Donald Dunbar

In the balcony, someone’s shouting to the stage: pretend
it’s a mirage!, & won’t shut up, so they do—

            A hundred brides scatter in the desert
            A cave fills with brides in their bright veils
            Your face is a smile, like a label
            Your stumps are smooth, like an oval

I wrote this play while I was falling in love
& the characters, all of my characters, in every play,

are improbably falling in love for the first time. Now
one is complaining:

                        I get sick all over the dust when I
                        go to the dust, I can’t

                        go to the dust in the daytime!

which means she is very much in love, but
can’t say what she means. She’s shy, her

feet have been cut off, she’s had a tough time.
Audiences identify with this, buy tickets for this.

            A hundred brides swell a cave with giggles
            Your feet sit quiet, like shoes, in the corner
            Your feet have dried to knotty leather
            A hundred stars pull & flee, like a whistle

If I pretend, as I sometimes do, that I’m not
the author of my plays, people call it acting. Well,

it’s not acting, there’s no script, or more importantly
I don’t do it for an audience. I wrote

a character who does just that, she’s pretending she’s not
a character, she just stays backstage, asking the

crew how to leave. She says:

                        I am not allowed to be here!

After each performance I go backstage, she’s crying.
I made love to the girl to first play this character

in the desert, in the gazebo. In my mind we
looked like two pets in a box.

            The brides remove each ring, & swallow it
            The stars twist on their threads, like buttons
            You let the light remain unfiltered
            You use your crutch to write on the wall

A real-life audience, after one of my plays, will always

                        How I can make this happen to me?

Which, I think, is an important question to ask
but stupid. If I had my very own audience

—meaning, their only stimulus: my play—an expensive
goldish wind-up miniature audience—it would ask:

                        How does that thing move, all by itself.

I picture such an audience as a reddish approximation of
goldish wind-up miniature brides, a whole cabinet-full,

& I suspect this has something to do with my love for
first loves, my distaste for automatism. Something young.

            & you keep one hand on a white lacquered box
            & with the other push dust to a pile
            Your constellation crumples before it listens
            Your star is empty-gray from this angle

When a play works, the audience
rolls & is driven before you, froth bubbles on the sand.

When a play doesn’t work, it’s like a metaphor for a poem.
A dollar is a currency read aloud. A dopamine an audience.

Here is my favorite character I ever made, the dramatis personae
reads “One Son”, his only lines are:

                        But if we stop!
                        But if we stop!
                        We can’t be stopped!

& then the cast should jump onstage, foolishly, & the lights
hold full & steady... But invariably in performance

they miss their cue, no one shows up, the poor
Son counts his fingers, repeats his lines. He must

make sure of something. He must be so confused!
You see, I’ve written the character, Son, to have a much larger

range of emotion than its actor. Son has desire & terror &
primary colors, something dead

in his blood & something sick in his face like a skull, & he is
falling in love, nakedly, with the audience, it’s all in there:

even his cells give & are stripped. He is drawn in the
thickest pen, he joys! he bliss! he doesn’t know how to think.

            Your mind goes on a spree into space, through scaffolds
            The brides put their lips to a wrist, like an autograph
            The brides adorn their monuments in diamonds
            The evening sun slips into the cave, like a nap





Lisa Ciccarello gave me the title for this poem a number of months before the poem itself was written.