Prayer for a Bad Performance
Make it quick. Please.
Let’s skip the intermission tonight.
Shorten this performance
if only by a single, dropped line.
Let something unexpected happpen.
Enter a character
to remind me of someone I slept with,
someone I loved too briefly,
someone for whom I’m still longing,
someone I still look for
in minor characters,
the way I, myself, have been
a minor character
in the lives of those I loved too briefly.
Forgive me for the performances I’ve made.
Forgive me my intermissions.
—as I should forgive this performance.
Teach me to see effort in the work of others
rather than flaws.
Remind me of all the things
there are to study and enjoy in this room:
the miracle of audience,
the many kinds of laughter,
the several sexes,
the smells we try to sweep beneath the rugs
of our deodorants and perfumes,
the shock of touching a stranger
in the seat next to me
even if only with an elbow,
the warmth of the human body,
the untamable imagination
(and its fractal patterns of consciousness
which, even as they spiral out from my mind,
are a part of this performance,
doing as much to alter the rhythm of the evening
as any missed cue or smooth recovery),
the way silence charges a room,
the time travel and telepathy of literature,
how someone can have a thought
hundreds of years ago
or miles away from here
and by a series of magical symbols (like these)
communicate that thought with others
across the miles and years.
If nothing else, help me use this evening
as a way of training my heart.
I remember R. once telling me
how, in fulfilling her lifelong dream
of going to the opera in Rome,
she was amazed the audience
had dressed itself so crisply
and carried themselves
like an aesthetic military in procession
down the aisles to their assigned seats
as if they each had been cast for a role
in the performance.
When the orchestra began
the audience leaned forward en masse
to meet the music partway.
When the tenor first lifted his chin
and opened his mouth so wide
you would think he wanted to give the gods
direct access to the heart in his chest,
then the audience, too, opened their mouths
What shocked R. was, after intermission,
the house remained packed;
the entire audience returned
to continue booing
Why not get in their Lamborghinis
and go home? Was it their commission
to stay and blot out the entire mistake
of this tenor’s performance?
Or was it simply the joy of standing together
and refusing to surrender the field
until the battle had been won?
Teach me to see effort in the work of others rather than flaws.
Help me learn to generate pleasure from any fuel.
Make my mind more powerful than the art
of my enemies.
Protect me from that most ignorant notion
that I would like my own work.
Just as every word in a language has a use,
help me see every performance
as part of a great vocabulary of experience.
Sharpen my instinct in believing
it’s a little bit stupid to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’
any portion of my existence.
‘Like’ and ‘dislike’ are words without depth,
a paper thin wall, advertising
to each of us that we are on the sophisticated side
of things. When everything else seems arbitrary
you can always rely on your own prejudice.
But poke a hole, take a peek and you’ll see
the world goes on in all directions,
wrapping around itself until
thumbs up and thumbs down
don’t tell you anything.
I want to see Rome for myself.
I want to travel back in time
and see every opera’s opening night
—no idea which ones we’ll come to like or dislike
—just listen to all those corpses singing
—no idea how dead they are in my lifetime
—no idea how dead I’ll get to be myself
—listen, he’s crying
—lo morrò ma lieto in core.
I’ve wasted a lot of my life preferring this or that.
It seems no coincidence
that ghosts and disappointed audiences
say the same thing to us: boo.
Death, too, is in this room,
right now, in these performers.
They are using their lives
to share something.
Teach me to be the perfect audience
to this moment of my life.