Did anyone wonder why he came this far,
To this town with one exit, one stop light, one bar,
Four neon churches, one high school, one park
Full of unspoken things taking place in the dark?
He drove in from the east in a big beat-up car.
Long shaggy dark hair, smiling eyes, a guitar,
Some hooch. All the girls of the town just went wild,
Not knowing at first he was Semila’s child.
“Oh no, not in this town, unmarried,” they said,
Her dad cast her out, said for him she was dead,
Her sister pretended she didn’t exist
With her belly that proved she did more than get kissed.
Must be twenty years now since she went to the bad,
Since she cursed them and left, since she swore she was glad
To get out of this town, narrow, biased, and dumb,
Stalking off to the exit she stuck out her thumb.
Not shamefaced, Semila, she stood there with pride
With her belly thrust out, with a baby inside
A truck slowed, two drivers, she hopped in-between
And that was the last time Semila was seen.
Her boy from the east went by “Leo”. His car
Had rust-stains like ivy. He drove to the bar
And ordered a pitcher, then sat in the sun
Just strumming, as girls wandered up one by one.
Now Theo, his cousin, was quiet, uptight,
A young cop, with need to do everything right,
Never drunk in his life, never stepped on a crack,
A good boy he was, who cut nobody slack.
Their mothers were sisters, Semila and Gail,
One passionate proud, and one fluttering frail.
Their boys were like betta-fish, spoiling to fight
When they clashed in the bar there on Leo’s first night.
“Hey stranger, hey foreigner, get out of town,”
Theo said. Leo raised up a brow, sitting down,
While his cousin was standing in threatening pose
And Leo smiled lazily: “Do you suppose,
You might drink with me?” Leo asked, “Cousin of mine?
Drinking and dancing is nearly divine,
Let go, dance a little, and drink from my cup
And I’ll leave you in peace here to let you grow up.”
“I’m too young to drink beer. And I don’t know your face?”
“I’m the son of Semila. You’d say her disgrace?”
“Did you card him?” called Theo. “He’s not twenty-one!”
And he took a step back, with his hand on his gun.
Leo spread out his hands with placatory smile
And walked out of the bar, and the girls all the while
Were cooing and flirting and whispering “Oh!”
While Theo gave warnings they watched Leo go.
He camped in a barn on the edge of the park
Distant hum of the highway, a dog’s lonely bark
And the sound of his music that wove through the dusk
Like sandalwood, ambergris, jasmine and musk.
Strong perfume hung over the town the next day
A whiff of exotic that called folk to play,
Alluring and tempting, the sound of his notes,
Drifting in on the wind, like a warmth in their throats.
Not a woman in town could resist him, most men
Went out once or twice, drank with Leo, and then
He’d let them alone, only Theo refrained,
But the girls day and night danced his dance unrestrained.
Singing and dancing and drinking all hours
And chasing all over with kissing and flowers
Free love and free music, and hooch up for sale,
“No, not in this town!” Theo threw him in jail.
Leo stood at the window and sang through the bars
Wove the world in his song, from the hum of the cars
And light-tripping feet, from his mother’s old shame
When the town cast her out and attributed blame
Through the long afternoon, as the memory of scorn
Built the whisper of wind through the ripening corn
Dust devils rose spiralling, dancing along,
And the weight of the sun built the power of his song.
Every female in town then, from puberty on,
Ran off to the park, every woman was gone
Teenagers to grannies, run wild on the hill
And they couldn’t be caught and they wouldn’t stay still.
The high school half empty, the churches bereft
Whole town half-deserted, no woman was left,
And no one could stop them, and no one would dare,
Till Theo found out his own mother was there.
His mother was gone, so he marched to the jail:
“Make them stop, I demand it! My poor mother, Gail!”
And Leo smiled slyly and said “Would you see
What wild women look like, when once they get free?
This town tossed out my mother without half a thought.
You wouldn’t drink with me, afraid to get caught,
Daren’t dance the wild dances, intoxicate, oh
No never in this town, I know you won’t go.”
“Don’t call me a coward,” said Theo. “My mother
Needs rescuing now — be a cousin, a brother.”
“You need my help now? Well such aid has a cost,”
“I’ll pay it,” said Theo, and thus he was lost.
“It’s hard to get near them, so dress as a girl.
Let me make up your face, prink your hair with a curl.
They won’t suspect, cousin, drink this and advance,
And you’re sure to catch sight of the girls in their dance.”
“I must find my mother.” “But what about mine?”
“Your mother, Semila? Is she here? That’s fine.”
“Take my keys, you should drive, coz,” is all Leo said.
Theo drove along Main Street, blazed straight through the red.
Then the drink in his veins and the madness took hold,
Filled with fear for his mom, and the things he’d been told,
And Leo directing: “Turn left here. Now stop.
Get out of the car. Dance, don’t look like a cop.”
Theo danced as he went, and they tore him apart,
His own mother’s fingernails ripped out his heart
And she woke to discover her deed, poor sad Gail.
In the end it’s a punishment quite out of scale.
Don’t bring on disaster refusing to bend
When people screw up try to act like a friend
Let humans be human and choose their own fate,
Accept the small madness to ward off the great.
13th March 2016
(This is of course a version of Euripides “The Bacchae”.)