Vol. 35 No. 21 · 7 November 2013

‘The Designated Mourner’ by Wally Shawn, Final Production, NYC, June 2013

Anne Carson

608 words

for Wally and Deborah and Larry and André

Go to the Wally Shawn play,
it is hopeless, I mean
production impeccable,
philosophy hopeless.
Yet it gives me hope!
Figure this out.
Next day
listening to Sam Cooke
what comes to me
in a dawn café is:
no need to fear death.
There will be a tunnel and light.
Order a tofu burrito.
C. comes in looking lively.
He got to the car
just as the police were
loading it onto the tow truck.
Sam Cooke confirmed.
Repark the car and
off to the subway.
Who cares about this?
But you do!
It gives you hope!
Figure this out.
Down in the subway
are worrisome signs,
No Trains to the Ferry,
but we need the ferry
to Governor’s Island,
doing an art installation today.
Re-ascend, hail cab.
Governor’s Island is
aswarm with artists.
They are mostly 22.
They are writing on the walls
of an empty house
in crayon or paint.

I am different
I am strange
I am proud

things like that.
What would Wally say.
Wally would smile
his small plain smile.


A tunnel with light.

I am me

Before it was
an art installation
Governor’s Island
was a military one,
cannon all over the place.
There will be no cannon
in the tunnel,
of this Sam Cooke
has made me sure.

birdsong then

I know Sam ended badly.
I know it was unjust.
Who can explain
human history
or make it ever
clean again?
No one.
Don’t hold onto that.
Hold onto this.
Wally & Deborah & Larry & André
rehearsed the same play
every afternoon
in an upper room
in midtown
for 17 or 18 years.
I went,
I watched,
I asked Wally
Why do this? he said
I want to find what works and never do it again.
While C. and I
set up our installation
I ponder
The Designated Mourner,
a play about
love, blood, pajamas,
the current police state
and the passionate
self-love of
each of us. Wally,
sitting very still
once at the beginning
and once at the end,
sets a cocktail napkin
on fire.
It flames out
like Moses
then goes lilting
up and away
into ash. Ash
is astounding.
Made out of death yet
sort of offhand.
Wally’s play
mentions light too
(no tunnel) –

yes yes yes

light coming
out of a woman’s mouth
or maybe her anus,
it was unclear. Is
clarity important?
Today on Governor’s Island
surrounded by artists
who are mostly 22
this question
takes on a new tone.

         (on/in the streets)

I wrote a play once
and had it performed
for just one night
with Wally as Chorus.
I shall never forget
his articulation of
the phrase
not really
which seemed to drop
from his lips
for a full five minutes
as the audience
its breath
in its ears.

A = Hurt
B = Mad
C = Nothing

C. packs up
our gear, it’s
time to head
back to the ferry.
Take off my lipstick.
Reminds me the night
Wally read Chorus
I had him use
very red lipstick, he
liked it a lot,
later told me it
changed every aspect
of riding home
on the A train.
Before we depart
I walk around the house
and read the words.
Best is a wall
that’s one big blackboard
covered with
500) nuts
(in English)
and a couple of times
in Chinese.
When you’re 22
what gives you hope
is pretty
(to cite Basho)
We were
them once.
Figure this out.

If only my
heart large
like the

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