A jazz libretto.
& Lillian Liu Jackson (1937-1995):
Two Dreamers of Beauty
& Her Excellency Adrienne Clarkson,
Governor-General of Canada
Ce qui n'est pas beau a tort d'etre;
La beaute n'aime que la beaute....
La beaute est la seule chose qui n 'existe pas a demi.
Poetry should waft, swaft, over obstacles of paper,
Until pages falter, fold, dissolve, and resolve into verse-Whatever you're singing now,
Every word must be Song, but sans rehearse....
Perhaps the answer was in the songs.
Dramatis Personae Laxmi Bharati: A Universite Laval student architect, 21. Also, a Hindu, of Indian descent, born and raised in Montreal. Colette Chart: A Universite Laval law student, 21. Of Chinese origin, She escaped the 1989 Goddess of Democracy' pogrom. Ovide Rimbaud: A Haitian of blackwhite ancestry brought to Quebec by his parents in 1989. Also a Ville de Quebec-based architect, 25. Malcolm States; A Montrealais jazz saxophonist of African-American and Mi'kmaq Nova Scotian heritage, reared in Halifax. He's 25. Musicians: A-J, piano; Sans Souci, bass; Blue, drums; Sept-Isles, trumpet. (Other personnel may be drafted as required.) Fin de xxe siecle Ville de Quebec, Vieux-Quebec. Quebecite, with music by D.D. Jackson, was performed on September 5, 2003, at the Guelph Jazz Festival.
Scene I: Devant Le Chateau Frontenac
In a blue-lilac dusk lit with light petals of rain, the pollen of cream-blossomed April, Ovide holds a black, velvety umbrella. He is natty in a pink shirt, mauve jacket, and black pants. Wearing a gold and turquoise sari, and holding a turquoise and gold umbrella, Laxmi faces her wanna-be amadou. They stand before a silhouette of the Gothic-styled Chateau Frontenac. Gargoyles jut from a low roof, but blossoms arc upwards to meet them--as if in love. The sound of a bass commixes with church bells chiming in bluesy discord. Ovide gestures at a tree.
O: Laxmi, when apple blossoms blaze, call them beautiful, feel the tender warmth of Love, fleshed heat, palpable. Will you fulfill my meaning? Am I meaningful? L: You've invited me to savour jazz-- Lightning born alive as chocolate.... Why taint it with saccharine hints, Or sick cadence of decadence? Is there some fault in your feelings? Are your plans purely floors and ceilings? O: I speak only as an architect buttressing a Laval student architect. I've my own firm: I'm stable. mature. My designs are pure. L: Only my blueprints, Ovide, should be blue. I'll build gaudy temples, Gaudi's style pursue. O: Virtue is the steely mettle I trust: My husband will be iron, not rust. Virtue should not buckle to vice. (Quebec's no Puritan paradise.) But, your eyes could set fire to ice. L: To breathe Occidental oxygen, say my parents, is to go rotten. So I hex all wrecks and vexations of men. Oh, what is wrong with women is men! O: Laxmi, you'll always be beautiful. You are going to always be beautiful- like Quebec City, Quebec City, this Romantic Gothic city. Lakme, you're cinnamon-copper skin and plum lips ablaze, Is that a sin? L: Ovide, you're as magnetic as a collision; But kisses are just prefaces to perdition. O: I could scat sing my ballad valentine! L: Just serve me verres of very fine wine. O: Je suis Haitien, with pure, sugar love to advance. We'll sip chilled Haitian rum. distilled in France. L: Non, I just don't trust, don't trust Romance: too much is lust, too much is chance. O: The bed decides who is competent to wed. The bed decides what grooms wed which brides. L: Seduction is no promise of happiness. Seduction is a satisfaction sated with pain. O: Such gargoyle words could scare off rain--Quebecoise April's blossoming rain.... L: Seduction is chocolates and champagne, then nausea, tears, vertigo, and pain. Ovide, I prefer Puccini with cappuccino or Picasso, al fresco, with espresso to vain talk that's just in vain. So let's go hear the Malcolm States Quartet at La Revolution Tranquille, mon bon architecte. Q: Oui, let's scat! Their umbrellas set and poised, the pair strolls to the jazz club. Study a mosaic of piano amid a collage of saxophone. Sceneii: A la Revolution Tranquille In this scene, it is seen that Malcolm hoists a saxophone to hi slips. A suave man in a black suit and crisp white shirt (offset by a skinny black tie), he stands in a corner of the bar/nightclub that a crimson fluorescent sign declares <<La Revolution Tranquille.>> A poster features Malcolm in a dour, Miles Davis Pose, scowling, pouting, sporting dark sunglasses, standing before the equally surly <<The Malcolm States Quartet, << featuring A.J. on piano, Sans Souci on bass, Blue on drums and Sept-Iles on Trumpet. The bar itself is tones of warm maple and silky grey stone, soft-lit. In one corner, a small shrine to Chinese ancestors and deities glow red, to summon good luck. On one wall 1960s-era posters of Pierre Elliott-Trudeau, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ho Chi Minh, Rene Levesque, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane, Golda Meir, Miles Davis, James Brown, Brigitte Bardot, Ella Fitzgerald, Jean Lasage, Josephine Baker, Adrienne Clarkson, Malcolm X, and Jawarharlal Nehru appear. The bar is retro in style. M : Mimic Holland-Dozier-Holland: Make it hard, make it hot, make it damned. Malcolm blows scales that are really piano glissades. Then, he sets down the saxophone and sings. M : If it was not your lover, who was? Those days. hungry in the grass. Your skirt, spread like an hourglass, Butterflies mobbing us at dusk: Baby, we are close enough to know We are no longer close now.
Colette enters the bar. Beautiful, she wears a white silk blouse, set off by a thin black tie, a short, white pleated skirt, low-heeled shoes, and her two black braids. She carries a heavy law book and a bag of clementines. When Colette plunks these items on a table, Malcolm motions his quartet to cease playing.
M : Take a break. See y'all in an hour. A'-'right? The band exits (apparently). Colette sits and begins to peel a clementine. M : (To Colette) Don't judge these sounds too harshly. The notes echo a man who loved too brashly. C : I'm just a Laval law student. I don't try to judge music, Though I courted piano as a girl. But the law states, Mr. States, Nothing can be done about lost love : But no one's free who isn't free to love. M : You speak so deliciously, And with such cadenced balances. You parley so judiciously, Like spectres at seances. If I may say so, Ms. Chan, I presume. Please, please call me Malcolm. C : In Franglais--or joual, my name's Colette. M : Its accent's perfume, scented, in a novelette. C : If English weren't such anguish! If only French werenot so gauche! M : That's the anomalous calamity of Canada : Anglos muck up the Queen's English Francophones fuck up French. C : Canada is as lovely as fine china. But no place is as lovely as china. M : Why did you leave that place you love? Was it fear--or love--that drove your move? C : Bullets blasted away ballads and ballots, and bodies were 'miscounted' everywhere : only 'nobodies' numbered as the dead, when China drove us out in '89, when I was nine. A communist comrade warned us worshipping 'freedom' could be fatal, so my Lincoln-minded parents. two profs adoring forbidden Ellington, fled with their hidden Ellington : our total wordly goods were music. Then, they opened this jazz club--cafe, Dreaming of a liberal, free Cathay. How did you, Malcolm, come to the sax? Why are you, Malcolm, ex of Halifax? M: Halifax is whole-hog Haligonians-In a sty of nasty Nova Scotians Practising swinish shenanigans. To forget my regrets, I picked up the piano, but saxophone was lighter to pick up than the piano. C: Do you mind if I listen in tonight? I used to study piano and ... I like your sax. M: (Impishly.) It's not just biology; I'm practiced. C: (Laughing.) I said sax, not sex. M: I'd love to hear your fingers minuet, colette. Sit beside me and debut a duet. Malcolm places his saxophone on top of the piano and slides onto the piano bench. Colette wipes her clementine-wet fingers on a wet napkin, then rises to join Malcolm, sitting at the piano. C: Look! My legs are so short, My feet can hardly touch the ground. M: Then I'll sit close by, close, to feel each sound. Colette's feet dangle while she impresses the piano. C: Lushly, a dewed light falls, Blushing branches. It clears what doubts had pressed down leaves And lets kissed lips-Lilacs, lilies, tulips-Flourish And more flourish. M: The new spring, with fresh blossoms, comes. Lovers purr, purl, pour themselves like balm or ointment on each other, then fall calm, And sun heaps light in their eyes like poems. C: (Smiling.) I must shout, sing-Loud, liberal- To have sweet lungs: Plus, it's April. M: You may be une etudiante en droit, But you are a pianist-si vous desiriez l'emploi C: No, it's your music that resembles Beautiful, fragrant, apple blossoms. Song continues anew. C: The sea-green trees, the snow-whit blossoms- M: The star-stormed night, so blatant with blossoms, C/M: Flaunt a florilegium of perfumes. A burst of thunder, then shouting rain, Colette smiles at Malcolm, leaps up, grabs her law book, and swirls out of the bar. Malcolm holds up two clementines. M: Ah, clementines like fine china, Lovely like fine-boned, delicate china, these choice clementines, finely, from China. Scene iii: Blues de Malcolm Laxmi and Ovide sit at a table in La Revolution Tranquille. Gigantic, olive-garnished, martini glasses sit swimmingly before the pair. Sound of the Malcolm States Quartet tuning up. Wearing a lime-green skirt and an aquamarine blouse, Colette sits at another table. Holding his saxophone and standing at a microphone, Malcolm begins to sing M: Ici a Qeebec City, voici "Blues de Malcolm." If you're down and out, Good and evil don't matter, If you're down, dirty, and out, Vice and virtue don't matter, But if you're up and coming, Your innocence will shatter. Now I go from drink to drink, And I've gone from gal to gal. Yes, I slip from bad to worse, And I've fallen from gal to gal: The ones I want promise Paradise, The ones I get give me hell. I ain't blue: the rain still works; The wind hasn't broken down. I ain't blue: the rain it still works, And the sun, it still burns, it burns, It burns right down to the ground. The audience applauds. Malcolm signals for a break. The band members exit (apparently). Colette kisses Laxmi and Ovide on their cheeks, in greeting. C: How erect's the architecture? L: How prospers the law? C: The law prospers the few-as usual. L: And we architects bulldoze flowers. Les jeunes filles laugh. L: Colette Chan, do you know Ovide Rimbaud? C: (To Ovide.) You designed La Revolution Tranquille, I know. O: C'est un plaisir encore, Ms. Chan. I'll buy us rum. Ovide rises and goes to the bar. C: Laxmi. est-ce qu'Ovide serait ton chum? L: Pas du tout, Colette! C: Pas encore, peut-etre! Malcolm approaches the table. Ovide returns with three glasses and three fingers of rum. C: May I introduce Malcolm States? Malcolm, this is Laxmi Bharati, an architecture student at Universite Laval.... M: Je suis charme par votre elegance. C: And the architect, Ovide Rimbaud, is her.... L: Acquaintance. C: Laxmi, his name is handsome with romance. O: Ovide-like the poet; Rimbaud-like the poet. M: Poets never sound like anything but poets. O: May I be a poet speaking to other poets? L: The word love is cheap in their sonnets. O: Yet, Petrarchan sonnets premiere with Sade- Because Petrarch loved an ancestress of Sade. L: Poets are eyes looking for eyes To look into, eyes to inspire fresh lies. C: (Smiling.) It's cynical-to be so clinical-about emotion. L: Mais Eros est comme une erosion. C: Poetry is endlessly fresh, like dew, like grass; Love refreshes like a wine drenched glass M: Je vais demander du vin. Malcolm goes to the bar and returns with a glass of wine. C: Let white wine oil oenophiles And black-and-white cinephiles. O: Eternity could not be endless without wine L: Love is not endless without scruples. Remember thesse "Couplets for Couples": Those who are oversensual Are more acting than actual (Their passion is biological). Those who are undersensuous Are more vain than virtuous. (The best are tortuous.) Do not feel less or much: Love exceeds mere sense of touch. The party applauds Laxmi O: Laxmi, you forget nature, and that's unnatural. Even nimble priests to nimble prostitutes tumble. Holy the Landscape lacks all inhibition: Wind, rain, and flowers enact ecstatic coition. In Vienna, near the opera house, when it's warm. The green rows of ash trees smell just like sperm. Only harlots venerate such rhetoric- As do mistresses, middling, melodramatic. C: You're both quite talkative. L: It's recitative. C: Tell us, Malcolm, about your aesthetic of Jazz. Is it Neo-Traditional or Free, fluid like Bauhaus? M: Jazz is nights fallen open like a dress and just as sweet. Jazz is the vice versa of vice and virtue. Jazz is the aboriginal-Afro-Asian-Semitic-Caucasian Rainbow. Jazz is fried pigtails, white rum, and hot diggity curry. Jazz is the blessed, gorgeous, hurtful, and all torn up. Jazz is Chinese motifs in blues with black motives. Jazz is the law of pleasure and the architecture of joy. Jazz lives and survives: Jazz hates executives. O: Your style, Malcolm, recalls dd Jackson; No, it's more like, oui, J.J. Jackson, His 1960s hit, "But It's Alright." M: Oscar Peterson is my idol. De temps en temps, I dream I'm his rival. But I also worship Portia White L: It's late, the rain is strong, and so, good night. C: The rain and the streetlights compose a poem. L: Au revoir, Colette; a bientot, Malcolm. C: "Can any joyful leaning be obeyed, If the desiring heart is first denied A satisfying love?" So Tu Fu said. M: This scripture is sunlight inside. O: O! Laxmi, to win your sunshine, I will sing. L: If your don's sing well, you'll just get rain. O: Then I'll love the rain as if it were the sun, melting. L: Never mistake ginger-ale for champagne. O: I'd love to take, not mistake you as my misses.... L: Don't confuse Quebec City for Rome, And don't confuse a few blase kisses For blazing entree to a baisadrome.... Laxmi and Ovide take their leave, leaving Colette and Malcom alone together. Scene iv: Clementines Malcolm and Colette sit side-by-side in the darkened La Revolution Tranquille. The Saxophone rests atop the piano. Malcom clasps Colette's hands in his own. M: Like late Lear, I'm lighthearted, finally humbling to love. C: It's too early to speak of love. It's too easy to speak of love. Time breaks all spoken vows. Time speaks all broken vows. M: We wrestle, we wrestle, with Life, And then we are thrown: Time has its way with us, Then, the grave has its own. But not to struggle for love, Is to be senseless stone. Malcolm begins to play "Clementines" on the piano. M: Your hair unclasps like wine, your fingers blush to orange. I taste your flurried moans, sugar Aprilling lips. It neige sur tousles toits after two clementines, clement, Laurentian wine, plush, orange-cinnamon tea.... On ne vit pas d'amour et d'eau fraiche. Sino-Quebecoise, Imago of Beijing, stitch together aubades, monostich by monostich, til a sudden poem ships, thrashes, frothing your book C: It is so beautiful, Malcolm, I can't move. But words, oh words, contaminate love! Colette begins to cry and turn away. Malcolm turns her to face him and he hugs her. M: Why? Why? Why? C: Words have an annoying tendency To turn into lies. Malcolm kisses Colette. She responds, tentatively, then voluptuously. M: We'll cleave as one, then, in past tense, clove. C: Malcolm, you could prove you love a stove! Again, Kisses. M: Let Love, like Genesis, break night in two- One half into rain, one half into dew. C: I wish love were simple. I wish many things. But my heart is a song your love now sings. Scene v: Au centre-ville, sous la pluie In this scene is seen Laxmi and Ovide, umbrellas unfurled, running through a Pluviose downpour and down a cobblestoned, questing street. They shelter in a Gothic, gargoyle-headed archway. Ovide kisses Laxmi and she pushes him away. L: You're as sophisticated as Mephistopheles, But any hypocrite can press out kisses. Kisses seem and sine qua non of hypocricy. O: Laxmi, t'es san souci, aussi un peu sassy! Why can't we be enlightened? Laxmi means light. Perhaps you're frightened? L: Am I to be coupled like a boxcar? Is that what all your words are for? O: You are so lavishly beautiful, Laxmi, Any poem for you must harden to a jewel, But, still, its facets must prove facetious: How can mere glitter compare to sunshine? L: Such symphonic speech, Such lyrical kisses! O: My inspiration's Greek- But French in places. Some birds flit, squawking, overhead. O: Crows caress the wind's nape- then undress its thin shape. L: The birds bicker like grouchy guitarist. O: But my kisses offer violent tenderness- Just like liquor. You seek a spasm of amplexus some afternoon- Perhaps a little brown sugar For your cafe au lair spoon.... I suspect you think Tia Maria mixed with milk Guarantees feats of sex amid feasts of silk.... O: You could play Delibes's delicate Lakme But without eating the deadly dhatura, That pale, poisonous flower. I would play Lord Byron with bravura. L: Don't cast us as two outcast characters- Crass as those in Baldwin's Another Country, His drastically orgiastic actors, Concocting unconscionable cochonneries. O: Our love will erect a cathedral.... L: Or do you mean a Kama Sutra brothel? Le Moulin rouge is more your moral style, Ovide, not the immaculate Taj Mahal..... Ovide shakes his head 'no' and then kneels, on a dry spot, before Laxmi. He touches her feet. O: As you pass, yellow marigolds bow down in awe at you auburn feet. Laxmi turns away. L: Love is always, always, a risk. Ah, who can I ask? Oh, who can I ask? What is true in a kiss or embrace? What a lover reveals is always less. Ovide stands and embraces Laxmi. L/O: Oh, these vexations will go on like hexes for nothing's as vexatious as the sexes when it comes to sex. L: Ovide, I'm no tabloid starlet- Half Girl Guide and half coquette. O: Laxmi, your purity is a treasure, Not a plunder to loot- L: Or pollute- O: At leasure. Laxmi lets Ovide kiss her-tentatively-in the rain. Sound of a foghorn. Canto II Sacrum, sacrum, inluminatio coitu * Pound, Canto XXXVI Rain drizzles pizzicato, petulant, upon the window. C: Perhaps you are a Casanova, callow, And I'm a morsel you'll swallow And forget ... in an ellipse- Like a satisfied gourment wiping his lips. M: All my heart-felt, honest kisses, Colette, are religiously vigorous. Malcolm opens the mini-bar again and extracts two mini bottles. M: What would you like? There's Calvados And London Dock rum from Barbados. Colette takes one of the bottles and pours its contents into her glass. C: Of flesh, and blood, and bone, We are made alone. With these same things, We are made lonely: The white moon only Owns true-wed wings M: When that dawn sun blasts forth light, I'm gonna ring a tambourine, Oh, I'll love you 'til forever- And each day that falls between. Colette, you're a Manet siren in a Monet scene. A Chiang Yee pastel fantasized by Anais Nin. The Lovers kiss. Darkness, an erection of flutes, then a triumph of Tijuana-flavoured trumpet braying Ole! Scena ii: trop d'amour Bells chime out dawn. While Malcolm slumbers in the hotel bed, Colette, Wearing tangerine-coloured underwear, dons a short, crimson skirt and a gold shirt, then pulls on orange, knee-high stocking, and then, before a full-length mirror, a ret beret. She steps into red shoes and a red backpack, then kisses Malcolm. He awakes and sits up. C: Law school awaits my anarchy, mon cheri. M: Careful: lawyers go to legislatures- or the hoosegow, just like whores. C: And musicians? Don't they go to asylums or end up waxed, shellacked, in museums? Malcolm pulls Colette onto the bed and kisses her. C: When first to Quebec I came, I stood once in the endless forest with endless snow tumbling around- Snow, snow, snow, tumbling around, I trembled so in that wintry forest, When first to Quebec I came. M: I remember field snowy with clover saluting the wild Nova Scotian Ocean, its blue-grey circumflexes of waves, and I see my mother's golden face, smiling, as my rum-coloured father, brought me a toy piano, black and silver, echoing a classic Bosendorfer. C: On peut jaser toujours.... M: On peut baiser encore. C: Je t'aime. Malcolm. M: I love you, too, Colette, my balm. C: Je t'aime beaucoup, beaucoup. A ce soir. M: Oui, a ce soir, that hour just before indigo melts azure to noir. Colette jumps up, kisses Malcolm, and leaves. Scene iii: Recit d'Ovide Wearing a black beret, a pink shirt and a black suit, Malcolm stands at the bar of La Revolution Tranquille. He lime-coloured absinthe into a glass. Ovide, dressed in a white suit and mauve shirt, downs it. A vase jets dazzling sunflowers. O: Absinthe maketh the heart grow fonder, eh? M: If not that, it cuts it asunder. Malcolm drinks. Ovide looks out the window. He wolf whistles. O: Is it their nylons, that sheer, shimmering, Polyhexamethyleneudiapide, simmering, That sets girls' legs chicly glimmering? M: Uh huh, Quebec Cite's panochitas Say "Buona notre" with aqua vitae. What man doesn't want some of that- Sine adorably filthy fille-appat? O: I adore cosmo mosaics-rainbows-of women: Their peach-copper hair, their plum-cocoa skin, Their almond-amber eyes that are an eyeful, Their beauty surpassing everything beautiful. Sometimes I spend whole nights just imagining- Kissing, tonguing, drooling, slurping, sinning. M: This mania you mention, so manic and mad, Screens like a scene scripted by Sade.... O: Love your wife. tooth and nail: Enter the marriage jail. Love you whore, fang and claw: Make adultery the law. L: Now, you echo consciously and surly, early Pound Reading late, late Yeats where Shelley drowned. O: There was a woman. Il y avait une femme. Her cigarette smoke spangled silvery poshas if haloing a nouvelle Coco Chanel.... Gosh! There was a woman. I1 a avait une femme- all silky black blouses and carousing curls and inky black skirts, milky, slinky pearls. How hot it was, that summer, didn't matter: Her scalding kisses burned even hotter. I sing of a white woman who was white- Like smoke or fog or mist. Ovide turns and addresses the sunflowers. O: Sunflowers, in your aureate, snowing light- Half-gold,half-amethyst- Sunflowers, in your aureate, snowing light, We kissed and kissed and kissed. M: A rich, white gal crowning a black man's sex: She was Desdemona, you was Oedipus Rex. O: I say nothing rhetorical. All her beauty was strictly allegorical. There was a woman. Il y avait une femme. Even weather was not as hot as she! Damn! Our dalliance, mesalliance, had a blues blueprint: We founded love that crumbled like poor cement. M: The girl was a ruin. You left her crying? O: Maria was dismaying and dissatisfying. M: But Laxmi? O: A femme fatale Salome, pure silk and teak, Her carriage Georgian, her cloumns Greek. The curvature of space? Who cares? Her curves erase All fears. The beauty of time? So What? Her thinness is what time Has not. But she seems indifferent- In different ways, Suspicious of kisses And cold to cliches M: You sound like you're teetering at a cliff. O: I could find love, a way to be loved, if.... M: (Shrugging.) Those who can, can-can. Those who can't, go to Cannes And seduce disingenuous, sinuous ingenues. O: Oh, what's the use? What's the use? Seductions often succumb to the sorbid. Malcolm puts away the absinthe. Ovide goes absent. Scene iv: Sur le pont On Le Pont-Pierre-Laporte, a suspension bridge, Ovide stands at the pedestrian railing as vehicles pass behind him. Sounds of traffic. In the murky night, the Saint Lawrence River seems invisible. Tipsily, Ovide pulls a photograph from his jacket pocket. O: See April water swarming in channels under the dark-blue, April atmosphere: See white foam churning black, abysmal, In cataracts as catastrophic as tears. This annihilating nadir I see Is eel-black, eel-viscous, eel-slippery. Ovide pitches the photograph into the wind, into pitch. O: Our essence is need: To be born is to crave- To grasp for air, To grasp for love. Farewell, Maria. Oui, adieu. Only the sky should be blue. Ovide begins to leave the bridge. Scene v: Au magasin de confection At a dress shop tattooed with a neon sign promising, "La Novelle Vague," Colette, wearing a blue and gold tartan sari, examines a rack of white blouses. Laxmi enters. She wears a blazing pink sarong. Colette smiles broadly at Laxmi. L: Ah, Ms. Chan! Is this shop where you work? C: No. In the firm Etienne Agnant, I'm a clerk. L: I'm at Hydro-Quebec-as an assistant To a Chief Deputy, Deputy Assistant. I see saris are in vogue, and you're in love. Am I right? I am right. Rightly, I approve. C: Laxmi Bharati, I admit I adore The blue-black in his skin and hair; That black indigo in Malcolm's hair.... Blackness blacker than black, I adore. L: Beware: Men have sex but women have babies. Men 'make love', but women make 'mistakes.' Why must we be comic hymenoptera. And our mandibles and incisors and feelers Clutching and biting and gnawing In sex acts that dissect insect opera? C: All women should, I'm sure you could prove, Give love and have love and make love. L: To be sexually dirty, but still seem wholesome- Underwrites both cosmetics and Romanticism. Men's desire is to deflower, Devour, and depart. They annex your sex and, after. Snort, and ask. "who's next?" C: Men's morals are desolate, detritus. But should women be acidic, citrus? L: The impermanence of flowers Souls do not have. Thus, Jove for aeons, not hours. We surely crave. Spirit is what weds: flesh sours, Sinks, to the grave. C: Malcolm and I are of linked vision, Welded together to no mere thing. Coupled with divine precision, We form a single chain of Being. The essence of you twinned Quebecite Is an indelibly doubled haecceity. What about you and your avid Ovide? L: I'm myself, pure, still, and he is-Ovide.... Have you told your parents about Malcolm? C: (Wildly.) I can't! I can't! I can't bring him home! L: So you see him secretly, sneak out and back? Because he's black. Right? Because he's black. C: You are cold, Laxmi! A cold virago with cold eyes, A cold heart, cold words, and cold, cold philosophies. L: But I'm no hypocrite, no polished ascetic With gilded morals, but rusty practique. If you are so lyrically in love, legalistic girl, Brave your parents, face, anew, the true world. Laxmi leaves. Colette weeps. C: Everything about our pairing is in despair. Everything about our pairing is in despair. All our reality is constant wars: First, yellow sunlight blacks out the stars. Then the sun crashes into burning seas And bursts into stars-black, burning stars. Scene vi: Devant l'Assemblee Nationale Before the National Assembly, the parliament of Quebec, that silver- grey, rococo edifice (law and architecture married), Laxmi, in black knee highs, a black skirt, a white blouse, a black beret, and black, low- heeled shoes, strolls with Ovide. He wears a beige suit, a white shirt, and a black tie. Red, yellow, white tulips offset the grey legislature. O: Over there, across the valley, beyond Sillery, Pines sprout, dark as rains, but silvery. L: Black pines gather-like crowds of mourners Around Love, that disease, coronary ... O: Love is human: even some chilly aristocrat Kowtows to a slut, hot from the proletariat. L: Impure women of impudent pudenda Imprudently satisfy lechers' agenda. O: Why such pretty-or rather-pretty, ugly words? The city glistens with wedding-cake light! L: Often marriage ends as mirage- or in triage or in a cage. O: Laxmi, in Delibes's apt opera. Lakme, The Hindu heroine enacts Love's acme. I don't ask for half as much, nor vaunt Queries to irk, irritate, and itch. L: I have one: "What does a woman want?" The answer: "To be young, single, and rich." O: Must we spat outside Quebec's parliament? Ici nous sommes-tous-Quebecois, supremement. L: "La Peau brune, mais le coeur quebecois"? Tell that to the "pure lain Quebecois"! Everybody here asks me if I'm Indienne, If I answer "Canadian," they ask, "Since when?" When Premier Parizeau blamed "la vote ethnique" For his Referendum loss. his disgust was no freak. I knew then that all Quebecois must be white Or could not be Quebecois, at least not quite. Why should you venerate their quebecitude, When they negate, denigrate, your negritude? O: When my parents left Haiti, doging Duvalier, le Parti Quebecois disait, "Bienvenue, restez." L: My Brahmim parents flew from Mumbai. A doctor and a teacher, once of Bombay, They arked that sea, that cerulean sea, To build fortunes and a future for me. Now, I'll raise up temples, build cathedrals- To satisfy, harmonize, all religious souls. O: If you were to die right now, you'd regret, Not having loved, not having been fit. L: Why would I regret not being lied to? Ovide strides away. Laxmi chases after him and grabs hold of his arm. Ovide turns, angry, and pulls Laxmi roughly to him. He kisses her callously. She slaps his face. O: Now I regret.... I love you. L: How can three words stand for as much as that? O: Your Virtue is only an antiquated, Bollywood Cliche. antique in real life-and in Hollywood! L: A man's sex is outer, a woman's inner: In between lies the shameless sinner. O: It's surrealism more unreal than a Dali- All your inimical cynicism about sex! L: Beware: my household goddess is seven-armed Kali, Who swings seven swords and severs seven necks! Ovide exits in a fury. Scene vii: A l'exterieur de la boite de nuit In a dark dusk, glowering outside La Revolution Tranquille, Malcolm, wearing a beige suit, milk-white shirt, and sable tie, faces a regretful, tearful Colette. She is dressed in a Nova Scotian tartan kilt, a white blouse, and a tartan beret. M: So your parents denounce me as a "nigger"? Now, ain't that some shit? Sugar! C: That's not what they meant. That's not what they mean. M: I know what they mean- "a brutal physiognomy, ignoble, igneous ignominy." Oh, I know what they mean! Quebecois claim they're white niggers of America, Peut-etre, but I'm the black negre of Quebec, Quebec! C: We can still love. Don't be so mean! M: I want to love meaningfully, Not meanly. You can't force a song. You can't force a duet. It mustn't feel wrong- Or it's illicit. C: I thought I was hallucinating When Mama swore she'd suicide. She pointed a steak knife at her heart, But she was really aiming it at my heart, And I felt it go in. Next, papa grabbed her wrist, Arrested the blade, But told me I was banished. I stumbled, dizzy, out these doors, Tears replacing my eyes. M: Loving you is like, like, Heaven and a lynching! Pops abandoned Tennessee to escape such flinching! To get good love, he motorcycled to Nova Scotia, And met and married a Black-Mi'kmaq madonna C: Should I just destroy my parents' hearts? They dream of golden, Chinese grandchildren. They dream of pure gold, Chinese descendants. Can I coldly stab their dreaming hearts? M: It's theirs-or mine-or ours. It's theirs-or mine-or ours. Are Chinese pure laine like some Quebecois? Am I a black sheep, a devil, dizzingly noir? C: Would our children be black or gold? Would they be free or free to be sold? M: Do you think our kids'd be striped like zebras? Or look like Neapolitan ice cream? Or ameobas? C: Will you repudiate our beauty? Will you humiliate my duty? Colette begins to cry. C: My folks said you can't play here, If you don't forget and forsake me. M: Well, hell, no, my quartet won't play! We'll put our silver instruments And put our black music away. Away! This ain't no time for innocence. Away! Away! Away! Away! Away! Malcolm walks into the nightclub, rips down his band's poster, and storms out and away. Canto III And the old voice lifts itself weaving an endless sentence. And the old voice lifts itself weavimg an endless sentence. * Pound, Canto VII Scene I: Malcolm a l'extetieur de l'hotel Malcolm paces before Le Chateau Frontenac. He wears a yellow shirt, black pants, a red silk jacket, and a black overcoat. His suitcase and instrument case occupy a hotel luggage cart. Night! Malcolm unlocks his horn case. He holds up his saxophone. M: Oh Colette, I can't forget. I cry the smell of good-bye in a way you vanished, ma jolie Chinoise-Quebecoise, folding yourself away like a map of ghostly geography. I cry the absence of our whole Quebec Crisis of French Tongue, sweet grammar of our thighs, conjugating all night. I cry because you're gone, gone though Parliament pleaded with you to stay. I cry the oval, open mouth of your goodbye. Crying, Malcolm again packs up his saxophone. M: I'll not be a decomposing composer, With his asphyxiated sax. To Hell with a keep-quiet 'revolution'! I'll holler Love maximally max! Malcolm beckons for a taxi. M: I am a star; Colette's a galaxy. Taxi! Taxi! My music for a taxi! Scene ii: Colette au bar Inside the dark La Revolution Tranquille, Colette, in a white dress patterned with black bars of music, sits at the bar. She opens a bottle of absinthe. She pours the smoking verdancy into a martini glass. She daubs at her eyes with a napkin. C: (Ironically.) Finally, I'm called to the bar- the bar of prosecution, the bar of ripped-up bars of music, the bar of persecution.... Africa is far from China, yes, but their histories harmonize: On its "yellow niggers," canada a head tax incised, But bid my slaving ancestors lay down its rail ties. But China isn't any Eden: Mao declared jazz damned: He called it "decadent," ordered it banned. But jazz is a black market, black magic music: Its voodoo fuses Malcolm X and Confucius. Now I lust for the look of leaves, leaves in fresh wind. Blown startlingly green against Malcolm's sable skin! Why can't we have May rains in April? Why can't Joy flower just like maples? Oh, why can't we have darling rain curling over our faces in cafes again? Malcolm, when I'm below and you're above, We'll be making common sense of love. Scene iii: Ovide sur le pont With the wind buffeting his black cape, Ovide, dressed in a black suit, stands again upon Le Pont-Pierre-Laporte. Traffic crisscrosses the bridge. Ovide stares into the distant void of the Saint Lawrence River. O: My heart, still beating, is a tragedy. I've exchanged bliss for obscenity. O! Her Beauty could topple Plato And give eyeless statues eyes too. Ovide climbs over the bridge railing and prepares to jump O: Before her eyes, I, a poem, changed to fire, And she backed away. Now her looks suffocate me, like this wind. I've lived such lechery. Laxmi's virtues poets hardly imagine- Even in a Senghorian alexandrine. My heart seethes as furiously as the river: But what if, laxmi, her love, I do recover? Scene iv: Laxmi sur le quai In the fog-white night, Laxmi, sporting a long black overcoat, walks along the ferry terminal dock. A sign indicates Le Traversier for Levis. Sound of a foghorn. L: This foggy, tubecular chill makes April hurt! When will the ferry deliver me from this murk? This water, oil-dark, is conspicuously viscous: It surges, shines, as promiscuous as hibiscus. I try to see reality uncut, uncensored: Ovide has acted like so much prettied-up dirt. He thought me "une pute exotique- Une lascivite proprement asiatique." Mais, je ne suis pas une debutante lubrique, Avec "une chatte gluante, pimentee, impudique." No, a true love must be honourable and pure. My husband must also be our children's father. He who'd love me-inviolate-must love Eros immaculate, His golden trove. Scene v: Dans le brouillard Colette and Ovide wander separately in fog. Their songs interlock. C: This seascape is like one from Li Po- Just mist, mist and water everywhere.... But where is Malcolm, where are his eyes? O: This sky coffining us, oh I deserve! Clouds are sinking down in mire. My heart's a dire abyss of bias. C: I should go naked in the fur of snow, Sprawl in its soft chill and weight, Feel raw cold corset my breasts, my thighs. O: Laxmi mirrors Belle Epoque India, Exquisite, sepia-toned, lavish, precise. But I've spouted fog-opaque, white lies. C/O: Malcolm, Laxmi, do not let our romance end: I miss you as hurtingly as a kite misses wind. The wanderers continue off on their separate searches. Scene vi: Sur le quai Malcolm arrives in a taxi at the ferry terminal. He sees Laxmi, pacing. He steps out and removes his suitcase and his saxophone case. Then, Malcolm approches Laxmi. L: Malcolm, aren't you playing tonight? Why divagate in this chill, dull light? M: Colette's parents have parted me from their daughter, But I'll seek her, Laxmi, across this parting water. L: I'm sorry for this news about your love M: What of Ovide and your Sacre Coeur of love? Laxmi begins to weep silently. L: My chateaux are ruins of romance- and even your rupture with Colette is my fault. I nagged Colette to tell her folks in your romance. M: Soon or late, they'd find out, I knew, about us. L: And Ovide was pushy, pushy like Priapus. Ovide opens his suitcase and removes a bottle of absinthe. He offers it to Laxmi. L: I really shouldn't; perhaps it's impure. M: Sorrow improves with a good liquer. Laxmi accepts the bottle, tips it carefully and sips. M: So Ovide's a papier-mache playboy, un poseur, A masher, pas un gentilhomme de couleur? L: Oh, why must men be born immoral? M: True: our high notes are only musical.... But Ovide's no more egotistical Than any man with testicles. L: Rapacity is the only male capacity, Violating Virtue in every vicinity. M: I know Ovide's an unstable Lothario. L: He's more a Ripper-type than a Romeo. M: Ovide is Prufrockian, defrocked, 'fucked up.' But, Laxmi, you need humility to love. L: Marriage can't be left to amateurs: Amours must be lived as a tour de force. M: Happiness takes work; Pleasure is exacting. Joy requires exercise; it't not play-acting. You detest Vice, but Ovide's not so vicious: Why deem Desire deplorable malpractice? L: When I was twelve, I accidentally saw Father kissing some shocking Quebecoise: She was viscous, a creamy vichyssoise. He didn't know I saw, rich viciousness saw. M: Put aside your father's betrayal, Laxmi, if you love Ovide at all. L: I love Ovide because I shouldn't (because he so enrages me, because he does so outrageously, things I wouldn't or couldn't).... Your advice, Malcolm, should you abet. So now will you recollect Colette? M: She tried to reason with me; Love was reason. But, oh, instead I committed comic treason. Malcolm takes the absinthe, drinks, and weeps. L: It's not too late. Confront her parents. M: I hadn't thought I should, but now I must. L: A woman has only her trust. A man has his calculated indifference. The night fog is punctured by footsteps. Colette appears. Laxmi fades into shaddows. C: Malcolm, I looked everywhere! Please come home, To whatever home we can find ensemble. Malcolm and Colette embrace and kiss. A foghorn sounds. M: I must go and face-face down-your parents. C: To clove as one, we don't need their clearance. You and I have been through much And should not surrender touch. Grant me the love that our parents found. M: Like this rain Mumblin, bumblin, round, Like this rain Mumblin, bumblin, round, Without you, I got no solid ground. C: Africans and Chinese both adore watermelons and watercolours. We are too alike not to be ours. M: Let's start our own revolution tranquille, with a wrecking ruckus, gay with glee- an unquiet riot- half in bed and half out. Laxmi coughs to announce her presence. She emerges, gleaming, from the shadows. C: (To Laxmi.) You are unpleasant, plus unwanted. M: Truth may be unpleasant, but is always wanted. L: Still, I regret, Colette, any doubts I planted. M: (To Colette.) Laxmi and I were mourning you and Ovide: We resolved that Love must be plucked from the void. A foghorn sounds. The Levis ferry arrives. L: Voici le traversier. I'll say "Bonsoir," Malcolm, Colette. C: Laxmi, stay with us awhile, stay awhile yet. Through the mist, looking haggard, the black-caped Ovide appears. Laxmi and Ovide see each other, pause, then run to each other, embrace, and kiss. O: I heard Malcolm's saxophone from the boat. I decided to follow-like Fate-each note. Malcolm and Colette approach the other pair. M/C: Believers, lovers, You must begin again. O: (To Laxmi.) Your eyes are eloquent, luculent obsidian, But I have been insidious, seditious, simian.... L: Ovide, I'll bring you enlightenment yet. You'll be my Kabir, my ghazal-poet. O: I'll compose a whole opera on love. L: Please omit jealousy, deceit, and hate. M: This time, Colette, loyal I will prove. C: Let's waltz in styles cinematic, up-to-date. The two couples ballet a contemporary, Quebec quadrille. L: We'll love without skill, but without scheming. M: Oh, if I were King of Nouvelle-Ecosse.... C: (You break no laws by dreaming!) M: All lovers would be bel, never bellicose. The ferry moans. O: Laxmi, I'm prodigal, my mouth full of songs; My eyes seek lush light; rum sweetens my lungs. I like baroque structures, those beautiful soft. Please, acushla, accept this tender gift. Ovide withdraws a roll of paper from his inner coat pocket. O: These are my blueprints for a stained-glass cathedral- To be erected to Laxmi, Kali, et avril. Laxmi embraces Ovide. They kiss. Colette and Malcolm applaud. L: I'd like a temple, mera pyar, not a cathedral.... But I'll help you erect it-as your equal. Our motto will be Satyam, Shivam, Sundarum Or Truth, God, Beauty-three words that rhyme. Malcolm removes a small box from his coat pocket and hands it to Colette. He kneels. M: (To Colette.) I will still ask your parents for your hand. But it's handsome I ask you for you hand. Malcolm opens the box to reveal a diamond, engagement ring. As Malcolm slides the ring onto Colette's finger, she kisses him. Laxmi and Ovide applaud. M: I propose we marry on May the First. Those who oppose Love are those God-cursed. C: I love you! O! The delicious jazz we'll make! L/O: Put away tears; au revoir, heart break. Colette reaches into her pocket and hands Malcolm a clementine. M: Mine clement, clement clementine. The couple kiss. All: Seduction is not satisfaction. Reproduction only cancels faction. Love is air that all things must have. Without love, it is impossible to live. Scene vii: Le finale Under a banner proclaiming, "l mai, Fete des travailleurs, Fete du printemps," Colette, wearing a white silk Mao suit, plus a white, diaphanous veil, and carrying red roses, stands with the black-suited Malcolm. They are joined by the sable-suited Ovide and by Laxmi, who is dressed in a scarlet sari, gold jewellery, and carrying white lotus. The couples stand before Le Chateau Frontenac. M/O: She is sea-smoked beach. I am the province's poem. She is wild apple, russet. I am dark and pungent rum. C/L: Apple blossoms, rain-wet, Froth and foam in our groves. Our destiny's delicious, lush: April sows perennial loves. All: May ushers in with lilac- Sweet apple blossoms too- Cutting in buttery, fluttering, suave colours of cream plum and honey Pluviose and perfumes fuming musky lemon. and smells of cedar in fresh rain. We are not only philosophies and religions, languages and races, but also skin and breath, thought and blood, and on that basis, that axis, yes, oui, may amalgamate and mate and progagate just as we wish. All the races end as acres. None are special: all are specious. We aren't sacred- just a species. Our children will be every colour eyes can know, and free: and states, parents, gods, must have no say: Love is a tyrannical democracy. Vive le Quebec. Vive le Quebec. Vive le Quebec libere. Vive sussi le Quebec de couleur-Toutes les couleurs. Vive notre quebecite. The lovers exit as coup:es. Then, church bells, horns, sitar, Chinese violin (p'I-p'a). harmonium, harp, and thumb piano commix. The Quebec flag is lowered from the rafters, but its four panels are, here, beige, pink, gold. and indigo, and its fleur de lys are, correspondingly violet, orange, black, and crimson. Fin
Fabriquer de la realite avec de L'imaginaire: c'est le propre des artistes et des ecrivains.
This libretto would not exist were it not for various actors and benefactors who put me up to it, or put me up, or put up with me. Their righteous ranks include Ajay Heble; Julie Hastings; Jane Hastings; the Guelph Jazz Festival; the Laidlaw foundation; the Canada Council for the Arts; Raincoast/Polestar Books; the University of Toronto; Allan Watts and the Canadian Theatre Review; the Institut of Cultura/Ajuntament de Barcelona; Oodei, Atma, and Neeru Beeharry-Panray of Montagne Longue, Sheila and Bhaskar Rughoonundon of Quatre Bornes, and Nathan Ramlugun of Pointe Aux Canonniers, all of Mauritius; and dd Jackson. Also instrumental was the joint autobiography of Richard L. Jackson and Lillian Liu Jackson, titled Love Song and Sorrow (2001). It is unpublished, but not unsung. The beneficent dd Jackson, the magnificent John Fraser, and the munificent Andrew Steeves imped and moved all improvements to the libretto. Much love to the editors of The New Quarterly (11.3, 1991), Dialog (11.1, 1997) and the publishers of my Gold Indigoes (Carolina Wren Press, 2000) for first airing a few of the 'songs.' Thanks also to Michael Ondaatje, Austin Clark, and Linda and Michael Hutcheon for life-sustaining morale-improving support. Finally, I laud my wife, Geeta Paray-Clarke, whose precepts and passions colour every note of these cantos. Quebecite was written in Vancouver, British Columbia; Toronto, Ontario; Montebello, Ville de Quebec, and Pointe-au-Pic, Quebec; Winchester, England; Barcelona, Spain; and Pointe Aux Canonniers,
Mauritius-the Afro-Asian nation with the red, blue, yellow, and green rainbow flag-between 2001 and 2003
C: Is Aristotle's Poetics your seduction guide? M: He knows the laws about mirth and ruth. But James Brown's cries be the Gospel's truth. You're not afraid? Are you dissatisfied? C: My feelings ... I cannot say just yet. We've kissed. But you're not Othello, and you're no sadist. COLETTE drains her cognac. C: The key to my heart seems to be whiskey. M: I'm always off-key-lest I have whiskey. MALCOLM puts away the saxophone. He and COLETTE enter the bed and, under the covers, doff their bathrobes. MALCOLM looks softly at COLETTE, and then softens the light. Feel here a rose-gold lame Lagerfeld vibe. M: Colette, your beauty's as natural as honey. To portray you, sonneteers need apply God paints almost too bright for flesh. C: When I was a girl, about twelve, Mama ushered us to a Parti Liberal fete-all those Brit Quebecois kvetching, and I wore a shite sundress she boutht me that was totally, utterly, see-through, showing everything-and no bra! Imagine.... M: I cast you thus-like a magician: "Abracadabra"! MALCOLM removes COLETTE's white unlaced corset from under the covers and casts it aside. Rain drizzles pizzicato, petulant, upon the window. M: Let this night be our bed.... C: Malcolm, are you like Casanove, callow? Am I a morsel you'll taste and swallow And forget ... in just an ellipse-Like a satisfied gourmet wiping his lips? M: Colette, all my heart-felt, honest kisses Are rich, riche, rigorously religious.
George Elliott Clarke is an Associate professor of English at the Univerity of Toronto. His most recently published work is: Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature, University of Toronto Press, 2002.
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|Author:||Clarke, George Elliot|
|Article Type:||Fictional Work|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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