Dark and stormy 

Holocaust history in verse hits print

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Night Scales: A Fable for Klara K
by Chris Tysh
$14, 71 pp., United Artists Books

Last April, Detroit poet and playwright Chris Tysh confronted us with her mother's hopscotched Holocaust history in the play Night Scales. Written and performed in verse, the poetry itself is a central character — a time-traveling hypnotist.

The play recently moved from the stage to the page, and is now in print. Christian Boltanski's tone-setting cover photo shows clothes, maybe just rags, hanging like memories in the gallows. Photographs from the play's Aku Kadogo production at Wayne State University's Hilberry Theatre are peppered throughout, helping lend some context to the journey of Klara K, our reluctant protagonist.

The script is imposing, as far as scripts go, better suited as a poetic work, a viscid one at that. The text demands your attention as it calls the faults of time to take the stand for cross-examination. Klara K is the lawyer for the prosecution and the defense. Who's to judge? Well, that's the question we're left with.

Time and place could reveal identity; so could language and the admittance of fear, thus stoicism is called upon like a special power. Repressed by these constraints, our heroine, Klara K, has invisible scabs, and she can't help but scratch. But she'd rather keep her wounds to herself. Increasingly fragile and frustrated, both trying to remember and forget, she takes her nails to her wounds with fury. There are moments when the narrative dances a madhouse dance, then Klara K peels back her wounds for us to see who she is, where she's from, what happened. And when her scabs finally bleed, we don't flinch. Instead we quietly celebrate her violent catharsis.

Writer: Then what do you want? An empty page smack in the middle of the book? Is that it? A bloody outline? Little vials with dust and ashes? A tin box scotch-taped all around, smudgy label in its center spelling "sickness" or better yet "death?" Small bottle of paint rattling inside? What color was it? What hue should murder be, Ms. Set Design? It wouldn't be fair to black, always pounding on the same body. (beat)

Remember, in boarding school, ours were under lock and key.

We could open them under the supervision of the witch with the long gray hair, Madame Gilda, the one who withheld my mail if I didn't eat my asparagus. Dark chocolate, biscuits, our tiny share of sweetness we nibble at allotted times, chewing misery behind her back.

K: Yes! That's precisely it! You will write with your eyes shut, I'll pin them myself if I have to! No markers, no way to stretch your arms across the map. Illegible, gone to the dogs, tatters, who do you care. It's not a documentary. You don't know where you're going. Try calling through the sewer. Above, men in leather coats and yellow gloves inspect papers; peer with such concentration as if examining a rare stamp.

Of course, you have no pass key not even a sense of what they search for in your face. "Such pretty eyes," the tall one says holding you up by your chin, "zu schön für eine ..." you don't hear the verboten word at the end of a compliment. Take your fake goods elsewhere as they sharpen their knives. The streets look unfamiliar, crude like in a dream. Where are all the houses, shops, schools you used to know? Floorboards ripped to shreds. Loose bricks everywhere. Charred bundles, could it ...

These aren't showers, are they? Beds? What do you see now under your blindfold, Mnemosyne? Do you hear anything? Trains in the night?

"Is it far yet?" Is it far yet! Who do you think you are, la petite Jehanne de France?

Writer: I give up then! Gag! Tomb! Silence! That's what you wanted all along. Cut out my tongue, dig a grave ...

K: Be quiet! Someone's coming ...


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