Deborah Meadows: Dragon Boat: A Play

  Deborah Meadows

  Dragon Boat
  A play :

 
  JPR 07

Background:

The life of poet Ch’ü Yüan (340-278 B.C.) is associated with the origin of Dragon Boat races. He was a loyal and talented minister whose king wrongly believed a corrupt clique who discredited Ch’ü Yüan. The smear campaign resulted in the king’s banishment of the poet to the south. There, Ch’ü Yüan composed poetry including his famed lament titled ‘Li Sao’. Anguishing over the invasion of his country, he ultimately committed suicide by throwing himself into the Milo River. Distressed villagers rowed out to search the waters for the poet, and the search for the poet by splashing oars on the waters accords with rituals practiced to express a cycle of seasons and cosmic time, the rice-god and fecundity — the Dragon Boat Festival.

Attaining mythic scale, the historic figure came to be seen as variously a tragic Promethean figure, a study of tactical madness, abandonment of public service for the safety and anonymity of the pre-twentieth century countryside until the time is right for the excess, vision, and zeal of the dissenter, alternately a romantic figure whose literary production derived from suffering injustice, slander, and frustrated political intent; and for a post-revolutionary society, a figure of historical materialism who saw the direction his society must go to redress ills such as the divorce of virtue and power.

Sources include: A Madman of Ch’u: The Chinese Myth of Loyalty and Dissent by Laurence A. Schneider (University of California Press, 1980)

Stage Directions: Between Shakespearean and other segments, include excerpts of how-to instructions on proper Dragon Boat paddling techniques, drumbeat.

‘For theatre-lovers, a found poem’ can be performed three times sung or chanted, layered.

Acknowledgments: A version of ‘Office Hours’ was commissioned by The Main Museum of Los Angeles for the group show, Office Hours, December 2016.

                   

Set of ‘YouTube style’ how-to instructions on proper Dragon Boat paddling techniques. These can be demonstrated by one person speaking to the audience or with two (instructor and paddler).

How to paddle and what to think about. First thing, outside leg is going forward and inside leg is folded back. This is not like canoeing. We need a lot of power. Arms are straight. Use your waist — bend forward. Twist at the torso. Your paddle forms an ‘A’ in relation to your body. Place paddle at thigh of paddler in front of you. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Put paddles in water at the same time as the front pair. So, head up, and look. At the ‘catch,’ enter blade fully in water at 60 degree angle. Drive down aggressively with top arm. Transfer weight onto the blade. Imagine you are pole-vaulting as you plant the paddle in the water and drive your body over it. Whatever is happening on the left side, the opposite is happening on the right. A common error is a person ignoring their set up and over extending, so by the time they are into the water, they have de-rotated. Good posture, perfect alignment. There is no star — the entire team works together. Coordinated. Even the drummer is part. The drummer doesn’t set the beat — instead the drummer must follow the team and edge it forward. But the drummer cannot go too fast or out of time with the team. One-and-two-and-reach, reach, power, power, three-and-four-and, reach, reach, power, power (use your hips), and-reach, reach, attta-way, atta-way…

[YouTube Sources include: ‘PaddlesUp! Dragon Boat Technique’, ‘Dragon Boat Paddling Techniques’, ‘How to Paddle — Dragon Boat Technique’, ‘Dragon Boat Paddler Training Ep. 8’, ‘Dragon Boat Drummer Perspective’.]

Segments:
1. Dragon Boat: After Shakespeare’s Coriolanus
2. Who was poet Ch’ü Yüan?
3. After Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
4. Office Hours
5. Deep Winter
6. For theatre-lovers, a found poem
7. Closing Segments — disintegration

Characters:
Person One as Dragon Boat drummer
Person Two as each of the following / crew of Dragon Boat paddlers:
    Caius Martius (Coriolanus)
    War Resister
    Volumnia, mother of Coriolanus
    Peace Treaty author
    Plebian
    Menenius Agrippa, patrician
    Tullus Aufidius, general of the Volscians

All other ‘Person Two’ in segments that follow

                   

1. Dragon Boat
After Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

                   

Person One:
Ok, in the Dragon Boat
After Shakespeare’s Coriolanus…
Now give us Caius
Martius (Coriolanus).

Person Two as Caius Martius (Coriolanus):
With a cracked heart, unnatural mechanics
in the capital, and first conditions, I met
my father-substitute. He couldn’t be
my father or my god. I rejected him.
My mother, wife, and child arrive
like obstinate virtues. I melt.
                        I bow, she bows,
we bow, you bow, they bow.
I kneel, she kneels, no one kneels.

Pebble in ratio to stars — I want
them to strike each other. That’s
the world I live in. I didn’t create it.
I see it that way.

There are marks at sea that serve
to guide, and there are marks that
show my every flaw.

I have scars. I bleed. I belong
above everyone: isn’t that what
you inculcated, Mother? Why kneel
to me?

My new army has won surrender.
My new army has to stop — that’s
what our treaty assuages.

Person One: Good, good enough for
now. Now the War Resister.

Person Two as War Resister:
All the mechanics have been excluded,
their rages and revenges. There are plants.
Red-capped Orioles versus Corioles.
They cast long shadows this time of year
such is the state of their bodies.
Others hunger. Look for signs in hobo
code. If you fail in our request, the shallow
ditch forms a mold for ice, not
a country worth its nurse. Are they bound
to deflated victory? Do they fear being
led to the streets? He shall not tread
on me. Those allies peeled one by one
from an old world, poisonous of honor.
A chronicle.

Person One: And Volumnia, mother of Coriolanus?

Person Two as Volumnia, mother of Coriolanus:
We came here so you can put the pieces
back together. Mercy, yes, mercy.
Your reputation without peace and
reconciliation will be a generations-long
ugly cry.

Daughter, grandson, speak up — plead,
shame, rant, whisper, reject, embrace.
Your poor mother hen! She put
the clothes on your back, the hate
in your eye and this is how you
repay? No, let us kneel.
Let us reason. Let us unreason.
Let us trot out the womb, childbirth.
Let us embellish how I sewed shut
your wounds that bled like mouths
with treason.
I am silent until you bomb
our city. And then I’ll speak
a little. Jupiter Jones and like
conditions.

YouTube-style Paddling instructions, such as:

Person One: [points] Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Put paddles in water at the same time as the front pair. So, head up, and look. At the ‘catch,’ enter blade fully in water at 60 degree angle. Drive down aggressively with top arm. Transfer weight onto the blade. Imagine you are pole-vaulting as you plant the paddle in the water and drive your body over it.

Person One: [points] Peace Treaty author.

Person Two as Peace Treaty author:
You restrain, you withhold, you break
the arc of weaponry, fist, projectile.
A child can’t decide, not here.
Soon trials and commissions examine
like meteorologists: whose kills
are crimes? Which leaf in a whirlwind
of war? They pray. They believe.

[addresses vacancy as Coriolanus]
Words form a treaty, but for his part,
he won’t go to Rome. Of course, he
won’t be far from here. No home.
No homecoming.
No hero’s parade.
You are the sacrifice. No further
increase in battle: you are the sacrifice.
The butterfly, long artillery, Alexander
as statuary, substitute, icon, character,
act, and old heaven to throne in. Mercy,
always queen Mercy, milk mercy.

Once a traitor, always… he has to go.
He’s turned on us, too. He’s made
the world more dangerous — not a good
idea to travel in a group with U.S. passports.

Purge himself? Or submerge
honor with propaganda about
loyalty. Great danger.

Person One: Now the Plebian.

Person Two as Plebian:
Traffic was hardly a topic. The way
most of us wound up, the distance you
put between your hometown toward
an outer reach, then hazards for
coral reefs, against night viewing, and
childhood vaccinations. There was
an underlying system to the overbearing
system pressing on us. We could
become ‘up on it,’ call it malarkey,
and even dodge out on some of its
more confining demands, and find
each other, too, how this week’s
irony had us put paid to last
week’s requisite craziness. And
so, it was what you might come to
see as a ‘tradition of resistance.’

Person One: Give us Menenius Agrippa, patrician.

Person Two as Menenius Agrippa, patrician:
Mediocre. Throng, now hear me, and
this is what we’ll do, what we need,
who we were and can be again,
and when those who think they can
think open their mouths — I’ll
tell you folks, I’ve never heard
such nonsense in my entire life,
and when we were there, they
said that, and we know because
I say so that they’re just
plain wrong and suck on baby
things, so kick them out; I’d
give them a chance to speak
if they had anything to say,
but then it would cut into
what I have to say which is what
they want because it’s against me
and my message of going back
to some other time when we
had time, and there you see: just
what I said before for the first time.

Person One: Now, the grand rival,
Tullus Aufidius, general of the Volscians.

Person Two as Tullus Aufidius, general of the Volscians:
[addresses vacancy as Coriolanus]
Don’t blind yourself by staring at the eclipse.
A rare sight; the alignment ends and sunlight
can wink on Lacan’s sardine can, and we reflect
the voice of the father. [both laugh]
You are competent as my mirror image, but
you? How well do you refract the sun
through language, our language, our theatre
of war, waterfall of guts? [vacancy as Aufidius laughs]
It ends where it always ends: we stand here like
mother and child before the voice of father.
To be is to be a waste mountain beside your one
pearl formed with my own juice.

Person One: Again, Volumnia.

Person Two as Volumnia: [addresses audience]
They have differing aims, wouldn’t you say?
Impossible to integrate the parts of the self
when the self is a construct. War of
desire, aggression, old wounds. Funny.
I knew a neuroscientist who collected
old phrenology model heads — the sort with
sections marked off, assigned traits. Exquisite
sort of pleasure in the dirty origins of a field
so firmly established it’s no longer desperate
for legitimacy. You have to be able to afford
humor, those crazy variations on self-mastery
in capitalism. If there’s a recursive return,
my son crawls on his belly, asks help
translating verbs from a Volscian child.

                   

YouTube-style Paddling instructions, such as:

Person One: [points] How to paddle and what to think about. First thing, outside leg is going forward and inside leg is folded back. This is not like canoeing. We need a lot of power. Arms are straight. Use your waist—bend forward. Twist at the torso. Your paddle forms an ‘A’ in relation to your body. Place paddle at thigh of paddler in front of you. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back.

                   

2. Who was poet Ch’ü Yüan?

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer: Who was poet Ch’ü Yüan?

Person Two: He lived 200-some years BC.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Why is he associated with the origin of Dragon Boat races?

Person Two: Loyal, talented minister,
loyal, talented minister: loyal, talented minister,
the king banished our poet to the south.

There, Ch’ü Yüan composed his famed lament titled ‘Li Sao.’
There, Ch’ü Yüan anguished over the military invasion of his country.
There, Ch’ü Yüan drowned himself in the Milo River.
There, Ch’ü Yüan’s drowning distressed villagers.
They rowed out to search the waters for the poet’s body.
They splashed oars on the waters.
They tried everything.
No poet. No body. No home.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Harvest comes, then winter,
Then the fifth day of the fifth month.

Person Two: Now ritual time: our Dragon Boat Festival.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Are you a tragic Promethean figure, Ch’ü Yüan?
Are you a study of tactical madness?
Are you excess embodied?
Do you write when you suffer injustice and slander?
Did you practice politics by other means?
Could a poet heal the cut between virtue and power?

Person Two: Can poetry live in a bureau with prior kings?

                   

YouTube-style Paddling instructions, such as:

Person One: [points] Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Put paddles in water at the same time as the front pair. So, head up, and look. At the ‘catch,’ enter blade fully in water at 60 degree angle. Drive down aggressively with top arm. Transfer weight onto the blade. Imagine you are pole-vaulting as you plant the paddle in the water and drive your body over it.

                   

3. After Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
After Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
enter fair boys, Cleopatra’s barge
            beaten gold

Person Two: A spectacle — go run, go see.
Guests galore, but who is guest-prime?
            who is host of guest-prime?

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Who shaved a dozen times?

Person Two: Yesterday a smoky barbeque with guys;
today perfumed winds
            on Cydnus river.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Here love strokes: her oars are
amorous.

Person Two: Flute-timed strokes, she
ordered, oars.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Her barge moves forward, but
her love retreats, so his love moves forward.

Person Two: Eros moves forward so narrative
retreats, then narrative moves
forward, Eros retreats.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Flutes establish wet oars’ fuck-sounds on
Cleopatra’s Bachelor Machine.

                   

YouTube-style Paddling instructions, such as:

Person One: [points] Transfer weight onto the blade. Imagine you are pole-vaulting as you plant the paddle in the water and drive your body over it. Whatever is happening on the left side, the opposite is happening on the right. A common error is a person ignoring their set up and over extending, so by the time they are into the water, they have de-rotated. Good posture, perfect alignment.

                   

4. Office Hours

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer: Office Hours.
Where are we?

Person Two: Reticulated chain mail is metaphor for
many of us. Salon-style things speared onto verticals beside desert boulders.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Don’t be fooled by still life. It uncaps
volatile revolution, goes Pandora-loose: this is not my parasitic resident.

As a recursive scheme or dancer’s curve, my little black dress is a hauberk,  — look closer: it’s strips of movie film.

Person Two: Maybe it’s Tina Turner in Mad Max who wore actual chain mail; she complained how heavy. Is that Mandelstam’s horseshoe?

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer: We are vulnerable as
molting lobsters; our fridge marooned in the desert spoils
an index to wrecked relation.

Person Two: I should have married Marx! Saved the farm!

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Exo-prank turns surreal: bio-morphology entirely cozy
with hyper-real shots of gate, shore, lunch time.
It’s a mess without you!

Person Two: Ink, our other blood donated freely to works here, ‘another in a mass,’ yet ‘more than a body.’

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Palimpsest, drill down through Keats’s Nightingale, unheard sweeter than heard melodies. My mechanical pencil will find you!

Person Two: Suck my spikes, try my cells, shimmer with rectangular absence that is not a toy!

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Let’s tattoo, make malleable portraits, char paper, sing into a mic, lie on a gurney, take down holy friar, rust our metal in a horizontal refusal of heroic stance.

Person Two: It’ll take all of us.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Small bruised opening. We swerved here.

                   

YouTube-style Paddling instructions, such as:

Person One: [points] A common error is a person ignoring their set up and over extending, so by the time they are into the water, they have de-rotated. Good posture, perfect alignment. There is no star — the entire team works together. Coordinated. Even the drummer is part. The drummer doesn’t set the beat — instead the drummer must follow the team and edge it forward. But the drummer cannot go too fast or out of time with the team. One-and-two-and-reach, reach, power, power, three-and-four-and, reach, reach, power, power (use your hips), and-reach, reach, attta-way, atta-way…

                   

5. Deep Winter

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
It’s Deep Winter: ‘… so rarely kind, are as interpreters
Of my behind-hand slackness … Welcome hither,
as is the spring to the earth …’
            from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale

Person Two: The way we ran —

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
the way the stones are cut for facing
the way parts are weighed down

Person Two: the way two parts are voiced
the way destroying pieces won’t end it

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
the way our situation is sound
the way air dissolves ground

Person Two:
Did you put breath into your work
when unity clips a weather-bitten
justice?

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Of those electric conduits, try
the old standby, a shepherd.

Person Two:
We can read it — the three stones,
the prank, an enemy, a friend.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
‘Not only my success in Libya, sir,
But my arrival, … in safety
Here, where we are.’
from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale

Person Two: Too many dove down under
water. Too many surfaced.
A signal corrupted with intent?

The coals, stars, arms.
It did them good.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Perdita is really Anne Boleyn’s
daughter Elizabeth.
Hermione is Ann Boleyn,
and we all know what happened
to her nihilistic head;
what happened to Elizabeth’s
subject-playwright
who re-cast old stories, who disguised
Plutarch’s body in treasonous
undertones.

Person Two:
‘so rarely kind, are as interpreters
Of my behind-hand slackness… Welcome, hither
as is the spring to the earth …’
from Winter’s Tale

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Nihilist, underground man
stranger, swear as you speak …

His queen, his benefactress:
her decline, his decline

lost child found:
to make a perfect woman, look —
she’s statuary in thong and spike heels
come back
with a vengeance, a presidential seal,
a shepherd’s daughter return.

                   

YouTube-style Paddling instructions, such as:

Person One: [points] How to paddle and what to think about. First thing, outside leg is going forward and inside leg is folded back. This is not like canoeing. We need a lot of power. Arms are straight. Use your waist — bend forward. Twist at the torso. Your paddle forms an ‘A’ in relation to your body. Place paddle at thigh of paddler in front of you. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. There is no star — the entire team works together. Coordinated. Even the drummer is part. The drummer doesn’t set the beat — instead the drummer must follow the team and edge it forward.

                   

6. For theatre-lovers, a found poem

Person One and / or Person Two:
For theatre-lovers, a found poem

film noir
fatwa
patois
wah-wah
memoir
new star
Renoir
peignoir
red car
pissoir
farquhar
coffee bar

                   

film noir
fatwa
patois
wah-wah
memoir
new star
Renoir
peignoir
red car
pissoir
farquhar
coffee bar

                   

film noir
fatwa
patois
wah-wah
memoir
new star
Renoir
peignoir
red car
pissoir
farquhar
coffee bar

                   

YouTube-style Paddling instructions, such as:

Person One: [points] Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Forward, lean back. Put paddles in water at the same time as the front pair. So, head up, and look. At the ‘catch,’ enter blade fully in water at 60 degree angle. Drive down aggressively with top arm. Transfer weight onto the blade. Imagine you are pole-vaulting as you plant the paddle in the water and drive your body over it.

                   

7. Closing Segments — disintegration

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Are you a tragic Promethean figure, Ch’ü Yüan?
Are you tactical madness? excess embodied?
Do you write when you suffer by other means?
Could a poet heal virtue?

Person Two: Can poetry inhabit?

                   

[Pause]

Person Two as Tullus Aufidius, general
of the Volscians:
[addresses vacancy as Coriolanus]
Don’t blind yourself by staring at the eclipse.
A rare sight; the alignment ends
we reflect
the voice of the father. [both laugh]
You are my mirror image, …
How well do you refract …
… language, our language, our theatre
of war, waterfall of guts? [vacancy as Aufidius laughs]
It ends where it always ends: we stand here like
mother and child before the voice of father.
To be is to be one
pearl formed with my own juice.

Person One: Again, Volumnia.

Person Two as Volumnia: [addresses audience]
They have differing …
parts of the self
when the self is a construct. War of
desire, aggression, old wounds. Funny.
I knew a neuroscientist …
heads — the sort with
sections marked off, assigned traits. Exquisite
sort of pleasure in the dirty origins of …
legitimacy. You have to be able to afford
those crazy variations on self-mastery
in capitalism. If there’s a recursive return,
my son crawls on his belly, asks help
translating computer files from a Volscian child.

Person One as Dragon Boat drummer:
Are you a tragic Ch’ü Yüan?
Are you tactical
by other means?
… a poet?

Person Two: Can poetry… ?

Person Two as Tullus Aufidius, general
of the Volscians:
[addresses vacancy as Coriolanus]
Don’t blind yourself at the eclipse.
we reflect
the voice …
You are my mirror …
… language, our language, our theatre
… before father.
To be one
pearl.

Person One: Again, Volumnia.

Person Two as Volumnia: [addresses audience]
They have …
War of
old wounds. Funny.
neuroscientist …
heads —
Exquisite dirty origins
self-mastery
there’s a recursive return:
translating child.

                   

Fade out on disintegrated YouTube-style Paddling instructions,
so Person One Drummer chants to Person Two:
One-and-two-and- Ch’ü Yüan, three-and-four-and, tragic, poet, (use your hips), and-voice, voice, and-one-and-two-and-mirror, mirror, and three-and-four-and, wounds, wounds, one-and-two-and-cursive, reach, reach, child, attta-way, atta-way…

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