25 December 2018

Count only on its leaving

The Internet came bearing gifts — well a gift, to be accurate. And by no means it's by the god of algorithm, or at least I'd like to believe. One of my favorite living poets, Alice Fulton, who is thankfully on Twitter, shared a link to a post on actor Claire Coffee reading her poem, Where Are the Stars Pristine.

A woman I love reads a woman I love. Poetry's looped on my YouTube the entire Christmas morning.

Where Are the Stars Pristine
Alice Fulton

Everyone's spending Christmas Eve adrift
in the corporal skirmish, mixing
up the darks with the lights, fending
with elbows and dirty
looks. Wet wool and down
crowd the air. Where are the stars, pristine
as great ideas? Behind clouds
the heavens saturate
with luminous dust, shuttles wearing halos
of earthdirt, light pollution
from jets fired to keep things
on course. Boys rickrack a ball off
floor and ceiling past the table
tree bubbling with giveaway
ornaments from Burger King and lights
that manage an occasional
lackadaisical flash. Showstoppers: everyone

looks every time and keeps looking
to make sure it happened.
The double frontloaders are going
like abstract TVs. And the program is important:
all about the boggling sullied
lives we'd like to hide.
But this is no place
to do so, where known
and unknown perverts come
to pirate underpants and the innocent
clutch their Cheer and Shout.
The rules are posted: only the toughest
habiliments, the superego
of raiment can take such agitation.
And only the poor are invited to endure
the sneezy powders and clean resentment.

Imagine a museum installation—
200 hypnotic washers stuffed with somersaulting
cloth. Critics could rise to the challenge,
their statements settling like coats
of gold and silver
chain mail over each machine:
"These Speed Queen pieces thrust ahead of art-
for-art's sake to confront us
with a realism of socio-political
magnitude. The vortex-like movement
of pattern, color, and texture infuses
these works with an abundance of unconscious
bliss. The soft forms
circulate with vigor
across the screens. The viewer
is not privy
to the cause of dirt
though one is witness to the dirt's
ablutions. The point is
we are not impeccable."

Everyone would be happy
to know that! And so we're forced to
scoop and pour
a fine white empathy over
the hairy flannels, snaggy nylons,
the glass front that gives
forth this light
industry, the silly tree
and jingles about blue and white
Christmases, chestnuts, sleighbells,
just as snow settles
on every unsequestered thing:

from blistered gum -
ball machines, clumsy bumpers,
crepuscular theaters with sticky floors,
to ramshackle mansions
choked with smiling
china animals where light shakes itself out
from TVs and old women
frail as walking sticks
sweep their stoops at eight a.m.
Just as snow makes the less than impeccable
classical, stroking the merely
drab or passing, quickly or slowly,
so we can count only on its
leaving, teaching
to what seems solid.

04 December 2018

Beautifully unintentional: A response to 'Manila Notes'

Manila Notes, the Filipino adaptation of Tokyo Notes, is a celebration of form. In fact playwright and director Oriza Hirata has structured a play with such clarity of purpose that it almost teaches you how to read it.

People come, linger, go, and come back again to a museum lobby sometime in 2034. While set in the future, their conversations remain similar-sounding to ours — confused, mundane, painfully boring. The drama moves in waves of silence and cacophony. Like insatiable eavesdroppers, the audience can only pick up bits of information that feed as they incite curiosity.

Somehow the show reinforces the idea that our instinct for storytelling marks our capacity to care. Every day we pass by strangers. Yet once we stop and listen, we're involved. With a few words or slight gesture, we imagine whole lives worthy of inspection.

Manila Notes, based on Oriza Hirata's Tokyo Notes. Tanghalang Pilipino; translator: Rody Vera; director: Hirata. (The show runs until December 16 at the CCP Little Theater.)

In a way that an amateur pianist can be impatient with "playing" the rests in a musical score, the recurring, often long pauses in Manila Notes can be a challenge to go through. These gaps constitute a museum's reality, sure, though they might also serve as spaces to make sense of what's happening, or savor a rare, delicious piece of dialogue.

When the technical aspects are done to a tee, there comes the matter of affect. Did it stir something in me? If it didn't, then the entire production is as good as meaningless. With this play, the random, innocuous lines are stray bullets that hit the heart. How many times have we been surprised by what someone remembers of what we said?

As in real life, the honest, unexpected catches us off-guard. (There's a beautiful exchange between an art enthusiast and her sister who's indifferent about paintings. The latter says that, if given the chance, she would hang on her wall an artwork she'd never tire of looking at, like a curtain. She drew some laughter from me, as well as questions on how we put value to what we value.)

As opposed to hokey, theatrical acts. Manila Notes is not without a couple of these — scenes that call attention to themselves, priming the viewer for profundity. Perhaps depending on execution, they could either fail or fly. Though the drama has already done a wonderful job at understatement that the decidedly riveting moments tend to fall into mawkish territory.

If you're willing to work with it, Manila Notes is a rewarding silent spectacle to watch. For anyone seeking stories that champion the ordinary, here's your show.

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