Brian Henry

Nativity: a verse play in one act
New Poems From the USA

 

Characters: newborn and three Scientific Types.

The stage is occupied by a traditional nativity scene. The newborn in the manger is
invisible to the audience, so his voice must be broadcast through a speaker system.
The Scientific Types can be present, or their voices can be broadcast through a speaker
system, with no bodies on the stage. The voice should be the same for the newborn and
the Scientific Types, with variations to signal the shift in speakers.


     Prologue
     Newborn

Today I was born with my heart
in my mouth, which presented more than one difficulty
to the three Scientific Types assembled dutifully
in fits and starts around my bed.

I can’t remember what was said,
but a filtered rumor sums it up beautifully:
The heart in his mouth presents us with >1 difficulty,
the first being whether to consider it art

or a thing less rarefied: freakshow, chimera, blip
on the anatomical map; disaster, miracle, mistake
of no proportion; blessing, raw deal, bad hand.

Word did as word tends to do and spread across the land.
Pilgrimages were made, property was seized, the stake
was raised a micron a day, ever poised to slip.


     Scene One
     Scientific Type #1

Freakshow, chimera, blip on the anatomical map,
the newborn exhibited an unsettling ability
to unsettle boundaries. Rules will break, borders will snap.
The unconscious will to undermine stability
is the true mark of the beast—or some such crap—
is what someone seeking to slough responsibility,
its foreskin, wrote before he got the clap
or crabs, some flesh-rotting debility.

So goes the effort to defer to the experts,
seldom able to pick the miracle from the disaster,
the true discovery from the fluke of nature.

This is why I relish my job, why it never hurts
to watch the heart pried from the mouth faster
than—
          It can’t be a pretty picture.


     Scene Two
     Scientific Type #2

Disaster, miracle, mistake of no proportion,
the newborn exhibited an atypical reluctance
to part with the heart afixed to his oral cavity.
Such aggressive regression to self-apportion
belies an unacceptably infantile, hostile stance:
note the absence of joy, the gravity
of his features, eyes clenched like teeth, the contortion
of tongue and tonsils—no sign of acceptance
of fate and its function. Not that I expect levity
in a situation where principles of torque and torsion
are to be applied to one whose first moments
exceed most thresholds of depravity—
no, that would wobble my ethical spirit level,
which pinions ever so subtly, half a degree from the bevel.


     Scene Three
      Scientific Type #1

Raised a micron a day, ever poised to slip,
the newborn’s spirits spilled up as if through sand
despite the unnatural stretch of the upper and lower lip—
not the result of some contagion or mistake
in the concoction, not the spiralling hand
of a gene gone awry (how many lost in that take?),
but the mark of miracle in a miracleless land.

The mental well-being of this poor object
is not the only … not the only issue at stake
here where everyone is so damned circumspect
about whom to squeeze (as if the freak would break).
I shiver at the sight of his face, dirt-flecked
as if shit were our natural, our common origin,
and not the bottom of a pot basking in halogen.


     Scene Four
     Scientific Type #3

Raw deal, blessing, bad hand.
Sucking mouth, spike, magic wand.
Bumpy flesh, there!, thumpy thump.
Toss, pull, wring, flick, crump.
Porcine, prick, smack, curly cue.
Breathe hard, breathe big, whew.
Plug it, place it, hold it down.
Luck mine, yes!, puh!, wound!
Wrecked vocals, umbilical shock.
Veins buried where, knock knock.
Rooting snout, sob sob cry.
Whisked, whacked, forget it, fly.
Sickly hue, yawn, sour breath.
Tears! tears! soft sudden death.


     Scene Five
     Scientific Type #2

Whether to consider it art or a thing less rarefied
we must bow these heads, pay our respects.
We have done wrong, we must wait for He who inspects.
I will admit all, explain what we did, how it died.
Will name our names, describe its last, how it tried
to cling to us, its mothers, whose task it was to perplex
the little oddity, not to assault it as if it were a hex,
a problem to be rid of, not slowly, sanely studied.
I will not say I admired the child, to avoid having lied.
I will not say I loved what I saw, love being too complex
to put into my report. It has nothing to do with sex.
Having drawn the line between this and that -cide,
I will say what I saw: a series of hastily shut doors.
The final word will not be mine, or yours, or yours.


     Epilogue

WAS RAISED A MICRON A DAY, EVER POISED TO SLIP.
PILGRIMAGES WERE MADE, PROPERTY WAS SEIZED. THE STAKE.
WORD DID AS WORD TENDS TO DO AND SPREAD ACROSS THE LAND
OF NO PROPORTION. BLESSING, RAW DEAL, BAD HAND
ON THE ANATOMICAL MAP. DISASTER, MIRACLE, MISTAKE,
OR A THING LESS RAREFIED: FREAKSHOW, CHIMERA. BLIP.
(THE FIRST BEING WHETHER TO CONSIDER IT ART.)
THE HEART IN HIS MOUTH PRESENTS US WITH >1 DIFFICULTY,
BUT A FILTERED RUMOR SUMS IT UP BEAUTIFULLY.

I CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT WAS SAID
IN FITS AND STARTS AROUND MY BED,
TO THE THREE SCIENTIFIC TYPES ASSEMBLED DUTIFULLY
IN MY MOUTH, WHICH PRESENTED MORE THAN ONE DIFFICULTY.
TODAY I WAS BORN WITH MY HEART.