Thursday, August 30, 2007

Monica Raymond's "In Cana"/Sestinas for Peace

I discovered poet and playwright Monica Raymond's "In Cana," in Colorado Review (Spring 2007), a journal not normally known for political verse. It's a large world made smaller by google, as I discovered that she is active in political theater and in imagining ways out of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I emailed her, and this was her reply:

I notice you are interested in writing around Israel/Palestine, and, in my other life, as a playwright, I have done quite a bit of work around this. I helped organize a program of plays by Palestinian-American and Jewish-American writers, OCCUPIED TERRITORIES, at Boston Playwrights Theater in 2004, which included my short play HIJAB (about a Jewish teenager who's determined to wear a Muslim headscarf to high school) as well as work by Saul Slapikoff, Barry Oshry, and Soha al-Jurf. HIJAB has also had several other productions, including at NYC's Vital Theater, the Samuel French Festival, and the Boston Theater Marathon. I hosted a panel on "Theatre about Israel/Palestine" at the 2005 Association for Theater in Higher Education (ATHE) convention in San Francisco.

My most current full-length script, THE OWL GIRL, is a magic realist play about two families in the Middle East, both of whom have keys to the same house, and what happens when they try to live in it together. A winner of the Gold Medal in the 2006 Clauder Competition, it had a staged reading this past May at Portland stage's "Little Festival of the Unexpected." You can read an excerpt from it on the Massachusetts Cultural Council site here

What attracted me to the poem was its evocation of the Biblical stories of wedding feasts--particularly when Jesus turns water into wine (always a good party trick). Cana, or Qana, as it is spelled today, has been the site of two bombing massacres, when Israelis have tried to attack Hezbollah but instead (also?) rained hell upon civilians, once on a wedding party. It's terrifying to think that, amidst such a ritual act of union that such devastation can occur. The poem avoids explicit mention of these events, and of the politics of blame, but all these contexts reverberate in and among the lines.

"IN CANA" by Monica Raymond

The Lebanese spelled it with a q, without the u.
Qana. That town where John said Jesus at a wedding
turned water into wine. The other gospels missed it.
They caught other miracles, but they missed that first miracle.
The guest said "You're not like the others, who just serve good
wine till we're drunk." Later Jesus said "I bring not peace but the sword."

But in that first miracle, there was nothing of sword.
It's important you understand this, you
apocalyptic idiots, Muslim, Christian, and Jew. A good
party, that was all-- people dancing those wedding
dances, lifting a chair, like they still do, a miracle
they can get it up there without dropping it,

or, if they do drop it, without killing whoever's in it.
But it's family they love there, so if they do a sword
dance, it's just clacking them together like the Morris men, minor miracle
of coordination. At the Revels, they clacked so hard--you
should have seen!--they broke the blade. At a wedding,
that would probably be bad luck. It might be good

to leave the swords out of it for good.
That's a disarmament proposal, what do you think of it?
What if we acted as if the whole world were a wedding
with good wine till the end? What if you left your sword
at the door and never retrieved it? And you
just kept dancing and drinking all night, like that first miracle

and the wine never got less good--that would be a miracle.
You know I'm not just talking about the wine being good.
I'm writing a little parable or a sermon for you.
Yes, a dead prophet is not the only one who can do it.
I'm saying we've seen what comes of bringing the sword.
Now let's bring a covered dish, and get back to the wedding.

I like to think that maybe it's a wedding
of people from different sides, ordinary miracle--
two black-browed lovers, aflame like flowering swords.
Gladiola. Bird of paradise. What looks like a knife-edge sheathe till it unfurls in good
blossom. The angels each holding a stem of it
at the door of the fiery world, and they beckon to you.

They hold the flaming sword to protect the wedding,
and they want to include you in this miracle.
Not blood, but good wine that pours. Let us dream of it.

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