O. on Screen

by Peter Weltner

A shepherd’s sorrow, classic and bucolic.  His tune

arches like a paper bridge over a silk stream.

Seedlings growing, meadows blooming.  See

ewes bleating after lambs and cows lowing

after calves.  Watch cocks strut, bulls rut, bucks

fart–a touch of anti-pastoral always works,

though cuckoos have to sing, of course.  So: 

on a woodland set, ripe with flowers, the best

of bone and blood plays his lyre and weeps.

Next, a much gloomier scene pictures an opening

in a wood, the darkness impassable like a bleak

corridor you’ve seen in a dream one night

or another, the twisting ledge like the edges

of Highway One north of Jenner.  The specters’

choral protests clatter like a semi’s broken

muffler.  Yet O.’s voice spins gold threads braided

into sun rays, as hippies in those days would say

in praise of Baez.  Cut to an emerald meadow.

Or a wipe.  A boy with a piccolo soprano leads

him to the king and queen to whom O. sings

the dirge he’s composed, elegant, suave, and bel

canto, yes?  Even so, the girl draws back,

less ashamed than embarrassed.  Death dabs

his jowls with a sooty cloth.  It’s drably dull

down there, you see, and he and his wife are bored

with more than E. and her pointless tears.  Please,

please take her back, they beg, on one condition.

O’s only an innocent kid, sixteen or so.  How could 

he know Death’s rape has left her mute and deaf?  

In a slow tracking shot, he sings of his delight but

is puzzled by her failed response.  Of all people,

your sweetheart should most appreciate your art.

Sex has always settled their quarrels.  But when he

reaches to touch her, all that lingers in his grip

is her see-through slip.  Like a magician, he shakes

the cloak that veiled the lady he’s made vanish.

Quick montage during a ruckus of a barnyard

chorus.  But all those beasts, wild at his

departure, become fast tamed at his return.

As in that third grade pageant you acted in,

they smile and stare, and the flowers and trees lean

closer to listen to his song, sadder than any

he’s crooned before.  What do they hear?  Perhaps

what you heard, if you were lucky.  The kid’s

a terrific performer, sure to be famous some day.

A dissolve to a windswept beach, its sand a white

powder blowing like mist over the strand.

Like his eyes, the glassy sea’s less turquoise

than green.  Shot day for night, the harpies

pounce on him, orange fright wigs askew,

black lipstick smeared on feral lips, swishing

vine stalks at him like the wicked witch’s broom

or Mickey’s in that cartoon until O.’s head gushes

blood like the pretty boy’s in a slasher flick.

A last crane shot:  a vast, roiling ocean

on which bobs no more of O. than can be seen

of a man treading water to save his life,

though waves toss his dome about like a child’s

beach ball.  Yet disincarnate, mystical, he soars

sunward, still singing.  Meditative strings play                                                      

on the soundtrack.  The light that now glares 

from the imageless screen is O.’s apotheosis.

New star, new god.  A cut to black.  Credits.

The theater’s cleared.  The film begins again

in a few minutes, after a new audience’s filed in 

to see and hear O. perform on his lyre, 

watch him lose Love twice over, cringe 

at his maenadic dismemberment, thrill 

at his stunning change to heavenly song.  

Staring eagerly at the empty screen,

they wait patiently, assured O. will show

by their ticket stubs’ theological conviction.


Author bio:
Peter Weltner was born in New Jersey, was raised in North Carolina,
graduated from Hamilton College and Indiana University, and taught
modern and contemporary American, British, and Irish poetry and
fiction at San Francisco State University from 1969 to 2006. He is
the author of Beachside Entries/Specific Ghosts (1989), Identity and
Difference (1990), In a Time of Combat for the Angel (1991), The Risk
of His Music (1997), and How the Body Prays (1999). His stories have
been included in several anthologies, including O. Henry Prize Stories
1993 and 1998. A long poem, “Laguna Beach: After Shelter,” was
published in 2009 as an e-chapbook by Barnwood Poetry. “From a Lost
Faust Book,” poems, Finishing Line Press, and “News from the World at
My Birth,” poems, Standing Stone Press, are forthcoming in the fall of

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