author's note: the Shite in Noh theatre is a spiritual character often disguised in tatters, much like the Christ in Biblical parables. Sometimes the Shite reappears later in the story, transfigured. In this story, a palm replaces the traditional painted pine in the center of the stage's backdrop.
HAZEL'S SWAN PAINTING
Below the 10 Freeway at Grand, the vestiges of the Shite HAZEL’s temporary home:
a makeshift cardboard dwelling
with moldy blankets, unravelling at the edges.
The blankets ooze cotton guts out onto the sludge-encrusted sidewalk.
1 turquoise painting of swans in an elegant frame faces the bed.
She is an aesthete, and her home is well-considered.
She is out for the evening.
Hazel wears no shoes.
She has untreated diabetes, and will die in 37 days from complications of the disease.
There is no land.
There is only concrete.
It is layered with black tar,
PALM TREES, symbol of paradisical luxury,
o glittering palms,
sun-licked in jewel-tones,
shades of lime and gold
and shimmy on in the sunlight.
A DODGE CHARGER rolls by, Bad n’ Boogie pulsing from the stereo.
An OLD MAN ON A BIKE putters by, mariachi music playing from the radio wired to his handlebars.
A FRUIT MAN dices papayas and sprinkles chili on mango.
The HOT DOG LADY perches her grill between rolls and rolls of silk, lace, wools, and cottons in the garment district.Vapor rises from the sizzling meat, and steams the eyeliner off her face.
The COCKTAIL PARTY
Three blocks away, the young artist, VAL, has $157 in 1’s, 10’s, and 20’s, 3 fine and beautiful shirts, a wool blanket, and half a box of saltine crackers. She shoves the cash into a mason jar to pay next month’s rent on her room, and smashes a cockroach with her Italian leather ballet slipper. She lives on party snacks and champagne.
Tonight, she buttons on a silk shirt, applies lipstick in the dark, and runs a comb through her matted hair. She walks to the cocktail party, passing Hazel’s home. People on the street smile at her, say hey Hollywood, lean out the window of their orange sports cars to ask her if she needs a ride. She spits on the asphalt, says nothing. Homeless people ask her for money, and she ignores them. Her heart is hard and cold, and she is losing her appreciation of Beauty. Hazel reaches out her hand to ask for money, and Val passes by without glancing at her. Val steals roses from the public garden and ties them into a small bouquet.
THE DANSE MACABRE
The chorus is in grotesque red-and-chartreuse masks.
They dance like marionettes,
bony limbs clanging together in the cool night air.
Their muscle tissue is so atrophied by a diet of Big Red, trash bagels, and nicotine,
that they no longer control their bodies. Their legs bend and sway, barely keeping them perpindicular to the ground.
They spasm and twitch, rising and falling sequentially from the crumbled heap of dancers.
o child of luxury,
moon-kissed in jewel-tones,
shades of blue and gold
and fly on by through the twilight.
The stars twinkle and observe.
A man in fine suiting cuts glittering pink foil from the tip of a bottle of rose. Laughter rises, effervescent, from the gathering crowd, and someone unfurls a banquet of tapas and fine cheeses. The energy heightens, and the crowd becomes boisterous. A charming European actress finishes her pizza slice, and flings the grease-soaked paper plate like a Frisbee across the room, laughing. Val is heavily made up, and throwing roses on the floor like confetti. The once beautiful flowers are smashed on the floor, crushed under the stilettos of party-goers. Once an amenity free to the public, where young and old, rich and poor alike could enjoy them, they now wither in an enclave of the bourgeois.
The chorus wears masks of fluorescent hues.
Their mouths are huge and pink.
Their fingernails are long like painted talons,
that claw apart the shells of pistachios and throw the shells on the floor.
The music is shrill, like Kristin Chenowith in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.
HAZEL’S HOMAGE TO THE GARDEN
In the evenings, Hazel walks in the garden, admiring the roses, and deepening her apprehension of Beauty.
HAZEL’S SOLILOQUY: I came to know each rose varietal by heart. I knew the depths of the lilac roses in the far corner, whose center was deep and whose scent was powdery, cool, sweet, and the sunnier, brighter tones of the corals and pinks; the clean crispness of the white roses, and the cowgirlish panache of the yellow roses. There was a stunning and kaleidoscopic multiplicity of roses, each well-ordered and blooming in its proper place.
I loved their names, too-
Isn’t She Lovely
They evoked not only the character of the rose, but its geneaology and history, and even the wit of the gardener who originally named the varietal.
A rose is fragile but hardy, cool but radiant with life. Its petals are papery-soft with tender veins that carry color and life through them, it’s form sculptural, but soft; wavering shly outward from the center to breathe, unfold, and softly gasping, ! open sweetly into the summer night. Their beautiful vulnerability and openness draws my heart forward, aching to cradle this small beauty at my fingertips, and brings tears to my eyes. I hold the rose, barely touching it, at the tips of my fingers, and feel such deep gentleness from it for such a grand form; it is immaculate and perfect in its conception, ultimately generous in its apparition here, amongst us, and carries in its creation the generosity of the Creator, who sends forth the rose from the vine to bloom, bravely and confidently, a delicate form amongst thorns.
If I have a daughter someday, I will give her an orchid, to teach her that a girl is like a flower. She needs to be cradled, loved, protected, well fed and watered. She needs to breathe and grow, and be strong, and she needs an environment in which she can thrive.
We have been given the rose, a delicate form that blooms amongst thorns, and been entrusted not only with the gift of life, but the gift of caring for life.
One evening, I was sitting in the grass in an open patch of sun, reading poetry, and thinking about the relation of the individual consciousness to the sublime whole of Creation. In that moment I felt the poetry reveal to me, in the flash of a sunlit instant, the world before me in a brilliant flume. My eyes were opened to the sheer, awe-inspiring radiant beauty that I walked amongst. The row of rose bushes on the south border of the garden were as chromatic tones in a scale, individual hues within the spectrum. Each rose was perfectly manifest and complete in its roseness- akin to, but perfectly individuated from, its bretheren.
Though I had felt the beauty of the garden, and loved each rose individually and the garden as a whole, I suddenly felt a new apprehension of the nature of this kaleidoscopic beauty, and of my place within the mosaic of Life.
HAZEL walks home to her cardboard bedroll, where she swats away rodents and lies down in her bed to sleep, praying that she survives another night. Her turquoise swan painting provides a moment of contemplation and serenity as she drifts away.
VAL washes her face in the mirror.