Sous Rature


Jerome Rothenberg

A Fragment of a Steinian Opera

for Charlie Morrow



[Enter the three women who are three women in love. They sing.]

Three women in love
we are
who are in love with a Jewish king.
So we are & we sing.

Three women in love
we are
& so we sing we sing
under the moon.

(The moon, the moon,
& o the Jewish king.)

Three women in love
we are.
And we wait where an old moon dies
in the old king's eyes.

We sing & we wait.
And the night grows old
where we wait.
Where we wait with the moon.

(The moon, the moon,
& o the Jewish king.)

[Abulafia appears in the sky above them. His earlocks are long & fall over his shoulders. In his right hand he holds a blue & white umbrella.]

First Woman
[no longer singing; speaking]
Along this road or somewhere somewhere along this road he comes. And where he comes I do or do detect him.

Second Woman
And now we watch see how his foot sets on the ground.

Third Woman
See how his other foot goes searching for the path his first foot takes.

Second Woman
When Abulafia becomes a traveler on the earth we circle –

First Woman
And we take him in this net.

[A net falls down & covers Abulafia.]

Third Woman
And bind him.

Second Woman
Oh love is vegetable & love is blind.

All Three Together
And so we say.

[covered by the net he feels along its surface as if testing the narrow walls & ceiling of a cell. When he speaks he sings.]
Into the love of marigolds the Jew returns & goes, o does he go & sweetly, neatly as the paper where he reads he sees the letters float with love, sweet love sweet marriage blisses. When he kisses love the Jew begins with love, & when he sins love wins him to her side. The bride in love & o to be in love & be beside.
[Then speaking.]
It is only this or this that keeps me from it that delays the leap across the trees into the house the deep house & the ring where the messiah sings & is true.
[Slowly, very slowly.]
I had set out to do what I must do & here love keeps me true.

[The other Jews appear. The Italian king is now a Jew too, he is with them.]

The Jews & the King
[as a chorus, while the women raise Abulafia above them in the net of love.]
One by one.
No light at all.
No surprises.
To bewilder a taste
& open it.
To surprise
with cheese.
To delight.
Perfect in understanding.
The girl has her shape.
Perfect for once.
It is real.
It is past.
A holiday is everywhere.
Send necklaces.

The Three Women
[swinging around Abulafia's net on ropes that hang from the sky.]
Do they whistle for work.
Do they whistle for a wedding.
Do they whistle for a beard.
Do they whistle for whistles.
Do they whistle for bathtubs.

First Woman
And when.

The Three Women
Do they pretend to whistle.
Do they pretend perspiration.
Do they pretend breakfast.
Do they pretend jewels & furs.

Second Woman
Will they be first
or will they.

Third Woman
Or will they return to be first.

First Woman
Or will they return love.

Second Woman
Or will they love & turn back.

Third Woman
Or will they express themselves too often.

First Woman
This is what I guess.

Second Woman
I do not offer a hand but it is offered.

Third Woman
I do not wait for the sea by decree or by a holding.

First Woman
I take greater pains to be best knowing of their wishes.

The Three Women
We prefer to be first.


[The start of an opera conceived & planned with composer Charlie Morrow but never finished beyond the first two scenes nor ever put into production. Abulafia selbst (1240-c.1291) was a great mystic & master of a species of meditation that took the form, often enough, of a kind of mystical lettrism. In 1280, responding to a dream or vision, he set out for Rome to convert the Pope (Nicolas III) & to proclaim himself the Jewish messiah. Threatened with execution he was thrown into prison but saved by the sudden death of the pope himself. Some of his lettristic work, translated by me and Harris Lenowitz, appeared in A Big Jewish Book: Poems & Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to Present (a.k.a. Exiled in the Word), still in print from Copper Canyon Press.
The first scene of Abraham Abulafia Visits the Pope can be found in the November 13, 2008 posting on my blog-anthology, Poems & Poetics (]


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