth
of how I did
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