Darkness. Light rises dimly to reveal three women, draped
in anonymous clothes. Shadows crouching among leaning
if stars are lit
it means there is someone who needs it.
It means that someone wants them to be.
VOICE 1 Listen
VOICE 2 if a man is on fire
VOICE 3 it’s because he has need of flame
it’s because the city is rotten with tears
VOICE 2 and the night is sick with murder
Screen slowly rises, revealing MAYAKOVSKY, centre stage,
in an oversized yellow shirt, a big black cravat and
a top hat.
VOICE 1 The tears of a slave are a black mirror
The poet burns with his greedy love
In the vermin streets in the starving eyes
He meets himself like a blazing gift
His furious blood is a red banner
He shakes his soul from his drunken skin
The poet dreams of fire
And then the flames devour him
The set is revealed as an artist’s studio, with vibrant
images by Malevich, Mayakovsky, Goncharova, Rodchenko,
etc. On a small stage there are performers dressed in
Futurist costumes: absurd hats, blue eyebrows, frock coats,
birds or tears painted on their cheeks.
MAYAKOVSKY (Reading from a sheet of paper.)
Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome
to the time machine! Here we summon the future!
We rip the joy from years to come! Tonight we
present for your delectation, illumination and
education … The Tragedy of Me! Vladimir
Mayakovsky! A story of wrath and death,
love and despair, revolution and betrayal –
MAYAKOVSKY crumples the paper, amid laughter from the others.
This is the future? Who wrote this shit?
Where is the author?
Peers into auditorium as spotlight hunts through the audience.
Come, don’t be modest … He’s down there somewhere …
THE AUTHOR scrambles on stage, out of breath, giving MAYAKOVSKY
a filthy look. He wears an ill-fitting suit, just this side of clownish.
His shoes might be too large.
MAYAKOVSKY Just as I expected. Cockroaches survive
everything, even the Revolution! You
wrote it, you sing it.
Performers laugh. MAYAKOVSKY throws the crumpled sheet
at THE AUTHOR, who smooths it out and looks uncertainly
out at the audience.
AUTHOR (Sings) Ladies and gentlemen
Come to the show
A great poet
Will dance before you
Mayakovsky is the symbol of innovation!
He gave us the poetry of socialist realism
armed with Marxist-Leninist ideology
to transform the culture of society!
MAYAKOVSKY Enough with these lies! You make me want to be sick!
AUTHOR You called me here!
MAYAKOVSKY This play is about me. I’m more than
this pathetic shadowman, this murderous
ghost that creeps in my footsteps. I’m
taking it back.
AUTHOR Arrogant clown!
MAYAKOVSKY attacks THE AUTHOR, who slapstick tumbles
and retreats shaking his fist. The others hoot and clap.
AUTHOR I’ll be back!
MAYAKOVKSY Well, that got rid of him.
MAYAKOVSKY turns to the orchestra and silences them.
A new theme.
MAYAKOVSKY Now for the real story.
First, there is love.
Spotlight on LILI.
MAYAKOVSKY I thought the world was bigger than a bucket
I rhymed potatoes with feathers and lightning
The new meanings blazed like life in a new colour
I rhymed everything with everything
In America I was a genius
That was even better than being famous
I stood on Brooklyn Bridge like a stupid artist
I watched the shivering jobless drown
Meyerhold admired my Mexican carpets
He invented whole sciences to stage my words
Laughter was our consolation and our weapon
So we rhymed bureaucrat with numbskull
In France I bought a car and a tin of soap
I fell in love and chivvied my longing home
What’s left behind when you stand on life’s furthest rim?
A scrapbook adding up to nothing
I scrubbed so hard but bedbugs kept on biting
Critics and officials with their insect jaws
There were not enough bath houses not enough soap
My soul itched until it was red meat
I saw the world was smaller than an orange
I rhymed my body with love and found coffins
The old meanings jumped up like death in a new suit
And then everything rhymed with nothing
Commissioned by Victorian Opera, to be staged in 2013, with score by Michael Smetanin.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
Subscribe | Renew | Donate November 9–16 to support progressive literary culture for another year – and for the chance to win magnificent prizes!