Thursday Dec 07

annie-finch Annie Finch is the author or editor of fifteen books of poetry, translation, and criticism.  Her works of poetry include Eve (1997), Calendars (2003), The Encyclopedia of Scotland (1982, rpt. 2005),  The Complete Poems of Louise Labé (2006), and Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams (2009). She has published extensively on women's poetics, most recently The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self (2005)in the Poets on Poetry Series from University of Michigan Press, and is the founder of WOM-PO, the Discussion of Women's Poetics listserv.  She lives in Maine, where she directs Stonecoast, the low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.  The libretto excerpt included here is from Marina, an opera based on the life of Marina Tsvetaeva, which premiered in 2003 from American Opera Projects with music by Deborah Drattell.
A Captive Spirit
Scene 1
Evening, 1919. A tiny,messy room in the attic of MARINA’s Moscow home. MARINA and ALYA (Age 6, quiet, precocious) are rocking.  IRINA (Age 2, malnourished, neglected), lies on a blanket on a nearby chair. IRINA keeps up a monotonous hum throughout the scene. VERA, a neighbor, stands at side of stage.
MARINA (singing a lullaby over and over for several minutes):
And where is Papa? Sleep, sleep, soon the sandman
will come on his steppe-steed.
VERA: The sandman will come,
the sandman will come.
MARINA: Where will he take us? To the Don of the swans.
And where is Papa?
There—don’t you know? A white swan is there for me.
VERA: A white swan is there for me.
MARINA: And where is Papa?
VERA: A white swan is there for me.
ALYA (meditatively, from the shelter of MARINA’s arm as VERA tiptoes out):    My mother is very strange. My mother doesn’t look like a mother. Mothers always adore their children, and children in general, but Marina doesn’t like children. . . .
MARINA (mechanically, as she sets ALYA down and goes to get the potatoes):
I live with Alya and Irina—Alya is six, Irina two years seven months— in our same flat on the lane of Boris and Gelb, opposite two trees, in the attic room which used to be my husband’s. We have no flour and no bread. Under my writing desk, there are about twelve pounds of potatoes which is all that is left of the food “lent” by my neighbours. These are the only provisions we have.
ALYA (drawing idly on a pad of paper):   She is sad, fast, loves verses and music, she writes poems. She perseveres, always perseveres. She can be angry and she can love.  She is always in a hurry. She has a great soul. . . .
MARINA: I get up—the upper window is barely gray, it’s cold, puddles, sawdust, buckets, pitchers, rags, everywhere children’s dresses and shirts. I saw wood, light the fire, wash potatoes in icy water and boil them in the samovar. . . 
ALYA: Marina’s hands are covered with rings. Marina reads through the nights. Her eyes are almost always mocking.
MARINA (putting the potatoes to boil): I walk and I sleep in the same brown brushed-cotton dress, ridiculously shrunken for a long time, made for me in my absence in the spring of 1917 in Alexandrov. It is full of holes from falling pieces of coal and cigarettes. The sleeves, which had an elastic band at the wrist, are now twisted and fastened with a safety pin.
MARINA goes to the window to take down some of the dry baby clothes from the string hanging there.
To live means—ageing,
turning grey relentlessly.
To live is—for those you hate!
Life has no eternal things.
In my kingdom—
no butchers, no jails.
Only ice there!
Who sleeps at night? No one is sleeping.
In the cradle a child is screaming.
An old man sits over his death, and anyone
young enough talks to his love. . .
Once asleep, who knows if we’ll wake again?
ALYA: Marina does not like to be bothered by stupid questions, she gets very angry then.
A knock at the door. VERA comes in to talk to ALYA.
VERA: How about these dishes? Don’t you wash them?
ALYA: Yes, we do. On the inside, not the outside, and Mama is a poet.
VERA: Your Mama needs to get a job! She needs to work!
ALYA (stubbornly): Mama is a poet.
VERA shakes her head and starts to leave.
MARINA (returning from the window): I am a poet and a woman alone, alone, like an oak tree, like a wolf, like God, surrounded by all the plagues that beset the Moscow of 1919.
Mother Marina, your words tear and bleed,
black dipped in read and as simple as need.
Speak with your pages, cry with your blood,
Mother Marina, Mother Marina.
Scene 2
AKHMATOVA and chorus sing as MARINA sees out VERA, halfheartedly tidies the room, and finally sits on her bed in despair.
I, like a river,
have been turned aside by this harsh age.
I am a substitute. 
Why is our century worse than any other?
Why is our century worse than any other?
Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief
Why is our century worse than any other?
Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief
it has plunged its fingers in the blackest ulcer
Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief
it has plunged its fingers in the blackest ulcer,
yet cannot bring relief ?
My life has flowed
into another channel
and I do not recognize my shores.
O, how many fine sights I have missed,
how many curtains have risen without me
and fallen too. How many of my friends
I have not met once even in my life,
how many city skylines
could have drawn tears from my eyes . . .
I who know only the city
and by touch, in my sleep, I could find it. . .
and how many poems I have not written,
whose secret chorus swirls around my head
and possibly one day
will stifle me . . .
I know the beginnings and the ends of things,
and life after the end, and something
it isn’t necessary to remember now.
Westward the sun is drooping,
and the roofs of towns are shining in its light.
Already death is chalking doors with crosses
and calling the ravens and the ravens are in flight.
Scene 3
ALYA asleep in her little bed. IRINA in the chair. VERA knocks on the door.
VERA: Marina! I've been waiting to see you!
My dear, you look exhausted!
She gives Marina a long hug.
MARINA: Verochka! Come in! I am so glad to see you. People come and bring food for Alya. I thank them, but I feel like crying because not one of them, not one, not one in all that time has patted me on the back, has stroked my hair.
VERA comes in and sits down. They chat animatedly.
 VERA: Once I came to visit. We chatted all night, and Marina recited poetry.
MARINA (reciting):
I lay on your breast!
I can’t jump off!
To jump I have to let go of your
hand.   I’ll hold
and hold you and won’t be torn away.
Like ivy I bite into you,
VERA: When it was beginning to get light, I saw an armchair heaped with rags, and a wobbly head sticking out of them. . .
like a tick; tear me out by the roots!
Like ivy! Like a tick!
Godless! Inhuman!
This is far truer
than poems . . .
Light on the chair, revealing IRINA tied in the chair.
VERA: It was Irina, the youngest daughter, of whose existence I was unaware till then. Marina put her in some orphanage, and she died there.
VERA says goodbye andleaves. SERGEY’S SISTERS and a  SOCIAL WORKER enter and start to untie IRINA..
MARINA (pointing to a low cupboard): But I have to keep her tied to a chair! Once she crawled over there and ate half a raw cabbage!
They all leave with Irina. Stage darkens in front ofa silhouette of MARINA bending over the body of the baby as CHORUS sings.