The Heliotrope

John Myers

Cast, in order of appearance:

the Queen
Otto Tramline
the King
Dodge Caravan



Enter Homer.

Kore, innocent maiden, in language's shiver song
the sun crows a sprig out of shadows' black maw.
Wind stalks mosses, a narcissus unbelievably sweet
in soil you greet, knees in the leaves.

Kore, you invented grief
in dark-eyed Persephone.

White succulent decade of winter,
you invented time and margins
and marigold slippers and empty stems
pressing you to prayer.

Kore, I would talk something wild to the birds
and make everything you did seem vital.

Hades smells of waiting.
Flecks of sock soap the lip.
Full water pitches, proximity unsettled.

Gray wingspan. On strips on,
red pants red, tastes of split metal.


Scene I.  I miss you.

Enter Demeter.

Grief fixes me a broken little chariot of winter.
She spoons castor oil and nightmares, quiet
loses its way.
I thought I'd hear you in wind,

that if I found the right
cadence, we could talk
again. That if only I could talk with you
I'd understand in time

your disappearance–
my search.

You always wanted silence.

I refuse food,
I listen for you.
I ask your name of the river,
stemmed, braided, gray.

I hear only keen of metal overcold.
Mine, love,
or yours?

at how slow is grief.
Salt sprigs pulled from me.
You on my heart is how freefall feels,
how steep.


Scene II.  The palace of cold tile.

Enter the Queen and Persephone.

Queen.  Persephone, meet your new brother.

Enter Otto Tramline and Hinges.

Otto Tramline.  My brother
         used to sleepwalk. We had
         bunk beds.
Queen.  Tut, hon! You never had
         a brother. Persephone,
         he likes to pretend he was a twin
         but don't believe it.
Persephone.  The clouds–
         they're freezing!
Hinges.  I notice what Otto can't.
         The clouds are green and violet.
Queen.  Persephone, you'll be in the green room.
         There's a towel for you on the dresser.
Hinges.  I see slow tears
         down Persephone's lips.
Queen.  Not to mourn, sweetie.
(to Otto).  You never
         had a brother.
Otto.  Jake does exist!
Queen.  Come, Persephone.
Persephone.  Can't I be an angel.

[Exit Persephone and the Queen.

Otto.  My brother
         is a bitter fist.


Scene III.  Persephone's Notebook.

Enter Persephone, Hinges, and Otto Tramline.

Persephone.  My hood is red
         and so used
         it scars.
Otto.  Stop picking
         the scabs on your stomach.
Hinges.  The green room spiders look like letters. Like starfish,
         they regenerate.
Persephone.  It takes six weeks
         for a broken rib to heal.
Otto.  Ribs are often cracked
         during sexual assault.
Persephone.  Wear a smile in new places.
Otto.  And shoes
         for how quickly we change directions.
Persephone.  Why do I feel so vulnerable?
         I love you, Otto, in your gentle skin.
Otto.  But do you believe me
         about Jake?
Persephone (sadly).  O, Otto, no, but I wish
         I could.
Otto (Aside).  A dark stage.


Scene IV.  The rose garden.

Enter the Queen, Otto Tramline and Dodge.

Queen.  The King never wants
         to be reminded of his upbringing.
Dodge.  Say ah
         and have it come out like a letter.
Queen.  Otto, you seem
         hours away.
Dodge.  Be a penny in the mouth, Miss Bitter.
Queen.  Try,
         darling. Just tell me
         what's wrong.
Otto.  I feel leftover.

[Exit Queen.

Enter Hinges.

Otto.  Hinges, Dodge, you're my nooks and crannies.
Hinges.  I see your heart beating lame in your chest.
Dodge.  Better catch a kettle
         before it's called. Don't think, don't feel,


Scene V.  The river under sun.

Enter Persephone, Otto Tramline.

Persephone.  What do you embody?

         (Persephone draws a darling map. On it are two figures. The female figure has only ears, the male just lips and lungs.)

Otto.  Cursive dull aches.
Persephone (Shows him the map).  !
Otto.  No, Persephone. I can't
         tell you. Not yet.
Persephone.  Once upon a time
         every word was a poem
         so why not speak.
Otto.  I told you–I feel embryonic.



Scene I.  The Queen's dressing room.

Enter the Queen and Persephone.

Queen.  Put on these pearls
         the King excreted
         to gooey your neck.
Queen.  I thought not.


Scene II.  To age.

Enter Hinges, Bangs and Dodge.

Hinges.  Persephone's stopped singing.
         There hasn't been a harvest in months
         and the humans are starving.
Bangs.  No food means
         no protein. No protein
         means no sex.
Hinges.  You and your theories.
Dodge.  It's never been this cold.
Hinges.  Otto's unacknowledged addictions
         age him.

Enter Persephone.

Persephone.  I want to tell the King
         Stop raping me.

[Exit Persephone.

Hinges.  If it were last year we'd have heard gardens
Dodge.  of her crying.
         I still think we should
         deny it.
Bangs.  You would.
         But there's no denying rape.
Hinges.  It lives on as current trauma.
         And she's the only one who believes Otto
         about Jake. She must know something
         the Queen has forgotten.


Scene III.  Oneiroi.

Enter the Queen, Persephone, Hinges, Dodge, and Bangs.

Bangs.  I want to be relieved. Celebrate the senses
         if I could attach all five to a wall I would.
Hinges.  The way is scent, the way is song.
Bangs (to the tune of "O holy night").  O bagel hole. The gods
         are duty sexing. I am so sick
         of this stick it in lifestyle.
Persephone.  O, I wish Mother were here
         to comfort me.
Queen.  I'm your mother.
Persephone.  No!


Scene IV.  The grand ball.

Enter the Queen, Oneiroi, Persephone and the King.

Queen (to Persephone).  I told you my shoes would look gorgeous.
Persephone.  Where's Otto?
Queen.  He's–
Trumpets (singing).  Cerberus has three heads;
                  Otto has three minds:
                  Hinges, Bangs, and Dodge.

                  Bangs is the obsessive grope of rabid love. Hinges describes,
                  Dodge denies, denies, denies.

Oneiroi (recitative).  Persephone's silence means eternal Winter.
Persephone (to King).  Stop raping me.
King.  We had an arrangement. You
         my Queen forever.
Persephone.  No! I'm going back home.
(to the Queen)  And I'm not going to pretend
         you're my mother. I know you're
         who I become if I don't get out of here.
Queen.  Gasp.



Scene I.  The pool of memory.

Enter Otto Tramline, Minthe, and Leuce.

Otto.  I promise.
Minthe.  If you promise me lavender baths I'll come.
Leuce.  I want to come too.
Otto.  Did you think I was going to say
         he raped me too. That he abducted my youth.
Minthe.  Rub my minions. Rub my titters.
Leuce.  Rub my tittles!

Enter Persephone.

Persephone.  Where am I?
Minthe and Leuce (Diving under the bed).  Sh!
         Giggle. Sh!
Persephone.  O, Otto, have you been in here
         in your imagination this whole time?
         I've been looking for you all afternoon
         to tell you I believe you about Jake.

[Exit Persephone.

Minthe.  Otto, you slept us without any reins! You told us we were the one
         but it was all hyptonuse, wasn't it?
         Now I'm a mint! I may taste great but I certainly can't go out like this.
Leuce.  And I'm a white poplar. Or anything


Scene III.  Under the rug.

Enter Persephone, Bangs and the King.

Persephone.  If only I were a bell. Everything would be easier
         if we weren't quiet about our bloodless pairings.
         Incest is backed away from so quickly in discourse.
King.  What would I do with you. As an object.
Persephone.  I wish we weren't so inextricably linked.


Scene IV.  Court.

Enter Otto Tramline, Dodge, Oneiroi and the King.

Oneiroi.  You judge yourself for your crimes
         against Persephone, against your wife,
         and against Otto.
King.  Like lead in my bowels.
Oneiroi.  The gallery is shook and throwing
         peanuts into the air.
Dodge.  Otto didn't do anything!
Otto.  I'm addicted to fig juice
         and power.
King.  So now I pay the price?

[Exit Dodge.

         Like aging– no, like
         time in ripening fruit–
         you settle on me:

         I will become you.
         Your below the belt shimmers,
         alights arousal.

         The sky above changes
         butterfly grasshoppers
         into butterflies.

         in the same way that
         the longer I stay down here
         the more I am you.


Scene V.  One root. One sweet narcissus.

Enter Otto Tramline, Persephone and the King.

Persephone.  I was born in a balmy sea of parthenogenesis
         I was wombless: first a baptism then clear wavelets
         I was a maiden
         I was lifted liquidquick from the meadow
         I was the mirror effect of knowing what I looked like from outside

King.  I was an elephant, a triplet but the other two escaped. Now I'm down here alone
         and don't remember how to be an elephant. I tried jackal's bed but jackal kicked
         me out. I was unlucky for her foraging, she said. So I tried beaver, definitely no
         luck, owl, no, struck out all over the zoo. I forgot I was in a cage but then I
         remembered and the cage closed the underground around me.

[Exit King.

Persephone.  I saw you there in the sea. We waved and knew that we knew but didn't
         know how we knew we were destiny. We were there and swimming and you
         were strung with a pure light. You were just bright enough that I could
         recognize you coming out of a conch shell. I was shining too, my hair still
         mussed. Emulsions of hope, together darling. O Otto, how can
         we avoid our futures?

Otto.  I can only tell you what Sophrosyne told me.
         You have two options.
         One is to escape.
         The other is to stay is to wield an awful power.
         You are so good
         but I don't think you see your good yet.


Scene VI.  Interrogation.

Enter Otto Tramline, Oneiroi.

Oneiroi.  All this and nothing about your formative years.
         Are you a minnow?
Otto.  I think of myself as the stolen memory.
Oneiroi.  What did you tell them when you first got here? Hades, right? Isn't that what
         you told me earlier?
Otto.  My name's Otto.
Oneiroi.  Yes. Right. Otto. What can you tell me?
Otto.  I'm a spy from the other side. The King keeps telling me
         I'll never amount to anything
         and that music is for girls but I want to sing like Persephone.
         Her songs like stolen stars, sad
         and chipped and long. So much depends
         on perception and mine is so dull. Even though,
         her songs make me so sad.
Oneiroi.  Are you an interactive medium?
Otto.  I really do have to run. I'm meeting my, er–
Oneiroi.  But what about the pomegranates?
Otto.  Taste is the most powerful of the senses.
Oneiroi.  I thought it was smell.
Otto.  You're thinking of memory.
Oneiroi.  Yes, of course. What about spirituality?
Otto.  let it be the story of how humans were made
         from clay, homo for humus. Prometheus, Zeus,
         Persephone and Gaia were all claiming first North
         American rights.
Oneiroi.  And the result?
Otto.  The good fig.
Oneiroi.  How were you created?
Otto.  Pound the ground smooth.
Oneiroi.  And the result?
Otto.  Let me ask you something first.
         How were you created?
Oneiroi.  Unshed tears from wells of grief.
         Why do you think we're here.
Otto.  I was made of sulphured molasses
         and cinnamon and everything nice.
         I was born the coldest day of the year.
         Elves nursed me, soughed at me
         through chimey mouths. Where was Rhea
         when I was swallowed. Inside Kronos, I ate
         what he ate: Goat hearts, syllables,
         and plates and plates of liver.
Oneiroi.  The fig.

         (A large fig hovers before them, glowing green then purple as it ripens. They head toward it in a trance. It is understood it is delicious. Both bend toward it, Oneiroi's mouth decidedly smaller and wetter. They eat in smacking bites.)

Otto.  So supple.
Oneiroi.  So right.
Oneiroi.  I'd like to see you rearranged
         through this exchange:
         Take the good seeds.

         (Oneiroi regurgitates the seeds, presenting them clear and wet to Otto. Otto takes them in his palms, reverentially. Oneiroi bows, Otto follows suit.)

Otto.  How do I prevent my future?
Oneiroi (fading).  Ask the dark-eyed Queen.



Scene I.  In vinegar.

Enter Otto and the King.

Otto.  I love drinking fig juice.
King.  You'll always be a wet mess.

Enter Persephone.

Persephone.  Don't want to interrupt the love birds. We all heard you growing up,
         squeaking the lines and springs.
Otto.  Don't tell her we're in here.
Persephone.  Otto, honey, you're still here in your imagination?
King (to Persephone).  I suppose I don't have any power to keep you here.
         Unless you finally changed your mind about the sugar flour salt lard.
         Will you eat anything? Besides those seeds in red arrangement.
Persephone.  How did you know?
King.  You told Otto; you told me. I call on all the greens and purples
         of my royal lineage to keep you down.
Otto (stumbling).  Pers, quick, follow me!
         I have to ask you something.
Persephone (disgusted).  You're no help in your condition.

[Exit Persephone.

King.  I am still here. And someday I'll have to confront myself.

[Exit King.

Otto.  Otto, you pummelhorse! You want to escape
         your future, don't you? So why don't you
         tell Persephone your dreams?


Scene II.  Sophrosyne twelfth steps Otto.

Enter Sophrosyne and Otto.

At your first A.A. meeting make sure
you spill your coffee. That means you're new.
People will love you
it will be scary. Because you have a new family now.
They're really into holding hands.

Cry at your second A.A. meeting. If you don't
you'll be vetted, all their pencils saying banquet
in progress. Banquet in progress.
You will meet Denise there
she will tell you to find a boy sponsor
but you will like her. She will say
once you are a pickle
you can never go back to being a cucumber.

The people you meet in A.A.
will be trying to help
they will recommend a halfway house
and you should say yes
but you'll want to stay away from Eric and Sean
though Sean will write you love letters
and you'll think they're cute
because after you get sober
is when you'll really start
dealing with your sexuality.

Oh, and the coins they give out
aren't the same as the ones under tongues
to pay Charon. They're plastic or metal
and represent various lengths
of sobriety. Wordsworth, you'll learn,
isn't the only famous Bill W.


Scene III.  The Queen's Notebook.

Enter the Queen and Persephone.

Queen.  Persephone. You never believe me but I do love you. I may not be your real
         mother but I was as duped as you! Every time I had a child
         Purple Pearl took her away from me. I had three minutes with each
         before they were snatched and whisked to the royal hatchery.
         They let me keep Otto, but he won't talk to me.
Persephone.  What's keeping my real mother? Where is Helios?
         Hekate? Demeter? I thought she loved me!
Queen (Aside).  She's Demeter's daughter?
         Then what will become of me?
Persephone.  I hear her!


Scene IV.  In limnis.

Enter Demeter and Persephone.

Demeter.  I want to remember the exact angle of your head when you laughed.
Persephone.  My heart is burning.
Demeter.  Will I recover in your wake.
Persephone.  There will always be compassion.
Demeter.  I'm glad for that but it doesn't bring back my child.
Persephone.  No but you can hear me.
Demeter.  As though through pith.
Persephone.  Every winter I hear you–
Demeter.  But only after leaves are off the trees.
Persephone.  You never were a rustler.
Demeter.  I'm more a chorus.
Persephone.  You are the music of everything hollow–
Demeter.  And you are the music of everything young.


Scene V.  In limnis.

Enter Hermes, Demeter, Oneiroi and Persephone.

Hermes.  We scruff-wingeds
         wear round crowns of flight.
Demeter.  I look down on myself as a crop.
Persephone.  Here I am, bit
         and covered in fifths,
         skin tight against my skull.
         I have to rescue myself
         from the tired eaglet eyes of the pomegranate.
         Twinge: The seed of the end from the beginning.
Hermes.  A love song. About a lover
         I never kissed. A lover who shuddered
         like a tree postbloom.
Demeter.  I went down to the river to mourn
         but it had just rained and the sun on the rocks all soaked with praise
         startled me, and I felt a beauty beside the pain.
Persephone.  I told the King I was leaving.
         His face asked without a word, "What do you want?"
Oneiroi.  Forgiveness is making room
         for the frail flowers of yearning within.



Scene I.  The evening grew wings.

Enter Homer.

To be a song I know the way,
the way is scent, the way is song.
Generous with plurals, a narcissus
camphor in the air.
My song on wind about the winter rains,
stars enact tin voices for your shine.
Persephone, meet Demeter.


Scene II.  Love Song Auditions.

Enter the King and the Queen.

Queen.         You look like a comma
                  all curled up like that.

King.           I wish I could follow
                  you more often.

Queen.         What is that supposed to mean?

King.           You never let me in, honey bear.
                  You have a force fiel
Queen(interrupting).  You're doing that thing again
                  where you think I'm your ex
                  but I'm not! I let you in.

King.           Telling me about your childhood
                  is not what I mean.

Queen.         Okay, then–describe my force field.

King.           You're addicted to the sun,
                  to attention and you'll go anywhere, cross
                  anyone to get it.

Queen.         What is the study of light called?

King.           Don't you change the subject, Iron Queen.

Queen.         Okay–You of Many Names–you're right:
                  I do like attention.
                  I do like light–
                  so what?

King.           Light is lemon, blond
                  and scored.
                  Things plural in it.

Queen.         I'm talking wider, not deeper, like how old
                  rivers fold in on themselv–
King (interrupting).  No!
                  Stop navigating. You have all these walls
                  I can't penetrat–
Queen (interrupting).  New light, old light,

King.           red light, blue light
                  Seriously, my Queen. What
                  makes it so difficult
                  for you to connect?
                  I'm trying to reach you
Queen.         your light strapped by slats.


Scene II.  Otto's Notebook.
Otto on his lover.

Enter Otto.

Otto (sung).
"Praying," I answer my wife.
         She's at the quaffing board doing punishment.
                  Putting down the theory she was using, we turn:
         It's him:
                  A man a sneaking face and a flighty history.
Say goodnight to the wife,
                  his green eyes sing.
         Everyone in the sound of erasers erasing.


Scene III.  Love Song Auditions.

Enter Otto and Hermes.

Hermes.  There is no snarl like clover.
Otto.  God, I want to hear what you believe.
Hermes.  I speak in light. I wear crowns of wing
         and have a smear on my face. No, a shine.
Otto.  You may have plans I didn't know about. Why wouldn't you.
Hermes.  Last winter a loud cawing I thought was you.
Otto.  It was just the sun, dear.
Hermes.  We saw the lake of memory almost
         shine a stealing light.
Otto.  Heliotropism, hon: the study of light.
Hermes.  Song is the study of sight.
Otto.  Aw.
         Do you remember when Persephone got so angry
         she turned two nymphs into mint plant white poplar?
Hermes.  I don't think we'd met.
         But you told me about it.
Otto.  I keep thinking you're someone else. I thought
         you were my future, love.
Hermes.  I am, Ott. It feels like there are springs
         in my heart. Every kind.
Otto.  You always fly away.
         Up there the sun must be rising.
Hermes.  What is the study of light called.
Otto.  You with your hands over your face
Hermes.  like a child. Do you ever miss the sun.
Otto.  Cover me, sweetie. String light all over me
Hermes (rocking Otto).  like a light fever.
         All day, babe.
         All winter, my little heliotrope.


Scene IV.  Ding dong
goes the witching hour.

Enter the King, Persephone, Otto, Bands, Hijinks, and Dodge Caravan.

Otto (to Persephone).  I'm sorry I never fell in love with you.
         I'm gay.
King.  Oh, fie!
Otto (ignoring the King).  I want to marry Hermes–
         will you be my maid of honor?

         (King begins to melt. King puddles.)

Persephone.  O, Otto, of course Iíll be your maid!
         (glancing uneasily at the King).  Is he dead?

         (King groans wisps of green and purple smoke.)

Bands, Hijinks and Dodge Caravan.  We raise the flag
         to mourn the king
         with kindness and with glee.
         We three used to be
         what Otto protected himself
         with as he thought the world
         was only sleet, elms and tears.
Persephone.  The sun's come out! Look,

Enter Poseidon and Oneiroi.

Poseidon.  I'm back!
Otto.  Jake! I'm getting married!
         Will you be my best man?
Poseidon.  Absolutely.
Persephone.  Poseidon–?
Otto (cutting in).  Jake, where were you?
Poseidon (to Persephone).  Jake is Ott's nickname for me.
         (to Otto).  I don't like all this drama, so I thought I'd go
         for a nice swim until everything worked out.
Persephone.  What about the Queen?
Oneiroi.  If you become Demeter,
         the Queen is never born.
Trumpets (cheering).  Cheer!



John Myers is an MFA candidate at the University of Montana with work in elimae and forthcoming in A cappella Zoo.