Dramatic Poems

By Ronald Tobey
Theatrical Poetry
Abe's "Three Worlds" Monologue

From "After the Fire"

I thought I could live in three worlds at once, and keep those worlds apart,
Three states of being I could jump between like an electric spark,
Three arenas of rules, life a succession of different games,
I could leap from one to another while remaining the same,
Only for a moment suspended in high excitation,
Living each state alone in satisfied contemplation.

I retired to this farm, with Percherons and Saanen goats,
Green brier underbrush, berries and grass, woods and shady oaks,
To root life in facticity: weather and soil,
The limestone foundation, the farm life toil,
Nature's endless order, trees anchoring sky to the ground,
Clouds painting shadows, storms roiling with sound.

I would compose georgics in the afternoons like Cicero,
Write by the pond about nature like Henry David Thoreau,
A lifetime of books piled around me in learned conversation,
Engaging friends and adversaries in reasoned persuasion.
From the ancient Stoics to gentle Darwin's vivid prose,
From Galileo to modern physics, even the little math I know,
The world of reason is home town for me,
Familiar truths from the past lasting through eternity.

Religion was my first school, learned with playmates, rule by rule,
My first lore and prose and stories--imagination's first fuel;
I learned to recite genealogy, to wonder of all I met
Where their place was in a succession of succession of begets.

Faith came last to me; faith was always a mystery.
I expected faith would be a thing found, or a thought, or feeling;
But faith unknowing came, reshaping concerns of my childhood,
Rebuilding architecture--foundation, rooms, roof--with new wood,
Before I knew, before I could say, yes or no, or run away,
The rearrangement of my partitioned soul was here to stay.

My worlds will not stay apart; death destroys all order.
Space and time collapse, suffering unfixes all borders;
Careening through the galaxies, worlds collide,
Spewing chaos far and wide,
People scattering like atoms in random motion,
Amid the fathomless fury of moral explosion.

I search the debris for spirituality,
For faintest echoes of wisdom whispering in the empty dark,
Hidden signatures of light, rare photons, of revelation's part,
Shards of ancient text, half burnt pages, blown by the blast
Across the universe from beginnings first to this moment last ...

Abraham holds up a torn sheet of printed text.

It says ... here ... the words are incomplete ...
Something about ritual ... saying prayers ... and, I should ... repeat ...

Sarah's "Day's Leak Away" Monologue

From "After the Fire"

Days leak away into time, lakes and ponds dry,
Stars blink out at night, blue fades from day's sky;
Mid-Summer, verdant and growing,
Hardens for Winter before the second hay mowing;
Cattle yaw on the rolling hills as if drunk and confused,
Goats lose their spring, stagger, and act bemused.

Time is out of order, weeks disappear, events follow their own news,
The calendar looks like a crossword puzzle without any clues,
Apple trees and cherries bear their fruit, then leaves disappear,
The dogs and horses shed their hair at the wrong time of year.

All that is natural wilts and pales, retreats, and the sun yields only frost,
While the fake and artificial disguise themselves with paint and gloss;
All nature's signs are broken and point no where,
Reserves are depleted, stores are gone, and nature does not care.

My pregnancy has no murmur and quickens no more,
Development does not proceed toward its natural door;
My heart pumps its surge against a hardening heart,
That my imagination cannot, in its despair, restart.

Eliora's "Blessed is God" Soliloquy

From "After the Fire"

Blessed is God who gives. Blessed is God who takes.
Blessed is God who destroys. Blessed is God who makes.

It is for me to worship and ask not why
My God who gives life let my husband die,
Why God gave us our girls
Then removed their father from our world.

He could have died in a traffic accident,
Or fallen from a ladder painting the house we rent,
Stepped in front of a car crossing a street,
Or choked when eating a piece of meat;
But he choose in faith to die in service,
To fear and doubt his heart impervious.

Explanations of his absence from our dining table
Will seem to our girls like cruel fables.
They'll feel no joy when serving Sabbath platters;
At their places, we'll hear not their giggling chatter.
They'll hardly know God's glory without their father's evening story,
Or understand bedtime prayers without the good-night kiss of father's care.

Yet should God give them the time to grow,
They eventually shall this lesson know,
With God's grace we live life full of meaning
And wonder not in foolish dreaming.

Sam's "Never Woke Sleepless" Soliloquy

From "After the Fire"

I never woke sleepless in Brooklyn nights and walked out to see the moon,
Incessant sirens of emergency cars drove me back into my room.
Sun to sun I gave up to God and trusted his return when I rose.
He keeps my faith as a safe place away from horrors He only knows.
Recitations and prayers and memories from books, words in endless stream,
For three thousand years from a hundred million Jews, joined in endless dream;
Implorings and psalms, questionings and thanks, celebrations and doubt,
When will our journey be over, we ask of God, what is our journey about?

God made the frame of near and far, up and down, dark and light,
And only He wishing it to be thereby keeps it right.
He builded up the boundaries, divided the fields into yes and no,
He set out our towns as streets and plots with signs to stop and go,
With public squares and synagogues, communal baths and drinking wells,
Places for gossip and public news and keeping secrets no one tells.
He lets us figure out His laws in endless nit-picking debate,
While our worship arrives at His ears too often whining and late.
We've haggled and bartered, pled and promised, waved and shook our hands,
Finding our faith by gaining and losing and gaining again
an unpromising promised land.

We are city people now, our little villages left far behind
at the end of long railway lines;
When we think of our landscape, we have metropolitan views in mind.
Buildings rise like barriers around us, nature's horizons we do not see,
Our own constructions limit our vision of what we think we can be.
A few blocks of Brooklyn, or Singapore, or London's old East Side,
A few houses, a few synagogues, give us our measure of pride:
Alleys narrow, shop lined streets, deli's and bakeries, and kosher meats,
Hello to friends, "shalom" to strangers, a stare to someone new
"I say, dear, you look so familiar, do I know you?"

God called us to be, says the Torah, a light to nations world wide.
God gave us our laws and covenants, as we struggled and we died;
Cast out, dispersing, and journeying far, we should not forget,
We are the example on which God said mortal man should bet.

Yet through the bricks and concrete of a city place,
It is difficult to meet God face to face.
Here in pastured night, the dark sky full of light,
On gravel roads, fields mowed, cottages low, the moon shines bright;
I see all furtive living things--deer grazing silently in shadows,
Beetles on blind errands, bats in flickering flight, moles burrowing
the ground below.

Night is quiet on the farm, far from the noise of urban days;
Quail chicks I hear pecking seeds out of the dry, crackling hay,
And flutterings of soft feathers in hidden nests,
And tiny hearts beating in a flock of small breasts.

Further into silence, I hold my breath, I strain my ear,
There, beneath the cooling air, a still, small voice is near,
Speaking of Jews leaping boundaries past,
Being redeemed in a future that will forever last.
This is our vision of faith in the kingdom fulfilled,
The evil that afflicts us shall at last be killed.

Sarah and Louise's "Who Shall Constitute" Dialogue

From "Restoration (Tractor)"

How might a government end,
Should all its officers resign of necessity,
Or the solvent of disorder melt it in adversity?
What becomes of the powers it exercised then?

Necessities which dissolve a government, do not convey its authority
To an oligarchy or monarchy.
They throw back, into the hands of the people,
The powers they had delegated and leave them
As individuals to shift for themselves.*

Who shall constitute a new government?
Who are best suited in virtue and sentiment?

Those who labor in the earth
Are God's chosen people,
Whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit
For substantial and genuine virtue.*

It is the focus in which He keeps alive that sacred fire,
Which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth.
Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators
Is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation
Has furnished an example.*

Who shall constitute a new government?
Who are best suited in virtue and sentiment?

I think we shall be so, as long as agriculture is our principal object,
Which will be the case, while there remains vacant lands in any part of America.
When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe,
We shall become corrupt as in Europe,
And go to eating one another as they do there.*
The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government,
As sores do to the strength of the human body.*

Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government.
They receive it with their being from the hand of nature.*

Where does it begin, the spontaneity of majority rule?
Self-government cannot be taught in books and school,
Or arise by itself in the frontier's rude clearing,
Or burst forth in city plazas filled with people fearing
To call a stranger "neighbor" and ask neighbors for aid,
When no hand is extended for help but all to be paid.

It happens when we are doing something too big
For one person to build or his family to rig,
A bridge to span a river, a large home to please,
A dispute to settle, anything more than our expertise, 
We incorporate others who consent of their will
For some of the reward to pay some of the bill.

Voluntary cooperation for projects, assent freely given,
Is how democracy begins and is prosperously driven.

Our natural rights are the gift of nature, but they grow in the soil
Of our labor in our land watered by the sweat of our toil.
Virtue is a tree that grows on our own property,
And wilts and dies when we live in dependency.
Our nation dissolves and we cannot set it right
Until our society is reborn within freeholders' sight.

The mob's clamorings for entitlements they claim to be owed
Are seeds of terror and murder broadcast and sowed.

We must earn back our country in this valley's green space,
Giving to all who wish to labor a rightful place,
Giving birth to new politics on this hopeful ground,
And new government, founded again, free and sound.

[* Quotation from writings of Thomas Jefferson.]

Louise's "Choose to Act" Monologue

From "Restoration (Tractor)"

To choose to act or live out phantom lives of virtual presence,
While about us order dissolves and the pulse of chaos quickens,
This is the choice history compels upon us.

The politics of democracy have collapsed into mockery,
Grand old parties spin like broken weather vanes on dilapidated barns,
While modern storm radars cannot see
The hurricanes raging in our streets.
The commons of our heritage is stolen
And sold in back-alley bargains by a thousand murderous gangs,
None swear fealty to any law but the lure of illegal gain.
The legacy of civility is torn by violence
And in its tattered tails no one can recognize our flag.
The battlements of personal property are besieged
By criminal regimes with no allegiance to our countryside,
No respect for privileges and rights, but beholden
Only to the treasuries of rogue leagues
Intent on national harm.

The horrors of mobs brawling and proud towers falling
Seem here like dim nightmares dreamed by someone else;
In our calm valley, it's the date of first frost,
The prices of alfalfa and hay, and whether it will rain today,
That call upon us in the "Dawson Diner" and "Food and Friends";
These semblances of local heritage are shadow play,
The northern lights of dreaming, the fraud of wish fulfilling,
A historical blink, some metaphysical wink of God,
That shall pass without notice into the future,
As unrecoverable as roadside signs for abandoned tourist sites,
Paint faded, words worn incomplete, unreadable.

Our country has to begin anew, here in this morn
With me and you, this inauspicious place of forgotten greatness,
Here, amidst giants of optimism, the fuel tenders
And silent engines of our confident past.
The rails of familiar institutions are torn up
And rights of way corrupted, but rebuilding must be begun.
In groups of five and ten, in unheated Autumn sheds and halls
Around the country, in fallow valleys, on misted hills,
In West Virginia, Colorado, old New England,
Wherever the land has a memory
And people remember how to come together
To reclaim in community their patrimony.

Let us be the first, my generation and yours;
Others will follow, and in a few years
When we put our ears to the iron rail
We will hear our nation pounding forward
With constructive life once again.

March 16, 2007