Pierrot Lunaire (2013)

A Theatrical Song Cycle
Music by Mohammed Fairouz/Lyrics by Wayne Koestenbaum

 

Premise:

The premise:  as if in the demented, war-haunted last episode of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, or in a German expressionist landscape remastered to resemble an outtake from Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, our pale hero (erototomane, cinéaste, clown, troubadour, analysand, synaesthete) wanders through circles of a moonlit inferno, where he confronts shadows of charmed, histrionic luminaries, including Susan Sontag, Virginia Woolf, Patty Duke, Mae West, Diana Vreeland….   Each of Pierrot’s encounters, like an unanswered question, spills back on itself, with the recursive, schizoid elegance of a rondo;  Pierrot is traveling backward, not forward, with the suddenness of an orgasm arrested before its spasms commence.   Pierrot gives birth;  Pierrot gets a tonsilectomy;  Pierrot poses problems;  Pierrot shuns a dying drunk expatriate;  Pierrot makes snide remarks in front of Patty Duke;  Pierrot sits beside Susan Sontag at a dinner party;  in Pierrot’s presence, the Madonna sews a quilt celebrating gay marriage.  The audience’s role is to rescue Pierrot from his spell by paying close attention to every movement of his body and every inflection of his singing, speaking voice:  every consonant, every vowel, binds the listener to Pierrot’s embarrassed, eager-to-please body.  (The participatory erotics of Pierrot Lunaire will not leave the listener unmolested.)

—Wayne Koestenbaum

Lyrics:

Pierrot Lunaire

1.  Moondrunk
for Michael Couper


“my skin, except in dreams, is antiseptic”
a student sends me his novel, idiomatic, adorable, but needing vast correction
Bette Davis wears a guilt-inducing outfit
most of her face covered by a fur hat

Mae West stands to receive applause, primarily boos
crying, she goes mad, slashes right and left, then ceremoniously dies
“my skin, except in dreams, is antiseptic”
a student sends me his novel, idiomatic, adorable, but needing vast correction

Eve Arden, seated in my row, archly nods and genuflects
alluding to her Miss Brooks role
which I pretend to remember so she won’t be offended
I say hi to a freak with scab-caked fingers after ignoring his crib all night
“my skin, except in dreams, is antiseptic”

 

2.  Pale Laundrymaid
to Patricia Spencer
 

my shrink brings sweetbreads dressed in raspberry vinegar to the backyard potluck
also mâche, which she tosses with her hands
the sweetbreads taste fat-free, a saltless panache
not a desireable dish but magically nutritious

sweetbreads advertise her quixotic prudence
and surpass the crappy barbecue served in my quadrant
my shrink brings sweetbreads dressed in raspberry vinegar to the backyard potluck
also mâche, which she tosses with her hands

my brother scissors off a tulip’s head
a chemical condition fools him into thinking his deed salutary surgery
he gratuitously slays healthy flowers
under the guise of bringing them to life
my shrink brings sweetbreads dressed in raspberry vinegar to the backyard potluck

 

3.  Moonfleck
to Valerie Coleman


Patty Duke is (apparently) black
we wear the same red Prada shoes but mine are scuffed and faded
a person who looks like Patty Duke serves as my babysitter
this fact comes up in conversation with Patty Duke

I make a snide remark about Patty Duke in front of Patty Duke
not entirely knowing that Patty Duke is present
Patty Duke is (apparently) black
we wear the same red Prada shoes but mine are scuffed and faded

problem:  I don’t telegraph my pathos or frame it analytically
Patty Duke frowns when I praise her aphorisms
she suffers a memory lapse and takes a repeat to mask her error
for whose benefit the charade?
Patty Duke is (apparently) black

 

4.  Red Mass
to Corbin Hines


my mother in her sixties gives birth to twins
definitive proof of miraculousness
Diana Vreeland drops by for dinner
uninvited, she brings one cucumber and one tomato

hastily I add scallions and curry to the soup pot
within the dream I tell this dream to a feminist linguist
my mother in her sixties gives birth to twins
definitive proof of miraculousness

in Vogue Diana Vreeland reads about the meal or the trend it represents
the very meal I’m serving her, which makes me persona non grata
yet also an avatar of revolutionary panic
Diana Vreeland grants me access to her parka as if we’re still in Vietnam
my mother in her sixties gives birth to twins

 

5.  Gallows Song
to Olivia Marlowe Giovetti

the Madonna resembles a raptor, but relatedness (Winnicott, Klein?) shines in her eyes
object relations intact for the kiddies
she sews a quilt celebrating gay marriag
eand wears a paper dress below a cardboard wig

out comes a shiny deck of Holocaust playing cards
on their backs I scribble private correspondences and fairy-tale longings
the Madonna resembles a raptor, but relatedness (Winnicott, Klein?) shines in her eyes
object relations intact for the kiddies

I glimpse her son’s morphed penis, hugely controversial
atmospheric sepia haze conceals our genital kinship
our sonic manners faulty, Schoenberg seguing into Aphex Twin
her cut-out dress the most womanly object in the composition
the Madonna resembles a raptor, but relatedness (Winnicott, Klein?) shines in her eyes

 

6.  Crosses
to Wayne Koestenbaum


sitting beside Susan Sontag at a dinner party, an elliptical table
I hold a copy of Death Kit, which sends me back in time to an earlier dream
visit to her apartment, a long intimate chat about memoir
I mention a minor character who resembles the author

this reference revives her attentiveness
I ask her to autograph Death Kit though observers think I’m brown-nosing
sitting beside Susan Sontag at a dinner party, an elliptical table
I hold a copy of Death Kit, which sends me back in time to an earlier dream

I ask if her novel is veiled autobiography
afraid this interpretation won’t please her
so far I see on her face no signs irreversibly saturnine
in the dream I tell her I’m writing poems tangentially touched by Pierrot
sitting beside Susan Sontag at a dinner party, an elliptical table

 

7.  Sick Moon
to Blair McMillen 


liquid trickles down Virginia Woolf’s leg in the fancy detox clinic lobby
only my boyfriend understands the trickle’s secret meaning
on an emergency telephone we call the maid, who brings a tray of snifters
unfortunately there’s not enough cognac to go around

in Woolf’s vicinity a Liberace lookalike flashes a self-published book of poems
he hides his Yiddishkeit in a plastic shopping bag and spouts fraudulent koans
liquid trickles down Virginia Woolf’s leg in the fancy detox clinic lobby
only my boyfriend understands the trickle’s secret meaning

the nurse says my bank account contains ninety dollars, not nine hundred
the zero omitted, she claims, “for my own good”
why is my mother eating a chicken-versus-egg sandwich in the parked Jaguar
and why does the Liberace lookalike rhyme “green” with “kerosene”?
liquid trickles down Virginia Woolf’s leg in the fancy detox clinic lobby

 

8.  Serenade
to Beth Morrison 


I give birth but the baby survives a mere few hours
film footage of my ordeal premieres behind the makeshift altar
I’m positive that Desi Arnaz Jr. is the solution
minus the hypotenuse of Desi Senior’s regard

on a Roman street a gypsy child hawks lemon soap
she won’t let me smell it first so I refuse to buy
I give birth but the baby survives a mere few hours
film footage of my ordeal premieres behind the makeshift altar

the soap looks decent but it might be disguised meatballs
from the Carnegie Hall bathroom I overhear the debutante clang her appassionata
a rickety children’s choir advocates appeasement
on the recurring afternoon of JFK’s assassination
I give birth but the baby survives a mere few hours

 

9.  Homeward Voyage
to Mariam Said


a dying drunk expatriate I’d shunned now hugs a theory festschrift
honoring Said or Schoenberg and containing Colorforms or chloroform
euphemistic, she says “my little sickness”
curled on her bedroom kilim, she clutches the book to please her dead mother

my visit censures the expat’s terminal trance
her face unruined despite drink’s inroads
a dying drunk expatriate I’d shunned now hugs a theory festschrift
honoring Said or Schoenberg and containing Colorforms or chloroform

I listen to an Anna Moffo record of a Tennessee Williams opera
a long recitative death, like Butterfly but better
I crave lemon curd tart but communicate a wish for poppy seed
and must accept the humdrum substitute
a dying drunk expatriate I’d shunned now hugs a theory festschrift

 

10.  O Ancient Scene
to Jonathan Reid Gealt 


after my tonsils come out my mother wears a wedding dress with red appliqué
I pretend to discover a new way to do the Twist
and write a tiny gibberish poem about how to straddle the line between soul and toy
schmaltz splashes on my leg and I watch a film called Bette and Boy

Prada opens a baby boutique selling booties and “onesies”
the salesman says “your cologne has a bad aftersmell”
after my tonsils come out my mother wears a wedding dress with red appliqué
I pretend to discover a new way to do the Twist

a suburban vintner runs a regressive sex ring
his adult tricks not allowed to speak until he diapers them
an all-seeing editor sets fire to my first draft
he doesn’t want its unfinished face to haunt me in the future
after my tonsils come out my mother wears a wedding dress with red appliqué

 

—Wayne Koestenbaum

These texts originally appeared in the collection, Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films (Turtle Point Press, 2006), and are reprinted by permission of the publisher.