By Jeremy Radin
The poems in this series are based on Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Talley’s Folly.” The play takes place in rural Missouri on July 4, 1944 in a boathouse belonging to the Talley family. It is the ninety-seven minute courtship of Sally Talley, a nurse’s aide from a Protestant family, by Matt Friedman, an accountant and German-Jewish refugee. One year before the events of the play, the two had met and had a week-long affair, during which they’d fallen in love. However, each being the keeper of great secrets and intense private traumas, they’d decided to part ways. Over the course of the play it is revealed that Matt, unable to fully let go, had been writing and sending a letter per day to Sally before finally deciding to come back, confess his love, tell his story, and ask her to marry him. These poems come out of the rehearsal process of the play in which the author worked on the role of Matt. They were intended as a way in which to generate a greater understanding of the character, but ended up taking on a life of their own; exploring the space between actor and role, and as communion between withheld desire, perceived unlovability, Jewishness, loss of faith in the body and the spaces the body occupies, and ultimately, a tremulous sort of hope.
I am a clumsy man.
I speak in storms
of hammers, tear grace
off its hinges.
In the dark desire
bruising the air.
I think again of you & I
in each other’s bodies.
We are breathing in our rooms
& still I grieve, still
the Kaddish falls
from this sack of compliance
I have packed my worship into.
The figures your mouth
made upon my skin
are luminous tonight.
I try to write
I am a longing
locked in the body
of failure, attempting
to arrange the failure
into the shape
of your hands.
The name of these purple flowers? I’m dying
to know. I can say only that they are purple
& the shape of me not knowing what to do
with my hands in your absence. What name
for this shape? I am convinced there is no
name! Explain as well how you sang me
to sleep & the song was a song my mother
composed, years after her death. In other
news it is windy & I am very frightened.
In other news I’ve sewn for you a gown
of little chimes.
Again I imagine your cheek warming
my palm & pull the pillow close,
conjuring the musical scent of you.
Your face, an ark housing the unspoiled day,
unbolting for me in this room the sounds:
bagels being purchased & the language
birds use to wrangle their living children.
Here in the palm of my hand I am breathing
again, finally, after the festival of boundaries
& blood, the loneliness of an expatriate angel.
I am breathing a vision of your cheek, engine
of oxygen, your neck freckled beyond reason.
Longing, an empire
falling from the ceiling.
Bashert, we have been buried alive
in all that will make us
Jeremy Radin is a poet and actor living in Los Angeles. His poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Union Station, Nailed, Bodega, and others, and his first book, Slow Dance with Sasquatch, is available from Write Bloody Publishing. You may have seen him on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or yelling about wolves in like a Jamba Juice or something. Follow him on Twitter @germyradin.
Photo illustration by Christopher Woods, a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, The Dream Patch, a prose collection, Under a Riverbed Sky, and a book of stage monologues for actors, Heart Speak. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Columbia, and Glimmertrain, among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery – http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/. He is currently compiling a book of photography prompts for writers, From Vision to Text.