David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
ESTHER

  

for Shawna Carboni

 

and for Irmgard Zagel

 

 

  

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE ONE ((((( Susa, the capitol of ancient Persia, 476 BC

 

 

The Queen's chamber, a late evening in spring.

 

 

ESTHER ((((( Queen of Persia, a dark beauty in regal dress, 23

 

NAIGRA ((((( lady in waiting, a Negress, plain but voluptuous

 

 

As with all scenes, the setting is indicated wholly by a few spare items of furniture, here an Ottoman, four chairs, and a vanity.  All enter and exit through curtains, stage left and right. As the scene opens, Naigra is brushing Esther's hair.

 

 

Another day has shuddered            (( NAIGRA

Past,

Dear Esther, Queen of Persia.

STILL no summons from the King.

 

Another day,                                   (( ESTHER

    

(talking to her reflection in the vanity)

 

Another indictment.

 

In truth, the child comes on            (( NAIGRA

Apace.

The little intruder.

 

My disgrace.                                   (( ESTHER

 

And yet your joy.                            (( NAIGRA

 

Not mine, my Naigra.                     (( ESTHER

Not the King's.

 

Come now, I see your face.            (( NAIGRA

In seven months

You'll be a mother.

 

DEAD mother.  Don't be coy.        (( ESTHER

 

You should go to him.                    (( NAIGRA

 

Ahasuerus?  Risk his wrath?          (( ESTHER

 

What choice is there?                     (( NAIGRA

Bring him to bed or that man's known

And certain cuckold

By a stranger.

 

Hardly a stranger.  Second             (( ESTHER

In command.

And where is the greater danger?

In all of Susa

No one entertains such retribution

As were to journey to the King unbidden.

Thus far my treachery is hidden.

 

And when your belly's ripe            (( NAIGRA

With Haman's seed?

 

I'll find a way to hide the deed.      (( ESTHER

 

Come.                                              (( NAIGRA

'Tis obvious truth when wench is plowed,

No less the Queen.

When belly's big

Then SOMEONE'S proud.

'Tis some mean fiction that you'd

Settle on this court.

 

He'll call me yet.                            (( ESTHER

 

The time is short.                           (( NAIGRA

 

Naigra, to think                              (( ESTHER

That old spotted goat

Would wield a scepter

Over twenty million hectares

Of green earth,

And arbitrate the fortunes

Of a million million souls,

And dictate what is death

And what is birth,

That at his whim ride thousands

Into ruin and decay

Each day he breathes,

And hundreds into fortune and renown,

That even under this silk gown

My sex is ruled

Upon his arbitrary bent,

His to have bartered, lent,

To any knight in Susa on a sudden disposition,

And even then dispense the cruelest

Judgment he deems fit,

For lapse of wit

Or mildest error, wield terror

By his failing sight,

Condemn to night,

Or raise to light,

Simply by a twitch of humors,

Subservient at last

To innuendo, rumors,

A cruel remark from some foul eunuch in his keep,

No more to service woman 'neath

The latter's tunic

But a hint of gossip

Or a stink of pride.

Some call this Ahasuerus God.

'Tis odd.

His focus is the world's, a nub

Of wrinkled flesh

That seldom stiffens

But in sleep.

All that, my lot to be his consort,

Keep a soft sullen watch

Over the temperature of lust

That waxes some ODD hour of the night

Or wanes for months, a mystery

Of phases in the moon

I don't presume to fathom or ignore.

I'm one part wife and nine parts whore.

 

An early mistress                           (( NAIGRA

Fared no better.

'Tis said he had his Vashti put to death.

 

'Tis rumored thus.                         (( ESTHER

 

And what then you, or one of        (( NAIGRA

Us?

 

Naigra,                                           (( ESTHER

I am the woman who replaced her.

All she dared was violate his summons.

Merry with wine, he called

Her to the court, and, indisposed,

She took herself to bed.

His Memucan advised him to remove

Her from the throne,

And though they say he loved her

Did disown

All ties of marital regard,

Dispensed hard

Judgment to unseat her from her large estate

To penury, at last

To banishment, and then . . .

 

Death.                                             (( NAIGRA

 

This much is certain.                      (( ESTHER

No man has ever lived to see her SMILE.

 

And yet it was YOUR fortune.       (( NAIGRA

 

To be chosen . . . over thousands.   (( ESTHER

Anointed some six months with oil of myrrh,

Six months with spices, lotions for the skin.

Summoned by Hegai to the court

And an old man's delectation.

Some thought me favored

Simply by my beauty,

Some my pride.

In truth, 'twas chance alone

That raised a concubine to queen.

That year I earned a diadem,

And barely seventeen.

 

Six years                                         (( NAIGRA

An old man's chill caress.

No wonder you love Haman.

 

SMALL wonder.  There were        (( ESTHER

Moments,

Believe me, even an ass could capture my affections.

I'd coupled with a snake,

Planted kisses on a lizard

Were he young and smooth of limb,

Spread thighs for dogs

And insects,

Just to keep my thought

From eating at the banquet

He'd provided in the flesh,

If flesh it were indeed,

That mottled old leper.

Haman's no angel, but he's read the book.

Faith knows he's fed this belly

More than simply look.

I love that noble knight far more than lust.

And'd copulate with fire before I'd let

Him come to dust.

    

(begins to sob)

 

Here, Esther, darling,                     (( NAIGRA

Take this tissue.

 

Yield SOUL to fire before his       (( ESTHER

Issue.

 

Then gird your soul and brave       (( NAIGRA

A king's caprice.

    

(then aside softly and to the audience)

 

But yield your LIFE, it's my disease.

Nothing would please me better could I phrase a fact.

Proud Haman loves your lady

Though her skin be black.

 

 

                                              CURTAIN

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE TWO ((((( the Queen's chamber, moments later

 

 

ESTHER

 

HAMAN ((((( second in command to Ahasuerus, a handsome man in the prime of life

 

NAIGRA

 

 

I hate                                             (( HAMAN

    

(entering from stage right in a state of agitation)

 

To venture on your privacy

This evening

When toadies dare to urge me quit your presence.

   

 (crossing his arms and abruptly taking his seat on the Ottoman)

 

'Tis the same sullen Jew

Who baits my  rage.

 

A Jew?                                          (( ESTHER

 

The bastard goes by                      (( HAMAN

Mordecai

And thinks to slander my estate,

More blood in my Medean second toe

Than in his whole Jew hide.

I hate the race.

 

But surely you're mistaken.          (( ESTHER

He tried to block your way?

 

Made verbal innuendo of the        (( HAMAN

Vilest sort,

That I might hanker

For your flesh.

Fresh ape, I'd have his throat

With my own fingers

Were it not to sully my own skin.

 

Haman, sweet knight,                   (( ESTHER

Be not distressed

By an old man in his dotage.

I'm sure he meant no harm.

 

I'd burn the utter tribe                  (( HAMAN

To rankest ash

And drink the grease.

There is a nasty obsession about them

That would tease our just estate

By some unfounded arrogance of blood.

'Tis said they cannot touch our person

Lest they cleanse their very skin

And make repentance

That same night to some foul prophet

With a load of cant.

I've heard the thief is Moses,

Yet hesitate to mention that dark growth.

'Tis prayer for Jew,

For humankind 'tis oath.

    

(Esther sits at his side to take his hand; Naigra turns away at this to face an exit)

 

Come now, mighty Haman,         (( ESTHER

This spite's beneath you.

'Tis an old man, no more.

 

Seven months have passed             (( HAMAN

Since Ahasuerus elevated me

To second in command,

His will explicit in the matter,

That all this city

Should endure my slightest whim,

That Persia and Medea, all our reach

Should tremble at my step,

As if I were his son,

That islands in the deep declare all tribute

To an Agagite,

Haman, son of Hammedatha,

Revere his noble mien,

Invest his form with pregnancy

Of utterance,

Obeisance to his glance and gesture.

Small wonder insult festers

In the person

Of this Jew, who from the first

Refused to doff his hat,

Or chastely incline his grizzled head,

Or even mutter some soft token

Of regard when greatness

Passed him in the street.

This Mordecai needs humbled.

To think he'd raise

His glance above my feet,

Or dare, mind you, to QUESTION my proper

Role here in your house.

The man were mad

I'd slap him into stocks until it lessened.

He's sane as this broad hand

You're pressing, spiteful with the arrogance of blood.

His blood's

A leak of abscess

Like his God.

    

(Esther starts at this, withdraws her hand)

 

His God?                                        (( ESTHER

 

Like his faith                                  (( HAMAN

And all it settles on,

A vomitus of spirit.

 

Sweet Haman, don't speak such.   (( ESTHER

It is beneath you.

Your anger I can trace with some regard . . .

But this?

Our infant—can it be?

Just twitched at your remark.

He is ashamed.

 

You'll have me soft?                     (( HAMAN

I won't be tamed.

 

Then have some moderation         (( ESTHER

In your speeches

That would slander

That weak soul's support.

All Gods endure

The misconceptions of a race

And answer prayer if framed in good intent.

'Tis not the letter of a faith

That brings contempt

But falsity of purpose.

Even the God of brave Medea

Understands what litanies purchase,

Be Hindu, Greek, or wide EXTREME of faith

As this old Jew.

All prayer comes truly from the heart

When uttered in the sanctity

Of tears.

I can't tell what's come over you.

Your voice is older than your years

And bitter with disdain

For weaknesses more human

Than the weakness they incite.

This anger is unseemly,

And your son takes fright.

 

Mind me well.                              (( HAMAN

I'll not be moved to love a Jew.

 

Then love your Esther                  (( ESTHER

As her heart loves you.

 

None of this speaks to the            (( HAMAN

Issue.

 

The issue is your child.                (( ESTHER

He'd venerate his father.

 

Come.  Enough of voices             (( HAMAN

Yet to speak in this fierce world.

You'd have him frame a prayer

Before he walks.

WE'LL off to walk the garden.

Naigra, guard an empty chamber.

Your mistress can be forgiven

For an empty HEAD, much more a wilting heart,

For that's small danger.

Esther, my hand.

Forgive my wrath.

    

(they exit, hands clasped)

 

Look how love departs.               (( NAIGRA

In truth 'tis but a half of that emotion,

And all that's Esther's.

Greed festers in his heart who covets

All her leverage on the throne.

Hateful to see him lavish

Such sweet grip

On that chill drone.

He loves his Naigra more.

Ten sons by Zeresh bled that lawful wife to dust.

Such was the official bond,

That lately bleeds again,

And there the whore,

More to the purpose coupled to a senile king.

That geriatric lord

Is more than she can master on a silken sheet.

He'd get it up in vain for such a priss

To boast about her heat.

All agony to watch my Haman take and eat.

All agony to sense it buried to the hilt.

If that wench shudders then she's wrenched by GUILT.

Naigra will taste his juice

And spit it out.

Our worship's total, and the prayer's devout.

But wait,

He'll call me to his bed before

He's cleansed her meager

Leak from off his sword.  Ambition tires

When flesh is bored.

All truth to fact!

The lie's her lust.  She HATES the act.

 

 

                                             CURTAIN

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE THREE ((((( Queen Esther's chamber, the next afternoon

 

 

ESTHER

 

MORDECAI ((((( a minor official in the kingdom, Esther's natural uncle and adopted father, an old bearded man with a limp

 

NAIGRA

 

A SERVING WOMAN

 

 

As the scene opens, Esther is at the vanity, Naigra standing in attendance.

 

 

Queen Esther,                                  (( THE SERVING WOMAN

 

                                                      (entering stage right)                     

 

Pardon my intrusion,

But 'tis Mordecai, the Jew.

He wishes to be admitted to your presence.

 

The man presumes                          (( NAIGRA

Upon himself and us.

Girl, have him off.

 

Yours                                              (( ESTHER

   

 (haughtily; she stands)

 

Is the greater presumption.

No, show him in.

    

(the woman departs; Mordecai enters)

 

Naigra, be kind enough to take      

Some moments in the garden.

This man and I would talk.

 

Just as you wish.                            (( NAIGRA

    

(she exits and returns)

 

Mistress, I am summoned to a friend.

Some distant relative that's ailing.

It slipped my mind just now,

But shortly I've been summoned.

If you might grant permission?

The visit won't take long.

 

God speed and forgive my             (( ESTHER

Tongue.

I love you dearly.

    

(they kiss; Naigra exits; Mordecai makes to stand)

 

One moment, uncle.

See that she departs.

    

(he crosses to the exit, looks out, returns to embrace the Queen)

 

My daughter.                                  (( MORDECAI

My fairest queen.

    

Dear uncle and my father,              (( ESTHER

Adopted father though you be,

You see this life,

Our perjury,

The riches I must bear,

Ill fit a Jew.

But entering this house is rash.

It seems you bear ill TIDINGS

Or would not presume

To air our bond to heathen view.

I cover you as an old friend,

And not my blood.

 

That much is good.                       (( MORDECAI

   

 (takes the Ottoman)

 

Here, by my side.

    

(she sits)

 

The story I'll proclaim would try your womanhood,

For is evil past all mortal reckoning.

That pompous Haman wills to have us dead.

    

(she is on her feet to whirl and face her father)

 

Dead?  Us?                                   (( ESTHER

 

A worthy Jew directly.                 (( MORDECAI

He is your Mordecai.

Thus far the threat to you is general,

A state-wide pogrom of the people.

 

The people?  But why?  Why       (( ESTHER

You?

 

Some slight imagined insult         (( MORDECAI

Has inflamed him.

He would proclaim my guilt

To such degree

A 50 cubit gallows is completed

By his villa

Where I'm due to hang.

The time is not determined

But can't last

Beyond the coming morning.

As for the race, some 10,000 silver

Talents has he offered

Ahasuerus to assure us death.

The order

Is drawn and sealed with the King's

Own signet,

Shortly proclaimed throughout the land.

They cast the pur,

And it gave Adar for the month,

The thirteenth day afforded for the slaughter.

 

He'd have our people?                 (( ESTHER

 

All men, women, children.          (( MORDECAI

Think not that you'll be spared,

My daughter.

 

But this is foul, perverse.            (( ESTHER

Just yesterday he left my side.

 

It brews for months.                    (( MORDECAI

That one old fool refused to doff his hat

Or even dared presume

To ask his business in your house—

Just for that, for real

Or some imagined slight

We perish.

He's willed to scorch the earth

And litter paradise

With our foul blood,

As he would deem it,

Sweeter than his own

Though he be born Medean,

Lately second to the King.

This total Susa wrings its hands, bewails,

Tears hair

And smears itself with dung.

There is sackcloth in the streets.

    

(Esther takes a chair, looks down at her hands)

 

But why entrust                               (( ESTHER

This tale to me, my father?

 

'Tis obvious.                                   (( MORDECAI

The King is captive to your charms

And has no inkling of your past.

We'll fast and pray this day for your success.

You'll urge him quell this mission.

 

Under penalty of death.                  (( ESTHER

Uncle, I can't approach this man unbidden.

Lest he spare me with his scepter,

I am doomed.

No man, least woman, enters

The inner gate without a pass,

Without a summons.

What would it serve our cause should Esther perish?

 

Act now, for quick's too late.         (( MORDECAI

It seems to me you cherish your estate.

 

My life sir.  Upon that LIFE,          (( ESTHER

No more.

 

And royal privilege?                       (( MORDECAI

 

'Tis dust to me.                               (( ESTHER

It catches in my throat, I swear it.

 

My regal daughter,                         (( MORDECAI

You are a QUEEN.

 

An empress                                     (( ESTHER

Who'd rather be a whore.

Don't bait me thus.

I simply fear the wrath of Ahasuerus.

He'd thrust me into Hades

With his son.

 

Son?                                                (( MORDECAI

 

Son, daughter, I carry it two           (( ESTHER

Months.

    

(Mordecai stands, embraces her)

 

Then this life IS a curse.                 (( MORDECAI

The day he knows you Jew

His very progeny will burn.

 

He needn't learn.                            (( ESTHER

 

I put my nation over daughters.     (( MORDECAI

You'll intercede on our behalf

Or offer up the secret

By these very lips, your father's.

 

You can't mean that.                      (( ESTHER

 

It would be hard, most hard,          (( MORDECAI

A terrible thing.

And yet I could not spare a daughter

Whose foul reluctance damns a race.

And you?

 

Father, we're in this together.        (( ESTHER

    

(strain in her voice)

 

Why then I take my leave.             (( MORDECAI

God speed.

 

And pray and fast for me.             (( ESTHER

It is a fierceness.

 

No less for me than you.               (( MORDECAI

I bid adieu.

 

Goodbye, my father.  Perhaps      (( ESTHER

Forever.

    

(they embrace; Mordecai exits)

 

So QUICK to SPEAK,

As if to trap his love?

This thing needs thought, and thought in earnest.

    

(sits, stands, sits)

 

What irony that I am caught in this event.

I'd risk my life

To save dear Haman to the same extent

As this, if proven ripe,

Would well condemn him.

To ask to spare my people, if effecting,

Spares my child.

'Tis some wild and untamed mercy.

The father sought its very life

Unknowing, much more

The very loins from which it springs.

I fear an old man's breath

And dotage but must trust it in the end.

This whore would save her people

From her closest friend.

And save the friend in turn

By SOME event.

And capture an old man's heart to the same extent.

 

 

                                             CURTAIN

 

 

ACT ONE SCENE FOUR ((((( Haman's villa, the same afternoon

 

 

NAIGRA

 

HAMAN

 

 

Here are three lesser chairs and one large ornate chair facing.  There is a cot.  Haman is seated as Naigra enters, breathless, stage right.

 

 

You summoned me, my Lord?    (( NAIGRA

    

(Haman stands and motions toward the cot)

 

To dalliance.                                (( HAMAN

Come join me here.

 

With pleasure.                              (( NAIGRA

But first I have a message.

 

A tediousness of a sort.                (( HAMAN

That all Jews sweat?

     

(Naigra comes closer to embrace him and stand back)

 

I think we're BOTH aware of        (( NAIGRA

That.

 

That Esther's growing fat?             (( HAMAN

'Tis no mystery.

She grows apace with child.

What has my Naigra, meek and mild,

That she'd unburden from her lips?

 

Simply that Mordecai and Esther  (( NAIGRA

Are in conference.

 

THIS grips.                                    (( HAMAN

But 'tis fabrication all too wide.

You jest.

 

I speak in earnest.                          (( NAIGRA

 

It speaks collusion.                        (( HAMAN

We've often augured things between them,

Nonetheless.

The way he skulks about her door at all odd hours.

You'd have me think he brought

Her flowers

Or a diadem.

And what says Esther to that phlegm?

 

Master,                                           (( NAIGRA

You called me off on threat of death.

 

'Twas but a joke.                            (( HAMAN

 

I did not linger at their side            (( NAIGRA

To laugh.

I heard nothing.

 

Nothing to report?                          (( HAMAN

 

Nothing, in short.                           (( NAIGRA

But that they wage some business.

 

Business?                                       (( HAMAN

 

'Tis but a guess.                             (( NAIGRA

But now, my Lord, to other things.

    

(indicates the cot)

 

This confidence has quelled my    (( HAMAN

Lust.

You yourself must hasten

To your Esther . . .

With some false report perhaps,

A means to pry her heart

For darker secret.

And fare you well with this I'll pry your thighs,

At truer bent and leisure.

 

Master,                                           (( NAIGRA

I'd have some other treasure.

 

And what is that?                            (( HAMAN

 

'Tis not the first occasion               (( NAIGRA

Aired the matter.

Your Ahasuerus bartered Vashti for another's arms.

You'd have my EAGER charms

Why then replace your Zeresh

With a proper wench.

I tire of coupling on a bench

    

(indicating the cot)

 

And seek your aging mistress's bed.

 

This tires me.                                (( HAMAN

    

(irritation in his voice)

 

As I have said . . .

 

I'm 31 and cannot WAIT             (( NAIGRA

Till she is dead.

Have I no passage to your heart?

I rule your LOINS.

 

And Esther?  What has she?         (( HAMAN

 

A leverage of a sort.                      (( NAIGRA

 

She bears my child.                       (( HAMAN

Her Ahasuerus can't ignore his age,

Prolonged each day

That passes on this earth.  And soon I'm King.

Why then I'll marry Esther

And legitimize my heir.

 

Why then this Naigra                    (( NAIGRA

Hasn't got a prayer.

 

TWO wives I'll have.                   (( HAMAN

 

The law's explicit on that             (( NAIGRA

Matter.

A thousand concubines and yet

One lawful wife.

 

I'll change the law.                       (( HAMAN

 

Two wives.  And who be the        (( NAIGRA

First?

 

Why . . . Esther.                            (( HAMAN

 

Not on my life.                              (( NAIGRA

 

Come now, wench,                        (( HAMAN

Have you no judgment in the matter?

Your skin is black.

 

Black.  I see.                                  (( NAIGRA

And what if she be Jew?

 

Jew?  Jew?                                     (( HAMAN

Come now, 'tis serious implication.

 

I'll have some proof soon              (( NAIGRA

Of that fact.

 

Come now.                                     (( HAMAN

'Tis but the wildest supposition.

 

Impending fact.                              (( NAIGRA

I know it in my soul.

 

Your greed is such                         (( HAMAN

Your soul's to sell.

She bears my child.

 

And Zeresh bore ten sons.             (( NAIGRA

What need have you for mongrel?

 

'Tis hateful, this speech.                (( HAMAN

Come.

 

And if I furnish proof?                   (( NAIGRA

 

The proof be without blemish,       (( HAMAN

                                                              Certain

As this hand I lay upon your face,

Why then you're Queen.

 

Truth is not always pretty, Lord.   (( NAIGRA

When truth is fact

The fact is oft obscene.

 

Esther a Jewess?                            (( HAMAN

To think I offered talents that would make her burn.

 

Bitter enough,                                (( NAIGRA

My Lord,

I heard it in the streets.

 

Return now there and hasten         (( HAMAN

To your mistress.

Hence to your Haman

With this awful cognizance and proof.

A plot's afoot.

I'll stay to pray you harbor some mistake.

Medean Gods, I'll shake

For some sweet fruit

Than that proud Haman sired a Jew.

Come, wench.  Off.

I'm caught in thought.

    

 

She makes to kiss him but misses his lips; she departs; Haman takes his chair, stands abruptly, strides to the exit, turns back.

 

 

What miscreance

Would lurk in this event?

She wills my bride a Jew.

And yet . . . and yet . . . would promise

Me certainty, some fearful proof

Of Esther's tainted birth.

    

(sits again, stands, sits, stands)

 

And what of Mordecai?

'Tis certain some foul bond foments between them.

Perhaps, and this is bitter thought,

Long standing.

I'd rake the sky for that official

And his like,

Pluck them from the lower rungs of Persia's vast estate

 And into fire,

There to burn forever with their wayward oaths.

They pray each day

To some obscenity and covet regal blood.

But Esther?

That dark fierce beauty Jew?

Her name's not Jew.

'Tis quite above suspicion.

And though her origin is humble has no stink

Of Jew about it.

Could dazzling beauty spring from some foul beast?

What was the rancor of her father?

What the grace?

Would seed such broad mutation in the womb

Of Jew?

She is alive, and fairer than my mother.

'Tis mystery I can't plumb

With all my wisdom who has studied Jew, a paradox

That stares unblinking at my soul

Till I might stab the very pupils.

This day makes little sense.

'Tis fabrication of the widest sort.  Immense . . .

And yet . . . And yet . . .

If truth is fact, my Esther shall regret.

 

 

                                               CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE ONE ((((( the Royal Palace, that evening

 

 

AHASUERUS ((((( the King, a senile old man

 

HEGAI ((((( his eunuch, fat, balding, effeminate

 

ESTHER

 

NAIGRA

 

THREE GUARDS

 

 

The setting is conveyed by a large gilt chair and table on a raised platform, five lesser chairs facing.  The guards stand stage rear at attention.  All enter and exit through a curtain stage right, where a shelf supports several large scrolls.  As the scene opens, Ahasuerus is seated on the gilt chair, gesturing with a golden scepter.

 

 

Ten thousand concubines                    (( AHASUERUS

Would spread legs

For this lean

Lord

And milk his manhood, that much over,

Simply at a twitch

Of this gold scepter—and yet, and yet,

Even a lawful wife I hesitate

To summon with the same gold rod to sire an heir.

The hour hastens toward some

Mockery.

I have no son

At this late age, perhaps forever.

Mighty Ahasuerus, scourge of bold Medea,

Proudest Persia,

Monarch of the full known earth, the galaxies

That whirl, the void itself

That trembles at his step,

Reduced to this,

A nub of flesh

Most flaccid and demure,

This bit of meat

That dangles barely fit to service even wren

For worm, or starling,

Titmouse, coot,

This piping

Little inconsequent supper

And its spurt—some tidy drip of phlegm

And scarcely that, more droplet,

Putrid atom.

'Tis wayward—this—that out of royal loins

Cowers but intransigence,

And all the slits of hell could not suffice to get

It up . . . but here comes Hegai.

    

(who enters stage right with scrolls and potions)

 

Exalted King, some remedies             (( HEGAI

From Egypt.

    

(kneels, stands, sets them on the table)

 

Less EXULTED than exalted.            (( AHASUERUS

My mood is scarcely over slime.

The underbelly of a fish.

I prove deep fens and scuttle for a pearl,

And you bring potions.

 

This flask                                                (( HEGAI

    

(handing him a bottle)

 

Is pearl indeed.

Crushed pearl, with sapphire leavened

And a witch's sediment

From some secret passage unknown to mortal wench.

'Tis a condiment of high regard.

    

(Ahasuerus lifts another)

 

And this?                                                (( AHASUERUS

 

Genitalia of aardvark with a dose          (( HEGAI

Of niter.

This too minced quite properly

And blessed by three rabbis and a saint.

The latter was razed

From his own temple in the night

Sans gown, hymn, miter.

You might say he prayed himself to death,

But left this potion.

    

(Ahasuerus holds up another)

 

What insolence is THIS,                        (( AHASUERUS

A devil's leavings?

 

My contacts left the latter                       (( HEGAI

To imagination.

'Tis solid diamond from,

And ground by such, admixed with virgin's menses

And a touch of spit

From aging Ramses or his brother—

'Tis not certain.

Fully recommended nonetheless.

It added inches to the prince of Marladuk

In just five turnings of the sun.

He served some hundred wenches

The very night the fullest growth appended

With no attrition

Consequent or tended.

Fierce was his appetite

And fierce the ladies he upended.

 

I'll try all three and try the                     (( AHASUERUS

Balance.

But these scrolls . . .

'Tis the manual I requested?

Come, Hegai, you sniveling wretch,

My glass.

   

 (Hegai reaches him an eyeglass from his robe and spreads a scroll)

 

Some WONDER THAT . . . 'tis lad or lass?

 

Methinks 'tis part of each.                     (( HEGAI

 

'Tis hard to see                                       (( AHASUERUS

How such parts reach.

 

Look further.                                          (( HEGAI

 

By faith, there's three.                           (( AHASUERUS

'Tis most instructive.

And this?

'Tis four.  Or five?  But strange configuration.

Where can such appetite

As this derive?

 

It stirs you?                                           (( HEGAI

 

More to merriment than sex.                (( AHASUERUS

I'm but one man,

And he'd have six.

Where are the couples in this script?

 

Read on.                                               (( HEGAI

 

'Tis most peculiar                                (( AHASUERUS

    

(trembling)

 

How she's gripped.

This pleases me.  And this.  And this.

To think some

Trifle with a kiss.

To think that man would STOOP to plough.

I'll have the lot and have it now.

'Tis one grand obscenity, THIS mating.

And such a tongue THIS lass to reach that far.

'Tis more than paradise SHE'S baiting.

I'll have the lot.

By faith,

He's turned her inside out.

Such prayer's devout.

SHE stooped to worship, then SHE

Ate him.

    

(Esther enters stage right on Naigra's arm; a guard slams a staff against the floor)

 

What impudence is this?                      (( AHASUERUS

    

(peers through his eyeglass at the trembling women)

 

What lust?

'Tis known perdition to betray my trust.

    

(stands and sways about with his scepter)

 

Hegai, 'tis two wenches in the royal chamber.

Here, eunuch,

I'll have them hanged.

 

Pity,                                                      (( ESTHER

    

(she is faint on Naigra's arm)

 

Great master, we knew full well the danger.

 

That voice?  It is the Queen.                (( AHASUERUS

It seems she faints.

What wench supports her there?

 

Pity, dear Lord, 'tis but my                 (( ESTHER

Naigra.

I languish on her arm.

Only her love for me would quell her fear

To visit her soul upon your majesty

Unsummoned by my side,

Unsummoned, ten, nay twenty years.

 

'Tis some ripe wench.                          (( HEGAI

    

(aside; and then to Ahasuerus)

 

Come sir, they mean no harm.

Favor them with your scepter.

Her majesty is dazzling in her terror.

'Tis but imprudence.

By faith, she melts.

And . . . quivers.

See the deep cleavage at her throat, the swell,

Her trembling charms?

 

Come, Esther, I am moved.                  (( AHASUERUS

    

(descends from the platform, leads her to a chair)

 

Here, the scepter laid upon your neck.

What will it take an old man to regret?

Your fright will reap a third

Of my estate.

If fear is summoned then forgiveness's great.

Half of my kingdom

Will I lavish on your limbs

For one sweet word.

Just name your need, my need's your sword.

Come, be mercy

On an aged king.

I'll grant you all the Eastern portion.  The West?

Forgive an old man's folly

And be straight with your request.

 

Dear sweet Ahasuerus, mind me           (( ESTHER

Well.

If I have found favor

Then your soul's to sell.

Not half a kingdom would I cherish from your heart.

'Tis simply a nation, and their death is hard.

The half I seek is whole,

The better half of pity,

For all the Jews that languish in this city.

For all the Jews that languish in this land.

For Mordecai, bent to the gallows

By your Haman's hand.  He'd slaughter ALL.

The order's framed and scattered to the ends

Of earth.

Revoke the letter and the fierce intent.

Upon my birth,

I'll pay you back in coinage of the same extent.

 

And Haman ordered that?                     (( AHASUERUS

 

Haman.                                                  (( ESTHER

 

I'll mince the very scepter                     (( AHASUERUS

Of the wretch who urged this pain.

You say 'tis Haman

Turned my brain?

    

(she nods assent)

 

Why then I'll dice him with a thousand swords

And leak his juice to Hades

As a just reward.

 

Great King, you spare a nation,             (( ESTHER

SPARE your soul.

Let no blood drain from kindness

If the deed be whole.

Offer your wrath to Esther

As a gift to her estate.

Serve mercy to her people.

Serve mercy, even Haman,

'Tis a noble trait.

 

I'd have his Zeresh and his ten             (( AHASUERUS

Sons burn.

What offers Esther in return?

 

Some melting of the spirit                    (( ESTHER

And a willingness to learn.

 

Hegai,                                                   (( AHASUERUS

Instruct these ladies in the realm of lust.

I'll have an heir.

All else is dust.

 

 

                                                      CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE TWO ((((( Esther's chamber, the same afternoon

 

 

ESTHER

 

NAIGRA

 

 

Again, four chairs, an Ottoman, a vanity.  As the scene opens, Esther is sitting with Naigra on the Ottoman.

 

 

'Tis a foulness,                                     (( ESTHER

This Hegai has described,

These rank perversities

Culled from Egyptian tribe.

I am his wife and no fierce slut

From off the streets

Of some Gomorrah.

He wills to damn us

By the rites of Sodom

With such dark gruesome caresses

As would motivate a stone to fornicate,

Even that mottled elder,

Ahasuerus, with his spotted flanks,

More fit for coffin

Than a proper bed and queen.

'Tis obvious truth he'd have me damned, obscene.

 

Small price to pay to serve                  (( NAIGRA

A nation,

If I may assess it.

He'll have you whore, why then

Caress it.

'Tis but a momentary lapse

In an old man's mind and wisdom.

He'll opt for general pleasures

Sanctioned by the laws

The moment that you've kissed him

With your grace and lips.

No need a tongue to trace his hips.

 

Or milk his udder?                               (( ESTHER

The thought of it . . . I shudder.

    

(Naigra crosses to the vanity, lifts a scroll)

 

What moves me more                          (( NAIGRA

Is this solicitation for a PEOPLE

Most call rank.

Your name is Babylonian.

I thank the King's thesaurus

For the derivation.

In younger years, a scholar,

He compiled it for the Nation.

A weighty Persian designation, Esther,

Hails from Ishtar,

As this scroll insists,

All blood sanctified and holy, of the PROPER

Rank.  Your mother had no mother

For a Jewess, mother

In turn to thank

For civil heritage.

It puzzles me by no mean spirit

Or indictment of a race.

I simply assay your NATURAL charms, your grace.

 

Naigra,                                                 (( ESTHER

That beast would have me banquet

On his leavings!

 

And a lady's                                           (( NAIGRA

Why then, for your Haman's son and NOT a hated

 Tribe.

Whence comes this love for Jew?

For Mordecai, whom Haman'd have in Hades.

You've heard his diatribe.

'Tis to the point if oft embellished.

He'd have them burn and have it relished.

 

Naigra,                                                   (( ESTHER

    

(breaking into tears)

 

That Mordecai is my own blood.

 

'Tis odd . . .                                           (( NAIGRA

 

My very blood.                                      (( ESTHER

My father's brother, if you would,

And since ten years, adopted father,

On my father's death.

And raised me in the faith and breadth

Of faith and customs simply Jew.

'Tis fearful secret I've entrusted unto you.

 

But Esther dear,                                     (( NAIGRA

    

(embracing her mistress)

 

'Tis but the answer to our prayer.

Haman must forthwith share

This long-held secret.  Let me hasten there.

Some proof you're daughter to a noble race,

He'll soften all his fierce intent

And argue your case to Ahasuerus.

Be certain, mistress.

Had Haman guessed this Mordecai your father

And your blood, 'tis hell itself

He'd braved to spare your tribe, your God,

Your customs, even your very scent.

And yet . . . your very name . . . 'tis . . .

 

Naigra, the name was lent.                    (( ESTHER

Borrowed.

From a book.

My learned uncle was as cunning

As his years had made him wise.

And knew no king would gaze upon the eyes

Of Jewess.  Fashioned me

With a humble past, but pure to Ahasuerus.

I knew it couldn't last.

See here this locket . . . here, open

The silver hasp—'tis Hadassah

Inscribed, my rightful name,

Full Hebrew in the designation,

Daughter of Moses and the Jewish nation.

Here, that likeness—'tis Esther,

Don't you think?

Hadassah at seventeen.

Three months later I was Queen.

 

Dear Hadassah,                                     (( NAIGRA

This marries soul to bliss.

Your Haman will urge your case

Before the King.

He loves you dearly and would risk anything,

All wrath upon his head, risk death itself,

Perdition, hot flames of Ahasuerus,

Risk gallows, rack, risk crucifixion,

Simply to put aside this fiction

That you're Gentile stock,

And base your purity on truth—

NO base advances

From a mottled kingship,

Evince honor and respect,

All wealth and rightful womanhood, proper, refined,

Secure in deepest reverence,

Divine solicitude.

Even that leper, Hegai, will relent,

And purchase

Your master's blessing.

I'll hasten there at once.

 

To Hegai?                                            (( ESTHER

He thirsts for my own ruin.

 

To Haman,                                           (( NAIGRA

A proper man who loves you.

    

(kissing Esther, taking the locket)

 

That knight would raze a kingdom to ensure your life.

And when your Ahasuerus dies,

Why then you'll be his wife.

And mother to his son, full prince from Persia

To the gates of Hell.

Those ten by Zeresh he'll disown

And raise your progeny to fullest pomp and majesty,

To barter, sell, this writhing earth.

Your child be daughter,

Why then princess and of noble birth.

 

But what asks Naigra?                         (( ESTHER

 

Simply to suckle Jew on my black      (( NAIGRA

Breast.

I'll suckle legions

From your loins and nurse the rest.

    

(exits stage right)

 

It seems she truly IS a friend.              (( ESTHER

How strange is life!

We face the future but endure the end.

 

 

                                                    CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE THREE ((((( the Palace, that night

 

 

AHASUERUS

 

HEGAI

 

THREE GUARDS

 

 

As the scene opens, Ahasuerus is seated on his chair.

 

 

Bring                                                    (( AHASUERUS

    

(to Hegai)

 

Me a cushion for these loins.

That part's on fire.

 

With lust?                                             (( HEGAI

 

With these foul potions.                       (( AHASUERUS

I drank the lot at 3 past noon.

By 4 my bowels were splitting.

I've shat myself

Into deepest misery.

My hole's on fire.

Some potion YOU'VE served up.

I'll likely die before the need relents.

 

Dear Lord,                                              (( HEGAI

I did not urge you drink the lot,

And all at once.

'Twas some fearful imprudence.

These are most powerful, each in its own scope,

And trusted only sparingly.

You erred to drink them like a goose.

 

Hence, scoundrel.                                   (( AHASUERUS

A cushion to pad my parts.

I cannot bear this seat.

    

(a guard laughs and stiffens solemnly)

 

What bastardy is this

That even a royal guard would lapse

From studious state

And dare

To snicker at a king's misfortune?

Off, foul eunuch.

Bear me a cushion hither on your life.

For lapse like yours

I'd have a thousand scourged.

What impudence as this to have me purged?

    

(gesturing wildly with his scepter)

 

Hence and back.

I fear another run of the attack.

    

(Hegai races for the exit)

 

To think that all the wisdom of a witch in Egypt

Would descend

Upon my bowels.

I sought relief from impotence.

    

(gestures toward the guards)

 

Look at the smirks upon those jowls!

God, this Hegai is a parcel

With his raw suggestions.

Perhaps he bears me spite.

I thought to sleep with Esther and to sleep the night.

    

(Hegai returns with a very feminine cushion)

 

Foul dog, you scoured nothing better?

Such dainty'd serve sequestered loins,

The swells of some fine maiden aunt,

A dowager,

A priss.

Have you no better seat than this?

 

'Tis most soft, Lord, and appropriate.   (( HEGAI

Here, I'll slip it under.

 

You heard me not by 5?                  (( AHASUERUS

The sound was rankest thunder.

Careful with that.

Be most discrete.

The world should shake when monarch

Takes his seat.

    

(again seated)

 

I've had the very devil of a run, by faith,

A torrent.

Three chamber pots were full before it passed.

Ah, but this is better.

'Tis pity that a donkey leads an ass.

 

Accept my deepest apology,                  (( HEGAI

Great sire.

I meant no harm.

All is moderation in this world, even in potions.

 

'Tis you that set my soul afire             (( AHASUERUS

With random notions.

And now my very rim.

Come, to the business here at hand.

Refresh my mind . . . the Jew . . .

 

Mordecai.  'Tis him.                            (( HEGAI

 

Haman would have him hanged          (( AHASUERUS

This very night.

And Esther . . . she argues that he live?

Refresh an old man's wits.

The memory's taken flight.

Much aid your loathsome remedies.

Speak, sir, and to the purpose.

 

Just yesterday you signed                    (( HEGAI

The sentence

On a million Jews

From Karesh on the Western straits

To Moladah on the Eastern portion.

All men, women, children.

'Tis set for Adar, and steadfast proclaimed

Throughout the kingdom,

Mordecai to perish by Haman's very hand

On a 50 cubit gallows

He's erected for the purpose.

'Tis briefly said but the substance.

I swear it on my life.

 

What dotage                                         (( AHASUERUS

Ordered up this rank confusion?

 

Begging your pardon, sir,                    (( HEGAI

The orders bear your signet.

 

And Mordecai.  This Jew.                    (( AHASUERUS

How does he figure in the large design?

He can't have ordered his own death.

Speak straight.

Don't hold your breath.

 

'Tis Haman pure and simple asked     (( HEGAI

For it,

And you agreed.

Ten thousand silver talents would he pay

For the event,

And you declined.

Said you'd hang the Jew as a simple favor.

 

But this is madness.                            (( AHASUERUS

Ten thousand talents for the coffer,

And I turned it down?

 

You were hell bent for it.                    (( HEGAI

 

Hell bent?                                            (( AHASUERUS

 

I guess you liked the flavor.                (( HEGAI

 

And Mordecai?                                    (( AHASUERUS

What has the wretch enacted

To deserve this end?

 

Done nothing.                                      (( HEGAI

In fact, he is your friend.

 

Friend?                                                 (( AHASUERUS

 

Savior.  'Tis in the Chronicles.              (( HEGAI

You had it writ yourself.

 

Then have them here.                            (( AHASUERUS

 

They're on that shelf.                            (( HEGAI

 

I'll study this.  Over to the table.          (( AHASUERUS

My memory has failed,

But wit is able.

 

Here, in this scroll.                                (( HEGAI

 

My glass.  There.                                   (( AHASUERUS

    

(studies the great scroll held in Hegai's hands)

 

Ah yes.  'Twas three years past.

A Jew in my command . . . here it is,

Mordecai by name,

Did foil a plot by eunuchs, Bigthan, Teresh,

And their train to sacrifice a king.

Tortured, they confessed . . . what's this?

Put to death.

What are you eating, potions?

I smell them on your breath.

    

(pushes back the scroll and stands)

 

My God, 'tis fire to gather up to my full length.

Summon this Haman

To ME, don't take the night.

I'll have an explanation

Or his hide at my own hands.

Pander no more to potions

And a king's demands.

This dotage nearly killed a million souls.

When memory's lost

Then greed's at the controls.

I trusted that Medean with affairs of State.

He'd serve me roasted children on a silver plate,

And hang my savior

From a 50 cubit cross,

And strut at large and crow about my loss.

Serve papers to the wretch who thwarts a king.

My wit remains,

And that's the thing.

Scour this world out for Mordecai,

If fled the whole night through.

He's bound for power though the man's a Jew.

 

 

                                                      CURTAIN

 

 

ACT TWO SCENE FOUR ((((( Haman's villa, the same night

 

 

HAMAN

 

NAIGRA

 

 

Haman is seated on the cot as Naigra enters, breathless, stage right.

 

 

I've gone through hell to reach             (( NAIGRA

You.

There is turmoil in the streets.

Some thousand Jew folk, their belongings,

Ass, dog, pig,

Wives and children, flee the city.

'Tis uproar fit to raise a curse on Haman's name.

    

(Haman stands)

 

The curse is theirs.                               (( HAMAN

There is no spot of land on this green earth

That can hide them.

Well they might curse MY name.

'Tis music to my ears,

That croaking.

I could well nigh have my death of it

Before I'd turn

In this grim matter,

Grim for Jew perhaps but gay for me.

I'm none the sadder.

 

'Tis not yet certain, proud Haman.      (( NAIGRA

I hasten just this moment

From the Queen and bear a secret.

 

Come now.  Secret?                             (( HAMAN

There are no secrets between us.

 

Why then, secret will out.                    (( NAIGRA

'Tis grave indeed.

 

Proceed.                                                (( HAMAN

    

(Nairgra takes a seat on the cot, again stands)

 

Just hours back your Esther hatched     (( NAIGRA

A plot upon your life

And braved assembly with the King.

 

Unsummoned?                                       (( HAMAN

 

'Tis fearful, her imprudence,                 (( NAIGRA

And yet she forced me with her on the errand.

She steadied nerve

And valor on my arm

Straightway to the old man's clutches

And emerged the victor.

 

'TIS curious victory that.                       (( HAMAN

He spared her life?

 

As I stand here.  We were not                (( NAIGRA

Harmed.

 

And toward what end?                           (( HAMAN

 

Yours.  The very end of you.                 (( NAIGRA

 

Come now, wench.  You jest.                (( HAMAN

 

This serpent dared to slither                   (( NAIGRA

In an old man's brain

And turn his soul against you.

He'll have these Jews that scurry

In the night all pardoned, all,

At her insistence,

Mordecai advanced unto the Royal legions

To infect his very household,

And Haman's life perched on a steep abyss

This very hour

Should he not hasten to the King.

 

'Tis wild                                              (( HAMAN

    

(shaken)

 

And fearful tale, this story.

I hesitate to look it in the face.

 

Eye this.                                                 (( NAIGRA

'Tis comely visage for a rat.  Eye this.

    

(hands him the locket; he opens it, fingers trembling)

 

Why, 'tis Esther.                                    (( HAMAN

Somewhat younger in the likeness

But the same bright queen.

 

More rat than queen.                              (( NAIGRA

More lizard.

There is a shifty serpent in the glance.

 

Seems innocence to me.                         (( HAMAN

A soft clear look—

Small wonder Ahasuerus

Raised her up.

This pup would kindle saints to lust.

Prevail upon my trust.

What secret hides in a simple locket?

 

Regard the name.                                   (( NAIGRA

'Tis fine but plain enough.

    

(Haman holds the locket to the light, then flings it from him)

 

A Hebrew oath.  It pierces me.              (( HAMAN

 

And well it should.  Hadassah.              (( NAIGRA

Hadassah.  Like splinters

Though your heart be wood.

She dances this dark hour on your soul.

 

I asked for proof.  This burns.               (( HAMAN

 

Haman, you must act.                            (( NAIGRA

This very night she plots upon your sons as well.

She'd have them quartered

Like dumb beasts

And have their entrails flung to hell.

 

My heart is cut.                                      (( HAMAN

    

(pacing back and forth in agitation)

 

See how my voice shakes?

I'd have my calm.

This wench

   

 (gesturing toward the locket)

 

She takes.

I'll have her THRUST in fire, her eyes, her cut,

Her lips,

To scorch forever.

Claw as she might at Satan's face,

She'll merely scar her fingertips.

Oh, fearful slut she be,

I'll wreak such vengeance

That the very earth will groan

To leak it out.

Stars tumble into the pit of night

To sear her cursed name

Upon all vileness, there forever.

I'll have her eaten by the dogs of hell,

And take to slumber by her oaths

And conjure a paradise upon her yell—

For mercy, mind you.

She will plead for Haman to be soft.

I'll crank the engines

That would mince her limbs

And send the juice aloft to stain the skies.

She'll whimper for some pardon.

I'll baste the gash between her thighs

With devil's broth and phlegm.

This Mordecai will wither at her corpse

And have it banished from his view.

I'll wrap it in

A leper's rag

Befitting such rank hag

And have it wafted back to him.

 

'Tis fine rhetoric, my Haman.              (( NAIGRA

Better to have deeds speak.

 

My pretty slave,                                   (( HAMAN

You'll be my princess.

This whole world over,

We shall rut,

Nine thousand quivers every corner

Of the deep, what's more, beyond.

I shall garner ripe fruits

From your sweet treasure.

   

 (then aside)

 

I owe this wench my life!

 

And what of Zeresh . . . lawful            (( NAIGRA

Wife?

 

Out with that bag of bones to walk      (( HAMAN

The streets.

 

Or your ten sons?                                 (( NAIGRA

 

I'll have ten hundred                            (( HAMAN

From your loins,

Then change the sheets.

But we must off.

The hour closes down.

You'll witness to the King

The treachery of sight.

That Esther can be Jew and Naigra white!

 

             

                                     CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE ONE ((((( the Palace, that night

 

 

AHASUERUS

 

HEGAI

 

HAMAN

 

NAIGRA

 

THREE GUARDS

 

 

Ahasuerus is seated on the great gilt chair, Hegai in attendance.

 

 

This torrent has abated,                        (( AHASUERUS

And my hole's at ease,

Mild Hegai.

You may have this dainty.

    

(hands Hegai the cushion)

 

Should some fair wench

Have need to pad her parts,

Why, give it to her

With the admonition

That it serviced royal loins to great addition

And comes with commendation

From a king.

 

Nay, sire.                                                (( HEGAI

That would level you, even to a slut.

 

'Tis a fine and serviceable cushion.       (( AHASUERUS

I'll not malign it.

I am returned to a semblance of normalcy,

Ahasuerus in his dotage,

The usual rut.

Come.  Aid my memory.

Was it not Haman we served papers

On the seventh hour?

 

Not served.                                             (( HEGAI

But had sent in haste to do so.

And now await the answer,

For 'tis barely ten.

There is chaos in the streets.

Small progress is afforded in such surge

Of Jew upon the roads,

All bearing Jew's possessions,

Ass, wife, whore.  Your reputation wanes.

They say the LATTER pissed upon your door.

 

Peed, sir.  Be not profane.                     (( AHASUERUS

 

Pissed, peed—'tis the same deed.         (( HEGAI

But meant as metaphor, not fact.

I speak of ignominy

And not the act.

 

'Tis not MY insult.                                (( AHASUERUS

I would prey upon no rightful

Citizen of Susa,

Much less his harlot.

'Tis Haman laid this curse upon us.

This wench . . . where has she fled?

I'll have her flogged.

Lifting a leg like some mean dog!

 

Sire, you confuse the matter.                 (( HEGAI

'Tis time you took some sleep

And reassessed the thrust of these events

By light of morning.

I doubt we'll summon Mordecai

This night and much less Haman.

The latter likely conjures

That you damn him.

    

(reaching the King a bottle from his robe)

 

Mind you well THIS potion.

It brings FURTHER slumber to a stone

And quells vibrations

In the heart of all mute matter,

Bethel itself where

Jacob dreamed of finding himself a ladder.

SUCH dreams you'll have,

Of angels winging up and down,

Proclaiming your descendents some great brood

                                                               As broad

As all the specks of dust

Upon the earth.

You'll wake as if refreshed from birth.

 

My memory may be faulty,                   (( AHASUERUS

But my rim recalls

Some foul damnation in these potions.

What need have I for angels in my head?

I've scarcely serviced five in seven years.

Such are the bliss of buck

In prime of life.

They'd have ME dead.

 

The birds I speak of are a play            (( HEGAI

Of slumber on the mind

And no distraction.

They lull the soul.

You'd call for interaction.

'Tis again a case of literal bent,

In face of metaphor.

You scour earth for quibble

At a poet's fancy—

Perhaps I'll rhyme it

To give force to the effect:

'Tis sleeping potion, and one wakes erect.

 

Or has the very devil of a run             (( AHASUERUS

The whole night through.

Feed it to Haman's dog or whore of Jew.

     

(waving his scepter)

 

Hence, off with WITCH'S piss and seed the toilet.

I'm locked in some intensity

Of thought.

 

 

Haman and Naigra enter stage right; a guard slams his staff against the floor; Ahasuerus fumbles for his eyeglass.

 

 

Great sire,                                           (( HAMAN

    

(masking agitation; he kneels, stands)

 

I enter on an errand.

This wench has laid foul secret on my door.

    

(Ahasuerus regards Naigra with the glass)

 

More fair than foul.  Yet dark.            (( AHASUERUS

You fare quite well.

Some Hebrew lass has pissed on mine apace

This night.

I'd have her scourged, but wench has taken flight.

Bring this one closer.

There is something in the stance familiar.

Eyes brood upon such flesh.

Ah, 'tis one ripe maiden.

Comfort an old king's heart

To bask in such black radiance.

'Tis wench indeed, this lushness!  Come hither,

My beauty.

    

(she settles at his feet)

 

Now, unto the onerous burden of a king.

I have but two questions

For my Haman.

Thou shalt reply—declaim or sing,

Makes little matter.

Just honesty itself.

I'll have the truth before I've had HER.

 

I bend upon your will.                         (( HAMAN

 

Then, if you will, what honors            (( AHASUERUS

Should be dispensed

Upon such soul as king

Would will to raise above all mortals?

 

He means                                            (( HAMAN

    

(aside)

 

To have me blessed!

The door is parted, and I enter through the portal.

    

(then to Ahasuerus with great flourish)

 

Have the man robed in royal garb

The King has worn,

Full suited to a man of noble birth.

Address his loins with golden saddle

On the greatest steed

Throughout this earth and have him

Led by the King's own hand

Through city, land,

Proclaiming that man's worth—

Such is the honor should it match the DEED.

 

Deed?  What deed?                                (( AHASUERUS

 

Whatever merited                                  (( HAMAN

Such grand promotion.

 

I see . . .                                                  (( AHASUERUS

Why then we proceed to the second question . . .

    

(gesturing with the scepter)

 

And if we honor such soul thus,

What retribution

Is reserved for the wretch who plotted.

That man's DEATH?

 

'Tis obvious                                           (( HAMAN

    

(trembling, aside)

 

Mordecai he frames with this.

If truth is mouthed, why then I'll kiss.

    

(then to Ahasuerus, haughtily)

 

Why hang the foul beast on a 50 cubit cross!

 

Why then                                               (( AHASUERUS

    

(shouting)

 

You're hanged, and none's the loss!

    

(Haman is dragged screaming from the room)

 

 

                                                      CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE TWO ((((( the Palace, moments later

 

 

NAIGRA

 

AHASUERUS

 

HEGAI

 

A GUARD

 

 

As the scene opens, only Ahasuerus, Hegai, and Naigra are on stage, the latter prostrate before the King, grasping his ankles.

 

 

Dear Lord of Persia,                              (( NAIGRA

Spare your Haman,

For he loves you.

    

(Ahasuerus draws back in disgust)

 

Loves blood, lass.                                  (( AHASUERUS

Enough of that.

Loves righteous blood

Like nectar in his gullet.

    

(she reaches up)

 

Hegai, my gown!  The wench would tear it.

 

But spare his life.  I ask no more.        (( NAIGRA

 

You ask for cancer.                              (( AHASUERUS

Come, Hegai, show her to the door.

 

Be not unmoved, bold sire.                  (( HEGAI

The wench is comely.

 

This black bitch that grovels                (( AHASUERUS

At my feet?

She'd rip my silk

With those sharp claws.

Our court has turned to madness

When such sluts ignore our laws.

 

But sire.                                                (( HEGAI

She has some hot NEED for you.

REGARD that wriggle at your feet,

The ankles, arms.

Up, wench.  Up, I say.

   

 (pulling her to her feet; she stands, trembling)

 

Here, now.  Make use of the very wit

That Nature granted

And address this lass.

'Tis certain she has charms beyond the common.

Regard her bosom, how it swells

With noble terror.

To disregard such beauty is an error large

As the misery you'd

Inflicted on the Jew.

'Tis a fulsome piece, this slut,

From lip to cut—

Here now she quiets.  There . . .

    

(she extends an arm in supplication)

 

Makes peace with you.

    

(Ahasuerus studies her with the eyeglass)

 

Even her extremity . . . would seem

To adorn her figure.

She heaves an APPETITE of flesh.

Such swells are hardly meager.

    

(Ahasuerus moves closer with the glass)

 

'Tis true, Hegai.  The bitch is ripe.    (( AHASUERUS

 

And ripe for plucking.                        (( HEGAI

 

'Tis SOME temptation.                      (( AHASUERUS

And yet my thought is on the Nation.

She begged a cur be spared.

Here, miss.

   

(taking her chin)

 

'Twas your intent?  Come.  Out with it.

    

(Naigra throws herself again at the King's feet)

 

Mercy for Haman,                               (( NAIGRA

For he hastens to his death.

Send troops to cease this violence.

You'll have my soul.

 

Her hips, her buttocks.                         (( HEGAI

Regard their stir upon her breath.

 

If sight has failed,                                (( AHASUERUS

Imagination quickens.

Come up and to the purpose, wench.

This groveling sickens.

   

 (Hegai pulls her to her feet)

 

'Tis but fierce reverence                       (( HEGAI

  For your throne.

                                                        In yonder chamber

    

(gesturing stage left)

 

She'll atone.

 

But wills I spare her Haman                 (( AHASUERUS

Like a bitch in heat.

I'd see the plate before I eat.

 

Send troops                                           (( NAIGRA

    

(she is wringing her hands)

 

To spare an angel's life.

He studied at YOUR school.

Come, have my flesh, but don't be cruel.

The time is pouring through your fingers.

Please, sire, upon my life.

Upon all kindness.

Summon a large contingent toward his villa

With your firm intent

To spare his flesh.

 

And yours?                                             (( AHASUERUS

 

I'll strip it bare.                                     (( NAIGRA

    

(ripping the gown asunder and clawing at the under-garment to stand naked,

trembling before the King)

 

This flesh is FRESH.                            (( AHASUERUS

 

And teeming.                                         (( HEGAI

 

You'll have bounty.                              (( NAIGRA

 

I must be dreaming.                              (( AHASUERUS

Can such exist?

It seems a fantasy has visited this house.

 

Master, she knows all WISDOM          (( HEGAI

Of the flesh.

Behold what fullness lurked beneath that blouse.

 

Please, sir.                                             (( NAIGRA

    

(she is weeping)

 

My mind returns.                                   (( AHASUERUS

'Tis the same wench you taught

Egyptian rites with my queen . . . Queen . . .

 

Esther.                                                   (( HEGAI

 

And taught me well.                              (( NAIGRA

 

'Tis true, by faith.                                  (( HEGAI

You'll scream yourself when you've caressed her.

 

And this lush comfort                            (( AHASUERUS

To my soul would spare a fiend?

 

She'll HAVE your soul.                        (( HEGAI

Even the rudder that would guide your legs.

You'll drink dark bounty, Lord,

And lick the dregs.

This slut requires a proper tongue.

She'll quicken more than that

Between your thighs.

You'll burgeon with her cries a PROPER length.

She'll give you strength.

 

And make me young.                           (( AHASUERUS

Summon a brace of guards and mounts.

Mercy is brief

For such as these.

We'll settle her accounts.

 

Spare Haman?                                      (( NAIGRA

 

Spare the very whore of hell for          (( AHASUERUS

Your black flesh.

Spare toads and vipers.

I'll have an heir

Before this king's in diapers.

But what is this?

    

(a guard enters with a bloody sword)

 

'Tis some sweet mischief I report,      (( THE GUARD

Great Ahasuerus.

We led him on the way toward half a league

From Susa's further boundary

When he broke, began to run,

And taxed the very lungs of mercy us

To follow,

Down toward the riverbank,

Where I was lead

Upon his turning.

The bastard drew a dagger,

And I knifed him unto

Death with this lean sword.

Perhaps 'tis fitter fate,

And yet we'll hang him this same night.

 

Haman?  My Haman dead?                 (( NAIGRA

 

Upon this sword.                                 (( THE GUARD

It buried in his entrails.

 

Why then I'll marry him in HELL!     (( NAIGRA

    

(runs naked onto the guard's extended sword and takes it in her belly)

 

 

                                                    CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE THREE ((((( Esther's chamber, early the next morning

 

 

MORDECAI

 

ESTHER

 

A SERVING WOMAN

 

 

As the scene opens, Esther is sleeping, fully clothed, on the Ottoman.  She moans in her sleep, stirs, bolts upright.

 

 

Dear God, and what a dream!             (( ESTHER

It was as if my Haman'd gone to hell.

Hanged . . . no, stabbed?

By a royal guard while fleeing toward some

Dark witch's gash, torrent of blood

That sucked him straight to Hades.

And moments later, Naigra

On the SAME fierce torrent,

Down, down,

To that dark throat

From which there's no return.

It seemed . . . ah, yes,

They coupled there and groaned

Like feverish beasts

To darkest laughter from the Fiend,

The very image of Ahasuerus,

And yet spotted with their blood

A crimson patter on his beard,

And darker leak

About his jowls, fierce teeth

That ate upon his knuckles

In their mad delirium

Till fingers stubs and spouting

The same vile fluid.

By faith, he ate himself, watching.

    

(she shouts now)

 

Naigra?  NAIGRA?

Where IS that wench?

Should hasten home by now, 'tis nearly dawn.

Some awful omen is afloat.

Cocks crow before their time.

And waken maidens to greater terror

Than their dreams.

This time is out of rhyme.

    

(again, shouting)

 

NAIGRA?  Say, Naigra, speak,

I am abandoned.

    

(shouting)

 

Is no one there?  Speak or leave me all afright.

This dawn's more fearful than the night.

    

(a serving woman enters stage right)

 

Dear mistress,                                        (( SERVING WOMAN

 

Lay some patience on your soul.               

'Tis nearly morning.

You thrust me from my slumber

And I nearly had

The death of stumble

Racing to your arms.

Dear mistress, calm yourself with these alarms.

 

Where is my Naigra                               (( ESTHER

Lagging this dark dawn?

I've had the death of SLEEP.

She carries on.

 

You sent her hence to Haman, miss,     (( SERVING WOMAN

And with a locket.                                     

I waited on her step till nearly three,

Then fell asleep

Even by the very gate.

Should step have stirred, I'd brought you word.

The lady's vanished.

 

Summon your pity for a diadem             (( ESTHER

And seek her out.

My faith is nearly gone.

I know what doubt's about.

Off.  Scour the outer garden.  Thence to the city

And beyond to Haman's vast estate.

We err to think of purpose

When the path is straight.

Off now.

I fear the light that shortly grips this chamber.

 

 

The serving woman departs with a lantern; Esther lies back on the Ottoman, coils over fetal to her side, then stands.

 

 

'Tis little use to seek more slumber

In this pitted hour.

The face of time is pocked.

Cold time devours.

    

(again sits, stands, sits)

 

Oh, pity on your Esther, greedy Fate.

We live to see meals fed,

Are what we've ate.

A devil breathes his purpose over all our days.

Once concubine, then queen, and thence

To suffer as she prays

For just one respite from the jaws of hell.

I've sold this dinner to some dotage,

But the feast? . . . God, what's that bell?

    

(Mordecai enters regally in robes of State)

 

'Tis simply summons to reward.        (( MORDECAI

The King bears us good tidings

In my person.  Bears news of Jews.

'Tis a mighty twist of fortune,

This last darkness.

In hours, light reveals his mercy.

 

But what's this garb?                         (( ESTHER

The signet on your hand.

 

Great Ahasuerus                                 (( MORDECAI

Has me elevated to Prince of Persia,

Second in command.

 

And Haman.                                       (( ESTHER

What is to be made of Haman?

    

(Mordecai pulls out a small scroll)

 

'Tis in this letter from the King.        (( MORDECAI

 

Pray you . . . its contents.                   (( ESTHER

 

The seal is fast.                                  (( MORDECAI

    

(hands it to his daughter; she struggles to break it open, trembling in her haste)

 

This night the Jews are saved

And elder Mordecai paraded through the city

On a golden steed

By Ahasuerus's hand itself.

That mighty soul did humble HIS own soul for Jew

To make full known his large regret

And summons into mercy.

Tomorrow horses from the King's own stable

Will be mounted to proclaim

Throughout this troubled empire

Total revocation

Of a foul demand that stained the tender spirit

Of that Lord

And nearly thrust him, crippled, into hell.

    

(the seal is broken; Esther holds the scroll to a lamp and reads)

 

Esther, by torchlight garlands rained

On your father's head

As he paraded in the streets.

Great oaths abounded by the rueful that we lived.

It was a sight, sweet girl.

Your Ahasuerus, lovely man, endured the reins

Of my broad stallion

Where royal medallion blazed

Like some wild star across the cloudless heavens.

But, still, you're ashen like a priest.

I'm sure we're only summoned

To a feast.

    

(smiles radiantly in his exaltation)

 

Father, be damned to grin,                     (( ESTHER

This letter cheats.

'Tis foulest rag, your grand promotion,

In my heart.

'Tis sham.

 

But here I am!                                       (( MORDECAI

    

(bewildered)

 

And daughter CURSED by what          (( ESTHER

HE eats.

    

(falls faint to the floor)

 

                

                                     CURTAIN

 

 

ACT THREE SCENE FOUR ((((( the Palace, in winter

 

 

AHASUERUS

 

HEGAI

 

ESTHER

 

MORDECAI

 

THE THREE GUARDS

 

 

As the scene opens, Ahasuerus and Esther occupy two identical gilt chairs on the platform.  The guards stand at attention stage rear, Hegai facing the royal couple, Esther heavy with child.  Hegai is rubbing his hands with obvious delight at Esther's condition.  Mordecai has not yet appeared.

 

 

Dear honored sire,                                 (( HEGAI

You have made dark merriment

At all my efforts

With odd potions, and yet the lass bears fruit.

This day she's fit to pop.

You'll be a father.

    

(Esther looks down at her hands and then aside)

 

PROUD father.                                     (( AHASUERUS

Merry the manner

That I plowed her even a fortnight

After Haman's death.

Gave spur to it, that trouble with the Jews.

Gave spur to motion and a push to juice.

'Tis some large load she carries,

This sweet bride.

And honored apace to nestle by my side.

We make two birds enamored of a song.

Some 1,500 concubines fell into tears

As she was raised to this estate.

They shan't cry long.

 

The JUICIEST piece was slain             (( HEGAI

The very night

That Haman fell.

It boded mischief, but it turned out well.

By several turnings of the sun

YOU'LL have an heir.

 

And pray for son and prize                   (( AHASUERUS

The prayer.

A noble blessing has descended

On our house.

All Susa eyes this beauty for an infant's yowl.

Our enemies are fled

To shriek and howl.

Esther?

Regard the wench.  She's shy as maidenhead,

Fulsome with milk and honey.

Such joy could not be had with ALL the money

In my coffers.

'Tis not as if I've had no offers.

 

Great sire,                                             (( HEGAI

You're still a proper buck

And randy.

'Tis luck for you the wench is handy.

Some caution is suggested by our doctors

This late hour,

And yet you rut, sly dog, prodigious.

I take my leave to speak in jest.

The school of life's behind you,

And you passed the test.

Some sweet melancholy is upon her for your loins.

You've writ the charter

For the club she joins,

And feast by day on belly burgeoned

With a fulsome load,

And gorge by night on beauty

Like an ancient toad.

 

Your similes are often strained            (( AHASUERUS

But apt.

I'd term the man a knight

With sword and fit to plough.

Or rooster smitten with a winsome sow.

 

'Tis past my understanding,                (( HEGAI

Your sharp wit.

I parry with my blade,

But yours is sharper to the tongue and slit.

 

Esther, be not out of countenance       (( AHASUERUS

With our raw jibes.

We languish for your smiles.

Come, a tender word for your gray master.

The future's ours to tease

Like some bright toy.

If girl, why then we'll shout.

If boy, when then 'TIS BOY!

 

This banter goads me unto death.       (( ESTHER

I'm weary with the whole progression.

Your focus is a nub of flesh.

To make it stiffen your obsession.

But here comes Mordecai . . .

    

(who enters to a staff slammed on the floor)

 

The worthy Jew.                                 (( AHASUERUS

    

(raising his eyeglass)

 

By faith, HE burgeons each day toward wider BLISS.

Come here, good sir,

Your master'd favor you with this large

Entertainment she's ENDURED.

The Queen is glum.

 

Perhaps she's bored.                           (( MORDECAI

Master, I bear large message.

 

Why then proceed.                              (( AHASUERUS

 

This whole world                                   (( MORDECAI

    

(filled with a sense of his own importance)

 

Trembles at the step of Adar,

The month Haman assigned

For terror on the Jews.

And thirteenth day has passed

When pur was cast to that effect,

This very year falling on a day of rest.

Now to the matter's edge.

I'll spare all flourish

And begin—'tis news from messengers

Throughout the kingdom,

Borne on hot steeds in headlong gallop

Up the plains of Marduk, Salam, Kesh,

To mighty Susa.

This in effect—no DROP of Hebrew blood's

Been spilled!

By counter procedure of the fullest note—

I'll read the list—

    

(pulls out a scroll and holds it to the light)

 

'Tis simply this:

In the citadel alone, 500 gentiles put to death,

All men in the prime of life,

Notably Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha,

Poratha, Adalia . . .

Should I continue?  All ten sons

By Haman's Zeresh, forked in the groin

And hoisted to the gallows where

They fast begin to rot . . .

 

Come man, be not so vivid                    (( AHASUERUS

In the imaging.

You'd have me chuck.

Stick to the plain account and nothing more.

The raw statistic

I'll endure and not your patter.

Your Queen would grow quite faint

With this rude chatter.

 

In Moladah,                                           (( MORDECAI

    

(raising again the scroll)

 

Ten thousand slain by Jew.  No plunder.

In Ashtar, some nine hundred.

In Kobrik, seven thousand twenty-three

And still counting.

In Magdesh, ten hundred known dead.

Parad, nine hundred twenty.

Susa, as mentioned, some five hundred.

Kandos, four thousand five.

Belial, none left alive.

Kavash, men, women, children, all to the gibbet,

Some seven thousand there alone . . .

 

Enough.                                                 (( AHASUERUS

 

In Barthonasta, the city razed.              (( MORDECAI

No plunder.

 

By faith, I've had enough.                    (( AHASUERUS

Enough is enough.

 

Why then, in short,                               (( MORDECAI

Dear sire, some 75,000 souls

And still counting.

A truce was called throughout the Western

Straits, and orders received

In the Northern province.

We've had a day of reckoning.

'Tis pleasant news for everyone concerned.

 

Most pleasant.                                      (( HEGAI

 

Ah, yes.                                                (( AHASUERUS

 

This day proclaimed                             (( MORDECAI

As Purim in the land,

When pur was cast that Jew would come to grief

For ill intent.

We'll mark it for all time to come,

Holy communion with our Moses

And the Law, a day of rest.

This day we'll mark.  A nation blessed.

 

    

Mordecai exits with the guards; Ahasuerus gathers up with some difficulty and is assisted, stage left,where he turns.

 

 

'Tis late, dear Esther.                           (( AHASUERUS

Tomorrow gathers all too hard upon us.

Tarry not long alone in this great chamber.

I'll need your comfort to address

The danger of my dreams.

This Mordecai has strained my thought

This night with his accounting.

I hear the screams.

It seems they're mounting.

Night-night, titmouse.

Sing your heart to slumber in your golden cage.

Tomorrow's fast upon us,

And I fear some rage.

 

Good night, old man.                           (( ESTHER

    

(then, aside)

 

In your dotage.

    

                                                      (then to Ahasuerus)

 

Sleep the profundity of an ancient thought.

You'll face your dreams in time forever,

When the dreamer's caught.

    

(the two men exit)

 

This WAKING is a dream, I fancy, terror.

'Tis some mad wakening that we LIVE an error.

That thought adheres to motions

Of the vilest sort.

That living is our judgment, certain death the court.

Within my belly grows a tumor,

Some fruition of a madman's seed.

But ALL are mad, Jew, gentile . . .

Born to ravish, whelped to breed

Chaos, misfortune, and the very ocean, blood.

Deal death by numbers

And implore their God.

From whence this lust?  POOR power

Lasts an instant in the human mind.

He LICKS his dust for worship

And a slut for prayer . . . in kind.

Ah yes, to bed.  'Tis noble, and the only

Noble deed.

For morning breaks securely

With the issue, Haman's seed.

She'll grow apace toward beauty

Or endure a PLAIN-tive life.

And if son, will wield a scepter

Or a madman's knife.

And bury HIS seed in belly or be taken unto wife.

'Tis mystery this.  'Tis sadness.

'Tis a lesson rife

With pain and rife with bliss—

That we seldom shirk to slaughter what we always

Fear to kiss.

Come, Esther, live your burden.

'Tis a GRAND estate.

You'll eat your sorrow gently from a golden plate.

    

(exits stage left, head bowed)

           

                                          CURTAIN

                                                     

                                                      FINIS                                                      

                                                                                                   

                                                                                              

                                                                                                                 1989