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Truth To Tell

Jared Carter

Vous n’etes que les masques sur des faces masquees
    —Apollinaire

Start, then, with a sense of beginning, of sleep
entered like a metal door backstage—the weight
of heavy, plush curtains lifted and folded, hanging
motionless, while the catwalk sways, and winches
and pulleys creak.  It is no longer rest one seeks,
but mastery—the knowledge of ways to choose
among strands of rope rising into the dark, boxes
of switches, levers to be thrown, dials gleaming.

The action comes closer now—the murmur of voices
tinged with laughter, issuing from the cavernous space
beyond the footlights.  And sporadic applause, followed
by music.  But though this mattered once, though dreams
well up in this way, too, with easy, delicious abandon,
and sleep has its own texture—the painted faces seem
familiar, even your father is here, looking the way
he always did—still, this is only rehearsal.  Truth to tell,

there is no one out there except the director, sitting
with his clipboard, thirty seats back.  In the wings,
the pianist goes over the same simple tune.  Yes,
there are spotlights, from a place you cannot see,
and scenery rises and falls, and darkened figures
glide across the stage during blackout, rearranging
the furniture—all this is happening, yet it goes on
whether you reach out, or whether you simply watch.

But they have lost the script, or dropped the only copy.
Its pages flutter across the stage, lifted by a cold wind
blowing from the air shaft, swirling up from the alley
and the blank walls beyond.  Fluorescent lights flicker
in the wardrobe room.  In the corridor, the red exit sign
glimmers.  All of this is waiting.  You must write it now,
you must make it happen.  There are only a few days left
until opening night.  Come, then: rest, slumber, dream;

take my hand, we will visit the forgotten dressing rooms
under the stage, where the old tragedians scrawled verses
on the bare planks.  We will go up into the attic, above
the chandeliers and the catwalks, where silence settles
like a fine dust on the broken props, and the trunks filled
with ruined costumes.  Will they arrive in time, these truths
to tell, this chorus of voices?   I am convinced of it.
Let us each take a part, let us begin the first reading.
© 2000 by Jared Carter. All rights reserved.
From Work, for the Night Is Coming | Free Lunch, 2000
First published in Free Lunch. Reprinted by permission of the author.
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