Small Poet Warnings


—for Tennessee Williams & William Inge

(based on “Small Craft Warnings”)

INGE. A poet, my dear?

WILLIAMS. I used to be … Miss?

INGE. William. Inge. And he’s?


INGE. Bosie, welcome, honey, to the party. Here in our lovely little Santa Monica bar, love. Please have a seat. [Resting a hand on the boy's stiff cock] You’re obviously high-society British royalty, my dear. With your tuxedo and your Aristocratic ways.

BILL. [leering from bar] Ask him if he’s got change for a three-dollar bill.

WILLIAMS. Yes, dear, you’ve got his number. He dumped poor Oscar a long time ago.

INGE. Ignore these old sugar-daddies, that’s what I say. I never did think they treated that old Queen very decently. And what witty plays she staged. 

BILL. Now you’ve got her started. Nothing like one old drama queen dishing another…

WILLIAMS. Serve us a bourbon bartender … I never leave a bar without having a bourbon or two. And Bosie—she’ll have a martini please.

MONK: Sorry, we only have canned beer here in this Monica Beach dive, I mean bar.

INGE. Oh, honey. It’s so nice to have a fellow poet and playwright lighting up this dump, don’t pay any attention to the peasants. They’re all failed poets who didn’t make it big time. 

WILLIAMS. Well, my dear, you don’t exactly look like NYTimes Top Ten Best Seller List material either, sweetheart.

BOSIE. Why do they always have to be such bitch queens?

INGE. Well, I’ve never been so tackily insulted, Miss Whatever Your Name Is. I’ll have you know that I was once featured as a premier poet in THE PENGUIN BOOK OF PUKEY POETRY!!!

WILLIAMS. Pardon me, my dear, while I puke…

INGE. Not only that but in my day I was a much sought-after Broadway and Hollywood playwright… And wheeler-dealer. I only go for straight trade. But this boy BOSIE … look at him! Who would ever guess he was gay? … What a prissy faggy fop, my dear.

[BOSIE reacts with unpleasant surprise when he responds to INGE’S hand on his knee squeezing it and working its way up toward the boy’s crotch]

BOSIE. I don’t dig the word “gay”. To me words mean nothing, those kinda words. Except it’s just another crummy way of saying “faggot.”

INGE. Aw, you’ve got plenty of time to learn the meanings of gay words and cynical attitudes. Why you’ve got eyes like my cute kid brother’s! Have you paid him, Miss Williams?

WILLIAMS. For disappointment?

INGE. Don’t be such a mean-minded mother-fucker. Give him a twenty, a C-note. If you picked up what you don’t want, it’s your mistake not his. You should pay for it, drearie-dearie.

BOSIE. I don’t want money from him. I thought he was nice, at first. I sort of liked him. But then I got to know him better. Yuk!!!

INGE. Your mistake, too, sweetheart. [She turns to WILLIAMS] Gimme your wallet.

[WILLIAMS hands her his wallet]

BOSIE. He’s disappointed. I don’t want anything from him.

INGE. Don’t be a fool. Fools aren’t respected, you fool. [She removes a bill from the wallet and stuffs it in the pocket of Bobby's shirt. Bobby starts to return it] Okay, I’ll hold it for you till he cuts out of here to make another pickup and remind me to give it back to you when he goes. He wants to pay you, it’s part of his sad routine. It’s like doing penance … honey.

BILL. [loudly] Monk, where’s the head?

MONK. None of that here, Bill.

WILLIAMS. [with a twist of smile toward Bill] Pity.

INGE. [turning to WILLIAMS] Do you like being alone except for innocent pickups? The kind you go for? If I understood you correctly? … Christ, you have terrible eyes, the expression in them! What are you looking at?

WILLIAMS. The fish over the bar …

INGE. You’re changing the subject.

WILLIAMS. No, I’m not, not a bit … Now suppose some night I woke up and I found that fantastic fish … what is it?

INGE. Sailfish. What about it?

WILLIAMS. Suppose I woke up some midnight and found that peculiar thing swimming around in my bedroom? There on Santa Monica beach?

INGE. In a fish bowl? Aquarium?

WILLIAMS. No, not in a bowl or aquarium: free, unconfined.

INGE. Impossible.

WILLIAMS. Granted. It’s impossible. But suppose it occurred just the same, as so many impossible things do occur just the same. Suppose I woke up and discovered it there, swimming round and round in the darkness over my bed, with a faint phosphorescent glow in its big goggle-eyes and its gorgeously iridescent fins and tail making a swishing sound as it circles around and about and around and about right over my head in my bed.

INGE. Hah!

WILLIAMS. Now suppose this admittedly preposterous thing did occur. What do you think I would say?

INGE. To the fish?

WILLIAMS. To myself and the fish.

INGE. … I’ll be gang-banged in a confession both if I can imagine what a person would say in a situation like that.

WILLIAMS. I’ll tell you what I would say, I would say, “Oh, well …”

INGE. … Just “Oh, well”?

WILLIAMS. “Oh, well!” is all I would say before I went back to sleep.

INGE. What I would say is: “Get the hell out of here, you goggle-eyed monstrosity of a mother-fucker,” that’s what I’d say to it.

MONK. Inge, let’s lighten it up.

WILLIAMS. You don’t see the point of my story?

INGE. Nope.

WILLIAMS. [to Bosie] Do you see the point of my story? [Bosie shakes his head] Well, maybe I don’t either.

INGE. Then why’d you tell it?

WILLIAMS. What is the thing that you mustn’t lose in this world before you’re ready to leave it? The one thing you mustn’t lose ever?

INGE. … Love?

[WILLIAMS laughs]

BOBBY. Interest?

WILLIAMS. That’s closer, much closer. Yes, that’s almost it. The word that I had in mind is surprise, though. The capacity for being surprised. I’ve lost the capacity for being surprised, so completely lost it, that if I woke up in my bedroom late some night and saw that fantastic fish swimming right over my head I wouldn’t be really surprised.

INGE. You mean you’d think you were dreaming?

WILLIAMS. Oh, no. Wide awake. But not really surprised. [The special spotlight concentrates on him. The bar dims, but an eerie glow should remain on the sailfish over the bar] 

There’s a coarseness, a deadening coarseness, in the experience of most homosexuals. The experiences are quick, and hard, and brutal, and the pattern of them is particularly unchanging. Their act of love is like the jabbing of a hypodermic needle to which they’re addicted but which is more and more empty of real interest and surprise. This lack of variation and surprise in their … “love life” … 

[WILLIAMS smiles harshly] … spreads into other areas of … “gay sensibility” … Yes, once, quite a long while ago, I was often startled by the sense of being alive, of being myself, living! Present on earth, in the flesh, yes, for some completely mysterious reason, a single, separate, intensely conscious being, myself: LIVING!!!

 … Whenever I would feel this … feeling, this … shock of … what? … self-realization? … I would be stunned, I would be thunderstruck by it. And by the existence of everything that exists, I’d be lightning-struck with astonishment … it would do more than astound me, it would give me a feeling of panic, this sudden sense of … 

I suppose it was like an epileptic seizure, except that I didn’t fall to the ground in convulsions; no, I’d be more apt to try to lose myself in a crowd on a street until the seizure was finished … They were dangerous seizures. One time I drove into the mountains and smashed the car into a tree, and I’m not sure if I meant to do that, or … 

In a forest, you’ll sometimes see a giant tree, several hundred years old, that’s scarred, that’s blazed by lightning, and the wound is almost obscured by the obstinately still living and growing bark. I wonder if such a tree has learned the same lesson that I have, not to feel astonishment any more but just go on, continue for two or three hundred years more? … 

This boy I picked up tonight, the kid from Jolly Old England, still has the capacity for being surprised by what he sees, hears and feels in this kingdom of earth. All the way to Santa Monica to my place by the beach, he kept saying, I can’t believe it, I’m here, I’ve come to the Pacific, the world’s greatest ocean! 

… as if nobody, Magellan or Balboa or even the Indians had ever seen it before him, yes, like he’d discovered this ocean, the largest on earth, and so now, because he’d found it himself, it existed, now, for the first time, never before … And this excitement of his reminded me of my having lost the ability to say: “My God!” instead of just: “Oh, well.” 

I’ve asked all the questions, shouted them at deaf heaven, till I was hoarse in the voice box and blue in the face, and gotten no answer, not the whisper of one, nothing at all, you see, but the sun coming up each morning and going down that night, and the galaxies of the night sky trooping onstage like drag queens, a whole chorus line of flaming drag queens: one, two, three, kick, one, two, three, kick … 

Repeat any question too often and what do you get, what’s given? … A big carved rock by a desert, a … monumental symbol of worn-out passion and bewilderment in you, a stupid stone paralyzed sphinx that knows no answers that you don’t but comes on like the oracle of all time, waiting on her belly to give out some outcries of universal wisdom, and if she woke up some midnight at the edge of the desert and saw that fantastic fish swimming over her head 

Y’know what she’d say, too? She’d say: “Oh, well” … and go back to sleep for another five thousand years. [WILLIAMS shrugs, yawns; and the bar lights go up again. The bar of small poets is silent.

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