Passages, Chapter 2: Maryanne

In this chapter, the story is told from a woman’s point of view. The chapters will alternate throughout the book.

I spring from the needy gardens of youth, coming to the amphitheater of hope, and I only know that I will be demanding, I am not going to be turned away.

I stroll through icon-strewn paths toward an image of the past, someone I knew, not father or brother, but familiar, an archetype sealed in glass as I approach golden doors leading to a stage. I see the image, an icon in the lead role, emerge in flesh and blood onto the stage, a fantasy with the audacity to take life and trespass on the fantasizer’s territory.

My passion-riven ghost haunts the theater to watch the actors take their bows and when the audience is gone, I stand behind the rows knowing I must someday be part of the ritual. No difference between waking and sleeping, the dream is always present. I walk day after day, until an aging usher in a burgundy suit turns away with a wispy smile to let me approach the stage, and stagehands glance at me cool and curious, they understand the need of people to touch its wooden eminence.

Opening the door I slip inside, not knowing what I will find. A security guard steps into the hallway and asks what I am doing, and I leave again to pass through image-postered paths, scanning them for a sign that will tell me what I am doing.

Voices, and there he is, walking from the stage, talking with the stage manager, looking as he does in the movies and on TV, he is beautiful. He asks, what did you want to say to me? I can’t speak. The lights go off in the hallway. Now! I must say something. Time’s running out.

In the darkness I find the courage to speak and follow his direction into another room, while he dances round the room before he sits by the light-encircled mirror, and I am sitting across from him.

His body reflects his personal drama as his hands flit about and twitch with all the awareness of an ordinary human being in a world of other people; by his hands he is moored, linked to the external world and with them he weaves his greatest illusions because they tell nothing of the truth about himself.

I follow his cues, to hear him say he originally wanted to beguile the world with his hands, he wanted to be a pianist.

And how can I ask him to place his hands on me, to hold me because I need to be held together?

You could at least touch me, I say, and the moment I touch his hand, I feel a passion that is unspeakable. I feel the elevation and violation. Followed by a sadness that is unbearable, a burden of sadness I have carried for years, which flows in a suffocating, bitter poison throughout my body. It is a sorrow too great to be felt alone and survive. I seek solace in his eyes, and they draw back, huge ancient doors, revealing an isolated hell, an endless plain filled with nothing but occasional circling wind and a singular figure. Is that him? A reflection of myself?

I do not know what to think, I have a mission on this day, and I am running out of time. I feel a heavy weight above me, and he leans down so that he can see my face, our eyes locked in a suicide pact.

All my strength subsides as my momentum carries me forward in a cradle of inertia. His hands leap to catch me. Everything goes dark except a light very close around my body. I become incoherent admissions confessions omissions on every level as time spins out of me and I am jettisoned into nothingness, I feel nothing, I did not expect that, I freak so far I am afraid I will not come back. In the void, a vital energy sparks from unknown and unforeseen love-rage. I am alone, but in the trip I’m taking I am not alone, I am a child again and he is my father, the father of my adult self, as I link to the iconic figure I have chosen from all others.

I am in a glowing dark green world with definite boundaries where light comes from one source. A small human-shaped form is connected to me, a girl in the same position that I am in, and I am her protector, her guide, as she grows up into me. I feel my blood rush like sacramental wine in the womb as I am a parent to the person I am becoming. I move to the next level of associations and feelings. Leave it alone, said a voice, and I am hooked into an infinite space of pain, infant pain, until the light breaks, and time varies and hits distortions at different places and events, and in all these stages I am aware of the archetype’s hand, wizard’s bones, his touch.

I travel back through childhood and its years of abuse, and ahead into my independent life, growing through the years in a span of moments, while I hold on for protection when I feel defenseless and for the ride when it feels good. We speed through time bonded as a double helix, flying in tandem, father and daughter, and to be separated from him at that moment would be to die.

I pass through stages to regain consciousness. Connected to my father’s anti-agent I have grown stronger. Coming to the light I realize the icon is holding me, as I had wanted in the first place. Progressed into more, and into less. Something tracks the other way. Is this what I came for? And separating, watch him adjust as I take flight.

Downstairs, I push open the door, and a light bomb explodes in my face, cupped in the hand of night. I stop at the threshold, struck by time’s passage. A man turns toward me, smiles in the hot white brilliance beneath the marquee. And I leap into the light. I feel triumphant. I’ve made my fantasies real. My reality is transformed. Nothing can be denied me anymore.

A Poet’s Journey 2 St. Clement’s Church

St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 423 West 46th Street, New York circa 1978

When the frost cleared, I returned to Hell’s Kitchen. It was a risk, a life in the arts, but I had to script my own life.

Jeff Jones, the administrator of the church and Theater at St. Clement’s, welcomed me to his office. He was tall, the office small. He enormously filled the room. *

“I came to a poetry reading here,” I said, and told him I knew Richard Spiegel from another reading series he ran in Midtown several years ago. “I would like to work in the theater. Behind the scenes. Is there anything part-time?” Seeing his reaction, I amended, “or volunteer?”

Jeff asked if I would like to help Richard with the poetry program, but I said, “I want to do something different, to work with a group of people and get away from writing.” I meant to say, though it took me from my usual writual, little that was new and unexpected seemed impossible.

“There’s lots to do,” Jeff said. “There’s nothing paid at this time.” He added, “It’s a place to start.”

I was living in a Single Room Hotel and on the dole. This would be on-the-job training.

“Would you be interested in helping build the set?

I perked up. “I think I could do that.”

Jeff said to talk to Steve Cramer, the TD, which he explained meant Technical Director. As I was leaving, he said again, “Are you sure you don’t want to do something with the poetry program?”

No, I nodded, “I want to try this.”

Down, down, down the stairs I tumbled, into the shadowbox of the theater, a hall lit by hanging lamps, and tall windows in one red-brick wall opening on a garden. By the windows leaned tall plywood boards painted black, to be set in place to block off any light during performances. The other walls were a light-absorbing matte black.

Into this dark space, with its two visions of a secret garden, filled with roses in summer, a tall, lean man, Steve Cramer, appeared magically from another portal.

Richard Spiegel and Steve Cramer in the downstairs theater at St. Clement’s circa 1978

Steve and I positioned wooden platforms to form a stage and seating area.

“How do you lift these all by yourself?”

Moving one end of a platform, he placed it on the edge of another. “Don’t lift when you can leverage.”

Some had rows of red plush folding seats bolted on.

“Old Roxy seats,” he said. “We salvaged them when they tore down the theater.”

Roxy Theater, Broadway, NYC

We secured scrims in place to create a black backdrop and obscure the machine shop backstage.

“If you have to move furniture or other props, mark where they belong with small x’s in white chalk.” The poetry program and the church both used the space, but they had to replace anything they moved to its original location to keep the actors from being disoriented.

I watched the lighting crew work, clipping lights on the exposed grid of cables and pipes.

And I bloomed in the small space, as the roses did, and carried the secret garden within myself.

In the office I talked to Jeff. He said “At St. Clement’s, liturgy and the arts collide and divide, and sometimes coalesce. When it comes together, it’s transcendent.” He paused. “But when not, it’s a disaster.

He worried that Richard was trying to do too much. Benefits for causes, poets theater, weekly readings. “Richard could use some help with the Poetry Festival.”

I wavered. After all, I wanted to escape the fate of Emily Dickinson. I wanted to be out in the world. Did Richard need help? “I don’t know if he’ll want my help.

“I think he will.”

Wondering if I would fit in and what the future would bring, I sat with Richard as the poets arrived for the Monday night reading.

After a while, I asked him, “Would you like me to help with the poetry program?”

He answered quietly, but emphatically, yes. And began immediately to talk of scheduling readers.

* Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

This and the previous post are from a memoir in progress called Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen. All rights reserved. Photos by Mary Clark.

The Broadway Cat

raulcat

Forrest S. Clark

The Broadway Cat appears in Hell’s Kitchen Slices of Life, edited by Mary Clark, digital edition available on Scribd.com, and paperback on Lulu.com. Watercolor by Raúl Manzano.

Ferocious was an adventurous cat even when a sickly kitten. He loved people and was by nature playful, but living in Hell’s Kitchen, he had to act tough – and it turned out, acting was in his blood. He earned the name Ferocious and then slowly revealed his true nature to those he loved.

Everyone liked Ferocious upon first contact. He was an alley cat and liked to explore. Nevertheless, most of his life he was confined to a West Side apartment where Sally, his owner, did some writing and carried on an in-house business.

On very good days the cat was allowed to go up to the roof of the apartment building overlooking Ninth Avenue.

Then, one day, Fero, as he was now called, disappeared. Everyone in the neighborhood searched for him, but to no avail.

Several days and nights later at a Broadway play quite unexpectedly a cat appeared on the set and ran out of the wings onto the stage at a critical point in the drama. The audience after the initial shock broke into laughter.

After that incident the same cat was observed making entrances and exits at a number of Broadway shows. It seemed to prefer certain theaters more than others and serious drama rather than light comedies.

The play-going public became familiar with the cat. In many cases the audience came to expect the cat to appear about the second or third act at a point where the drama on stage was lagging. The cat had perfect timing.

The cat entered the theater through the stage door with the other actors, and from a central perch, was seen observing the stagehands preparing the sets, the costumers checking their wardrobes, and the ushers gathering their playbills.

Sometimes, at night after the show, he slept in Nicolina’s Boutique on a comfortable couch covered with little brown wool teddy bears.

One night the news reached Sally and she decided to check this stage-struck cat to see if it could indeed be the long lost Fero.

The cat had appeared a number of times at the Martin Beck Theater. Sally decided that if she was ever going to identify the cat she had to attend a play at the theater.

She went to the theater, to wait for that magical moment when the cat appeared on stage. She decided to get a seat in the front rows so she could make a positive identification of the mysterious cat that had become the talk of Broadway by this time.

Some Broadway wit named the cat “Miss Sarah” and devoted several columns to its stage appearances. One columnist suggested that the stage feline be given a Cat Award similar to a Tony Award.

Drama critics always included a bit about the cat in their reviews. They agreed that the cat had a reputation as a scene-stealer and in a few cases even saved a disastrous play from closing.

More than once the cat got a billing on the theater marquee, many times directly following the names of the leading actors.

When the night came for the show, Sally got to the theater early, determined to talk to some of the ushers or theater personnel. She found that the cat was surely a favorite among them.

One stagehand said, “That cat always takes curtain calls, and once or twice we had to raise the curtain for the cat to make one more appearance to the sound of applause.”

The play had gone well enough until the second act when Sally noticed there was some commotion on the set before the curtain. The setting was a typical New York street scene with an alley dominating the stage.

There, before the scene began, Sally saw the cat sitting atop a garbage tank at stage right. The cat appeared to be surveying the audience with a haughty manner as if to say, “What do you expect? Cats and alleys go together.” The cat remained in position on the lid for the entire scene.

As the stage lights came up, Sally got a better look at the cat.

Sure enough, it was Fero.

“Fero, come home,” she was about to whisper from her seat in the second row when she realized the cat had its role to play in the scene.

Unbeknown to her the press had picked up the story and was in the theater that night waiting to see if there would be a reunion of cat and human.

As soon as the final curtain came down, Sally ran to the stage door to coax Fero back to her. She waited with the press photographers. Finally, Fero appeared, ran out the door and leaped into her waiting arms. The photographers had their photo opportunity. It made a great front page story in the tabloids the next day and even got a few paragraphs in the New York Times.

One tabloid carried the headline, “Miss Sarah Comes Home. Concluding A Triumphant Season.”

Another read, “From Alleyways to Broadway.”

Fero’s acting career is over, but on dark nights not long after final curtain calls a cat is often seen prowling Shubert Alley, mixing with the late night theater crowds.