Zahdi Dates and Poppies (Pt. I)

(Editor’s note: below is Pt. I of Carrie Preston’s English-language noh “Zahdi Dates and Poppies.” Ms. Preston weaves elements of her own life experience into this play modeled structurally after traditional second category noh plays. It recounts the story of man and wife, and the implications of duty from both sides of an armed conflict and the ramifications of our decisions. Of particular interest is the transparency of expression and use of contemporary themes.)

Zahdi Dates and Poppies: A Warrior Play

An English-language noh
Written by Carrie Preston

WAKI: Husband, a Marine fighter pilot
TSURE: Marskman
SHITE: Insurgent

[Shidai]         (Entrance of Husband and Wife)
California poppies
hold tight fists at dawn.
Gold and orange poppies
clench like fists at dawn,
but open petals of flame
in the sun’s warmth.

The California poppies
hold tight fists at dawn,
but open petals of flame
in the sun’s warmth.

I am a fighter pilot for the U.S. Marines. I have been stationed in Ramadi, Iraq for nine months, flying missions over the desert. (Turns to Wife.) Far from my wife and the California coastline you love. You are as closed to me as those poppies waiting for the sun. Come with me to the beach. We’ll walk until the sun warms us, until the poppies open. I’ll try to account for every bomb.

WIFE: (Turns to face the audience and remains there through the Michiyuki.)
In the warrior play, he is the waki. I am the waki-tsure, his companion. I don’t say much here. I have very little to say.

HUSBAND:                (Facing Audience.)
Sand without flowers,
it is the blank in my mind,
smoke without bullet,
when I think of what I’ve done.
Surviving was not thinking,
and it was too easy,
not to think of politics,
just missions with blanks
over sand. But you, the one        (Faces Wife.)
who counts the flowers,
waits for poppies to
open, raise your face,
not blank, to the morning sun.
You demand I count
each bomb, carry the burden,
of desert flaming,
of buildings struck like matches.
I bombed IED’s,
a dozen burnt-out buildings,
flew overwatch when our friend
was shot down,
then blew up the wreckage.
I did not kill there.

But there is one bomb,
I cannot count.
It fell somewhere near Zaidon.

(Entrance of Marksman.)
So many beaches
and deserts turned to war zones.
Mark the difference,
or try, in the speed of sand
blowing from your hand.

Bullets, like sand, shift in wind.
Reading the mirage,
determine the wind drift, read
illusions to shoot.

HUSBAND: I can’t take a morning walk without encountering a Marine. His medal means he was injured in the war. And the patch says he’s a Marksman.

Good morning Sir, Ma’am.

Good morning. You were in Iraq?

Yes Sir. Second marine division, Al Anbar Province.

I flew air support for you over there. You just got back, then?

No Sir, I spent some time with my family on the farm in Iowa. Took a bullet near Zaidon, so I got to go home early.

I’m sorry to hear that.
How are you doing?

I’m walking, Sir,
improving each day,
thanks to your jets.
We called you angels.

Call sign Covey,
flying over Zaidon.

Covey’s angel saved me.
We were pinned north of Zaidon.

Insurgent stronghold.

Spent two days under fire.

No water,
and I was hit.
Got casualty.

I was flying overhead,
but couldn’t bomb
without sure coordinates,
couldn’t risk civilian lives.
Finally, the insurgents
fired. I got my visual
launched the missile.
I didn’t know if I
hit the house.

You shot true and saved my life.
Intell found fourteen bodies
in the house you bombed.
All men, aged sixteen
to thirty, standard
for insurgents, no
women, no children,
so no civilians, we think.
Must feel good to know
you did your job, saved Marines.
Must feel like power.
Thank you, sir.            (Marksman exits.)

(Continued in Pt. II …)

About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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