Toby Altman
MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY
a score for tapes, rice, millet, chickpeas, drums, and lights
 
 
The stage is a conference room in a mid-sized corporate office. Three drums lie on top of the conference table. They are evenly spaced, one at each end and one in the middle. Inside of each is a bare bulb. These bulbs should be switched on at the beginning of the play and switched off at the end. There is no other light. Between the drums, two tape recorders. These should be switched on at the beginning of the play. They are the only source of language, narrative, action, crackling softly and reproducing distant, forgotten voices, voices almost robotic, the color of wet money. While the tapes play, three actors (clad in institutional black) stand behind the drums, one actor for each drum. They do not speak. Instead they scatter grain on the skins of the drums. There are gaps in this act. It is meditative, percussive, a musical dryness which accompanies the slow elaboration of the tapes. The actors are expressionless, undistinguished, body of the average Greg. They should resist establishing a coordination between the snatches of speech that surface from the tape and their actions: instead, their acts should be slightly out of sync with the tapes, to emphasize the isolation of each from each. It is as though there is an interruption in the stage, a zone of failure, across which nothing can pass without perjury, injury, loss. The actors operate in this realm of injury and they do not attempt to remediate it.
 
The relationship between the two tapes is contingent, shifting. It depends on when each one is started. Instead of aiming for perfect parity, the actors should stagger the tapes slightly, so they do not play when they are supposed to, so that the relationship between them is awkward, strange, unsteady. The script, below, represents one such relationship but not the authoritative one, not the right one. Indeed, it is essential to this play that the score itself is failed—an object to be transformed (not remediated) by the players.

 
tape 1: [male voice, strained, as though speaking through a sedative]:
                              “I’m old
                              enough
                              to know
                              it’s not
                              going to get
                              better
                              anytime soon,”
                    the poet says.
                                        Her voice is a web
                    of scattered birds or
                                                  [tape scrub]
                              “Our ocean needs
                                        to be caressed,”
                                                  she says.
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]          and heaven on earth come down
 
tape 1: [male voice still, but decomposing: by the end of this speech, he has descended into white sheets of static. Some quantity of his words is lost]:

                    Beneath me, through the window of the cockpit
                    I watch the churning milk-colored clouds,
                    dense, impenetrable body of smog,
                    a curtain without seams or edges
                    that stretches as far as the narrow
                    globe can bend. What I see is all
                    that’s left, all that lives: beneath it,
                    crooked soil, capsized fences,
                    a crematorium, hot dark abundant death.
                    Above it, we ride in this tight
                    sheaf of aluminum until our oxygen ends.
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]          and heaven on earth come down
 
tape 1:          [long billow of static, shrill, invariant]
 
tape 2:                                                [long billow of static, deep, hoarse,
                                                           somehow mobile, so that it fills the space of
                                                           the stage for long moments, then the voice of                                                            an ancient computer surfaces briefly on the                                                            billow, its voice chopped and choked]:

 
                                                                     and heaven
                                                                     on earth
                                                                     come
                                                                     down
 
tape 1: [a woman’s voice, calm, clear]: “It’s human to stand in the middle of a thing,”
                                                                      the poet says.
                                                                                          I thought of that last night,
                                                            in the mess hall
 
                                                                                          and then I was weeping
                                                                                over a piece of dehydrated meat
 
                                                            “since parting is such sweet sorrow”
 
                                                                      beneath me, the ruin, slowly rolling
                                                                      the muscular tuning of the clouds
 
                                                                      I remember Claire she said
                                                                      “lots of roses in Astoria”
 
                                                                      “lots of roses in Astoria”
 
                                                                      there is no time for that
 
                                                                      I remember my mother
                                                                      she turned a burst tomato
                                                                      its skin is narrow
                                                                      as the grass
 
                                                                      there is no time for that
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]               and heaven on earth come down
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]               and heaven on earth come down
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]               and heaven on earth come down
 
tape 1: [woman’s voice again, but different, as though she is returning to speech after a considerable period of silence]:
 
                                                            haunted by bliss
 
                                                                                I wandered all day
 
                                                            [tape scrub]
 
                                                                      like a surgeon massaging a stalled organ
                                        and at night it does not cease
                                        the ladder is cut
                                        we cannot climb down
 
                                        and our feeling is shutter
                                        and noise before
 
                                                                      [tape scrub]
 
                                        though pleasure breaches
                                        the boundary
                                        of every earthly life
 
                                        though there is life
                                        no longer
                                        to be breached
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]               and heaven on earth come down
 
tape 2: [male voice, still strained, still as though speaking through a sedative]:
                                        the question is                    how to live
                                                                                    what to do
                                        after the thunderclap
                                                                           with 20 days of oxygen
                                        and sixty days of food
 
tape 1: [the voice of an ancient computer]               and heaven on earth come down
 
tape 2: [male voice, insistent]:
                                    the question is               how to do
                                                                           nothing
 
                                                        teach me to be
                                                                      unsafe
 
                                                        not to save
                                                                  but to surrender
 
                                                                                          [tape scrub]
 
                                                        temperature at which
                                                                  the colony withers
 
tape 2: [woman’s voice, libidinous, soothing]:
 
                              I eat to feel less empty
                              then I eat to feel less full
 
tape 1: [the voice of the computer, somewhat less restricted, less nasal, less caught than it has been until now. It is blithe and unconcerned. It is not bound to mortal things, though it documents them as a manner of course, collating, and then excreting data]:
 
                              the austere steeple / of the crematorium
                              the smoke of fat / and entrails
                              to reduce an animal / to coal and soap
                              slaughter houses / salt works
                              conduits / viaducts
                              surgical / anesthesia
                              a row of sewing machines / on the top floor /
                              of a garment factory / its exits locked /
                              to keep the workers / all women /
                              beneath the age of twenty / favored /
                              for their small, quick fingers / from taking /
                              unregulated breaks / the fireproof foam /
                              around the joints and bones / of the factory /
                              invaded by black mold / a tear in the cornea /
                              a cathedral / undressed / by / incendiary bombs /
                              tactical insertion / the low hum of a drone /
                              narrow tune / saxophone hoot /
                              from the neighbor’s balcony / summer /
                              lingering cool / and heaven on earth come down /
 
[As the computer intones its litany of human beauty and misery, its voice descends into static and emerges from it at random intervals, so that much of the list is obscured, so that one has the sense that the list might in fact be infinite, that the computer has decided to memorialize human life by describing its capacities and failures at exhaustive, robotic length. However the static cuts up its words, the last phrase must emerge from it clearly, crisply].
 
[At this point, the two actors at the sides of the conference table turn off the bulbs underneath their drums and stop dropping grain on the heads of their drums. They stand very still. They remain that way for some time—the duration will be at their discretion. One after the other, they turn on their bulbs again and begin to scatter grain again, perhaps a bit more slowly than before—as though the play itself were beginning to slide off its axis, to turn at reduced velocity. Similarly the tapes begin to slow and degrade; the voices on them are gradually pitched down, becoming indistinguishable, a long lament. And heaven on earth come down]:

 
tape 2: [man’s voice, libidinous, soothing]:

                              I eat to feel less empty

                              then I eat to feel less full

                              beneath me, the ruin, slowly rolling

                              the muscular tuning of the clouds

                              like bowels of thick wool

                              if I could scrape the barley

                              from the triage floor

                              I would return a body

                              to workfullness fertile

                              painless the past

                              in 10 gallon trash bags

                              instead I watch from

                              the window of the cockpit

                              a gathering wasn’t

                              where the human was

tape 2: [woman’s voice, libidinous, soothing]:

                              “In the thriving

                              everywhere pits of hunger”

                              the poet says

                              violet incendiary defoliant

                              strips the yellow grain

                              cool leaves of the lemon tree

                              and only a gust of pain

                              remains our bodies

                              caught in the genital

                              cabinet blue circles

                              stream crumpled

                              breathing and the bareness

                              of the breath

                              a gathering wasn’t

                              on the edge of

                              the fledgling knife

                              tender heaviness

                              the sky in wreck

                              wreckage ransom

tape 1: [the voice of an ancient computer                and heaven on earth come down

tape 1: [man’s voice, crushed, deep, polluted]:
 
 
                              from here, the traffic
 
 
                              is asthmatic crack
 
 
                              split drum
 
 
                              as in oil drum
 
 
                              drum boat
 
 
                              gathering in blue regiments
 
 
                              to choke the ocean
 
 
                              and we have been so embraced
 
 
tape 2: [woman’s voice, crushed, deep, polluted]:
 
 
                              and we have been so embraced
 
 
                              we begin with the natural facts
 
 
                              it is traditional to begin with the natural facts
 
 
                              [raw prairie]
 
 
                              [because the city is]
 
 
                              [raw prairie]
 
 
                              [mud wound]
 
 
                              [empty onion]
 
 
                              [polished sheets of glass]
 
 
                              [brine solder]
 
 
                              [soldier]
 
 
                              it is traditional to begin with the natural facts
 
 
                              my heart belongs to daddy
 
 
tape 1: [man’s voice, crushed, deep, polluted]:
 
 
                              my heart belongs to daddy
 
 
                              daddy holds the world up
 
 
                              on his necklace of seed
 
 
                              living machine
 
 
                              he is a sign of warning
 
 
                              he is a sign of want
 
 
                              he teaches us to take the pearl
 
 
                              eyelet drop
 
 
                              eyelit smooth
 
 
                              and apply it to the tongue
 
 
tape 2: [woman’s voice, crushed, deep, polluted]:
 
 
                              and apply it to the tongue
 
 
 
                              chloroform gown
 
 
 
                              sweet superior sedatative
 
 
 
                              nitrogen gum
 
 
 
                              that gives sleep
 
 
 
                              and in these doses
 
 
 
                              white space of torment
 
 
 
                              a permanent cut
 
 
 
                              across which
 
 
 
                              no breath can travel
 
 
 
tape 1: [man’s voice, crushed, deep, polluted]:
 
 
 
                              no breath can travel
 
 
 
                              to be a sign of warning
 
 
 
                              to be a sign of want
 
 
 
                              to be
 
 
 
                              to be
 
 
 
                              to be not
 
 
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]                  and heaven on earth come down
 
 
 
tape 1: [the voice of an ancient computer]                  and heaven on earth come down
 
 
 
tape 2: [the voice of an ancient computer]                  and heaven on earth come down
 
 
 
 
 
Toby Altman is the author of Arcadia, Indiana (Plays Inverse, 2017) and five chapbooks, including recently Security Theater (Present Tense Pamphlets, 2016). His poems can or will be found in Colorado Review, Lana Turner, Jubilat, and other journals and anthologies. He holds a PhD in English from Northwestern University and is currently a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he is completing an MFA in Poetry. tobyaltman.com