Zahdi Dates and Poppies (Pt. II)

(Editor’s note: below is Pt. II of Carrie Preston’s English-language noh “Zahdi Dates and Poppies.” In this selection more is learned of the waki and shite, and their interconnection through their lives; recounting the death of the shite – husbands, wives, soldiers, victor, vanquished, attachment and release.)

I left the desert feeling
as blank as the sand.
The taste of power cancelled
by the chill of death.
They told me to go, I went.
I tried not to think,
but hoped I could tell my wife
I hadn’t killed.

CHORUS:                (Husband dances kakeri.)
He saved the marine,
but killed fourteen.
The blank in his mind,
to think of what he’s done.
Beds of poppies say nothing,
take the beach, explode
from the sand,
shake struck matches.
(Musical interlude.)  
Flowers close their petals
as the sun sets.
Husband and wife
leave the beach
and return to a bed
often troubled by dreams.
Sleep without rest,
smoke without bullet,
the haunted sleep of the soldier.

(Husband and wife kneel at waki pillar in sleep position. Insurgent enters, delivers issei from hashigakari.)

Across the world, sand
looks like a warm-skinned body,
a woman resting.
Poppies are her jewels here,
fruit dates in Iraq.

I once fed her Zahdi dates
from my father’s fields.
The sand blows against a face,
not my own: a mask.

I was the son of a farmer
in Duluiyah.
Your tanks and bombs
destroyed our ancient orchards.
Palm fronds fell
open hands to the earth.
It broke my father.
My wife was hungry.
I could not find work.
You killed me
on a rooftop in Zaidon.
(Husband rises as Insurgent moves to the stage.)
Have you come for revenge?

Revenge, repentance
are just a mirage.
You have dreamed me here.

I have nothing to repent
I was doing my job.

Learn to read the mirage
before you fire. Determine
the bullet’s wind drift
by waves of light over sand.
Read illusions to shoot.

We were both paid to kill,
to carry that burden.
In war, life has always been cheap,
soldiers cheaply paid to die.

[Chunori – Tsuyogin]
The day I died in Zaidon,

CHORUS:                (Insurgent and husband perform battle dance.)
I hid behind a palm stump
to shoot your soldiers.
Six fell, their blood pooled like dates
near the pitted Zaidon road.
Fourteen of us ambushed your troops
then hid in a house.
Spent two days under fire.
Low ammunition.
No water, and I was hit.
We were waiting for your bombs,
heard the jets above.
We loaded our last rounds,
blasted the house.    (Insurgent kneels center; husband kneels back left.)

[Chunori – Yowagin]
As I heard the jet diving,
I thought of my wife

As I heard the jet diving,    (Wife rises, and wraps a veil around her head to become
I thought of my wife             the wife of the insurgent in this dance.)
standing in a breeze blowing
down from the date palms.
Veil white as cheese
beside her honey-touched hand,
brown eyes, date seeds.
Whispering a poem:

“Had I told the sea
what I felt for you, It would
have left its shores…shells…
And followed me.”        [“In The Summer, Nizar Qabbani, Iraqi poet]

And I knew
I could not follow,
after what I had become.         (Wife turns and winds veil around her head again.)
The first explosion,

The first explosion,
another, then the date palms
snapped shut as fists
over charred Zahdi dates.
Each leaf was pried back
to expose my hate, failure,
my life, wasted fruit, flaming
around the pit. Then I heard        (She turns to him and repeats first set of kata.)
my wife calling,
“I have told the sand
what I felt for you. My love
it’s just a mirage,
waves of light over sand, take
my hand, follow me.”
If he could love he could turn
away from the flames.

I turned away from the flames.    (Turns to face her.)
She wants me to say

She wants me to say
I forgive you,
all fourteen were insurgents
age sixteen to thirty.

[Musical break]
Another wife wakes                    (Wife rises and walks to Husband; they walk
another dreaming soldier,        forward together; he kneels beside insurgent.)
takes him, in her arms.
I release you.
(Insurgent rises and exits, turns back as the final lines are sung.)

But, certain as the poppies
will close tonight,
you will carry me with you
all your life, feel it
tighten as the knot
of dried Zahdi dates,
but at dawn
her petals open.    (Wife places the veil around Husband’s shoulders as song ends.)



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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