Street Theatre of Oppression

An extraordinary poet spends his days at the bus station in Jacksonville, Florida. He performs his most important poem as a drama in two parts. The street theatre of oppression.

Act One, in three scenes: The poet covers his face with a black ski cloth and runs blindly across State Street, pauses for a moment, and runs blindly back.

We read his steps in the first act crossing the street. Each staccato footfall strikes a rising note of caution and uncertainty: one, safe; two, safe; three, safe(?); four, danger; five, death(?) The poet pauses momentarily on the other side of the street, a blank mannequin head-shape protruding from a brown jacket over blue jeans, regarding the stunned audience. Those who did not witness the first act enter the theater usually during this laconic second act soliloquy. The poet does not see the newcomers. His thoughts and emotions muted by the blank shroud covering his eyes and mouth, he further decenters himself in the third act. Cars, trucks, and vans are the actors in the climactic drama. Killers all. Missiles. They race toward the protagonist with elemental abandon.

The poetry of the tightrope walker is of tightly-structured poise: supreme control of body and mind. The street-runner’s poetry is of a different sort, a sport of sheer abandon, a plaintive wail enacted for the passengers collected at the Rosa Parks Bus Terminal at 9:40 on a Thursday morning. The poet’s death-defying sprint across eight lanes imparts profound hopelessness. He and his audience must trust and hope that the racing motors do not bring the show to an end, but there is nothing they can do.

At the end of the performance, the poet returns to the terminal and uncovers his head with a stoic but exhausted mien, a celebrity especially to the adoring public awaiting Bus 8B to Beach and Atlantic Boulevards.

Act Two, in two scenes: the poet transforms himself into the oppressor and whips the trash. 

As the poet removes the mask, the curtains go down over his face. He sits on a bench for a moment and gazes at nothing, staring into the past and shading his eyes from the future. Gradually the curtains go up over his face, and he rises from the bench, removing his belt.

The poet’s face remains blank but he focuses his attention on the belt in his hands as it transforms from an article of support into the penultimate weapon of degradation—a lash. His body is transformed then into a terrible machine as he twists the lash, cutting the air with cruel, windy sounds. Several twists, a violent thrust, and then the poet focuses the lash on the steel rim of a trash can, whipping again and again. His face remains blank, emotionless and incapable of projecting the show’s meaning. He continues whipping the trash, again and again, as the bus pulls away. The curtains go down as the audience joins the elemental machinery of death on State Street.

The poet’s ouevre of despair revolves around dualism. Hopeful and hopeless, he recites a litany of helpless despair with each footfall forth and back across State Street. Support is transformed into subordination, the body transformed into a weapon. The trash can is himself, is everyone who was or is or will be enslaved, is everyone who has been a child, is all of us. Mute and blank, his voice rings loud and true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s