The Lullaby Tree — in paperback

ImageMy last post announced that my new play, The Lullaby Tree, was available in Kindle. Now it’s out in paperback as well. I hope you’ll have a look at it. As I mentioned before, it’s aimed more at readers than theatrical audiences—a “closet drama,” as it were. —Wim

Today I’m sharing Aesop’s not-so-famous Third Act Soliloquy …

I am alone—or so I say
Because I am supposed to;
You know the truth is not a thing
I’m really quite disposed to.
And flights of verse treat facts much worse
Than statements spoke in prose do.

“I am alone”: Let it be known,
I find those words most queer.
For I am standing on a stage,
Addressing you loud and clear,
While you are sitting in your chairs
Pretending you’re not here.

I am alone, I am alone,
Standing at stage center,
Awaiting someone who may be
My savior or tormentor—
Waiting, waiting, nothing more,
For someone else to enter.

I am alone; watch closely now—
Yes, you and all your chums—
This tap-tap-tapping of my toes,
This twiddling of my thumbs.
My tongue I’ll click, my nose I’ll pick,
Till something this way comes.

I am alone; so seize this time
(It really would be wise)
To hold each other by the hand,
To stroke each others’ thighs,
Or gaze and gaze, entranced, amazed,
Into each others’ eyes.

I am alone; now aren’t I
A fascinating sight?
For you can’t look away from me;
Tell me if I’m not right.
For you can’t look away from me;
Try it with all your might.

I am alone and wear a mask,
Just as all actors should.
And yet—I touch my face and feel
That it is flesh and blood.
Now touch your frozen face—you’ll find
It’s linen, cork, or wood.

“I am alone”: These words have spun
A gripping spell, it’s true;
Moments are passing, lost and gone—
Moments that you shall rue;
For when you peep in a play too deep,
The play peeps into you.

The Lullaby Tree


My new play, The Lullaby Tree, is now available on Kindle. It is inspired by the shortest verse in the King James Bible:

Jesus wept. —John 11:35

Here’s a bit of PR copy:

The Lullaby Tree is the first play in Wim Coleman’s forthcoming “Aesopeia” cycle about the life of the fabled fabulist Aesop. A no-holds-barred literary and theatrical extravaganza of ideas, The Lullaby Tree reels riotously between prose and verse, vulgarity and beauty, farce and heartbreak, earthiness and mysticism.

Of course I pay my publicist good money to write this kind of hype. Even so, I hope it’s not completely undeserved. Unlike my other plays, I’d say that this one is aimed more at readers than theatrical audiences, making it what theater history books call a “closet drama.” It begins with a deus ex machina and ends with (SPOILER ALERT) the annihilation and rebirth of the universe. And since this is the first installment in a tetralogy, the remaining three plays will have bigger fish to fry.

Although trying to stage it might prove to be downright quixotic, I won’t object if a sufficiently brash director decides to tilt at this particular windmill. The Lullaby Tree will soon be out in paperback. And the Kindle price ($0.99) is modest, even if the play is anything but. I hope you’ll have a look at it.

Here’s an excerpt from early in Act II. The scene is a grove on the island of Samos. At this point in the story, the legendary Aesop has not yet received his divine gift of storytelling. He is still a mute slave—and an amazingly ugly one. His job is to dig holes for no particular reason. His overseer, the Steward, is giving him orders.


STEWARD. But—hold it now.

(AESOP stops digging.)

STEWARD.  Take note of this tree—Ficus carica, the common fig, though of most uncommon stature. Observe the breadth of its trunk, the robustness of its limbs. Odd, I’ve never stopped to look at it before. A reverend specimen. Though dormant for the winter, it’s clearly alive—observe its scattering of leaves. Be careful of its roots as you dig. Don’t want to do it harm.

(AESOP starts digging again. The STEWARD moves toward the tree.)

STEWARD.  Hold it now.

(AESOP stops digging. The STEWARD stares at the tree in silence for a moment.)

STEWARD.  I happen to know a story about a tree such as this. There once was a prophet. A prophet of love. Went around preaching that there was nothing but love. Even the gods were nothing but love. In fact, there were no gods, since love was the only real thing there was. Inhuman teaching it was, just awful, terrifying to think about.

Well, naturally, the authorities put a death sentence upon the wretch for saying such a thing. He right well knew they would all along—knew they had no choice, what else could they do? He went to the big city to turn himself in.

On his way there, along the road, he and his followers came across a fig tree—just like this one. And just like now, it wasn’t the season for figs, too early for them. A perfectly healthy fig tree with a few leaves on it, but no figs. The prophet was hungry, and on his way to his own execution—but no figs.

He got angry. He said to the tree, “Let no man eat your fruit, from this time forever.” And the tree withered at once, and all its leaves fell.

And the prophet’s followers stared on with horror. They murmured to each other, “How quickly the fig tree withered away!”

And the prophet overheard them and said, “Love with all belief, believe in nothing but love. For whoever loves completely, with all his heart, may say to a mountain, ‘Go away from this place and throw yourself into the sea,’ and that very thing will happen. If you love completely, with all your heart, whatever you command will come to pass.”

Odd sort of story.

A prophet of love, but so full of rage that he murdered a tree.

Can’t get my head around it, somehow.

(The STEWARD and AESOP stare at the tree in silence for a moment.)

STEWARD.  But you know, I almost half believe it. The whole world, the whole universe—nothing but love everywhere, as far as the eye can see, as far as the ear can hear, as far as thought can reach. Gnaws at my guts to consider it, but it seems true somehow. Wish it weren’t, but there doesn’t seem to be any way around something that’s true, once it gets stuck inside you.

Which is why I’d never tell this story to anyone but a mute idiot like you.

There’d be real hell to pay if such a truth got out.

Think of what would happen.

No one would take thought for anything in life—not what they ate, nor what they drank, nor what clothes they wore. For behold the birds of the air: they don’t sow, nor do they reap, nor do they gather into barns, yet they stay well-fed. And consider the lilies of the field: they don’t work, nor do they spin, and yet they go more handsomely clothed than the richest princes of the earth.

But we’re not birds, and we’re not lilies.

How could we bear such a life?

Happier digging holes, we are.

Of Gadgets and People

My car is smarter than I am. Worse still, it has a wicked sense of humor. It knows that I’ve never really learned all of its buttons, commands, signals, gauges, options, and manifold gadgets stacked inside one another like Chinese boxes. So it plays tricks on me constantly. It’s favorite prank is to be utterly unforgiving of my clumsiness, let alone my ignorance. The slightest slip of my finger on the key holder sets off the car alarm. And I still don’t know how to turn it off.

My car continues an ancient tradition of trickster servants who stubbornly insist on carrying out every command literally. Consider the legendary fabulist Aesop. According to tradition, Aesop was a slave to the scholar Xanthus, who admonished him against “doing anything more or less than you are told.” This led to trouble. For example, when given the order, “Pick up the oil flask and the towels, and let’s go to the bath,” Aesop studiedly left behind the oil for the flask, because it was not explicitly asked for.

The long line of trickster servant stories extends beyond Aesop to include Rabbi Loew’s Golem, the Jinn of The One Thousand and One Nights, the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” of both Goethe and Disney, and W. W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw.”  I might well add Pat’s and my novel Mayan Interface, with its portrayal of a trickster computer named Conti, whose all-too-precise obedience to a human command stirs up considerable trouble. In his 1964 classic God & Golem, Inc., the pioneering cyberneticist Norbert Wiener relates such stories to the escalating “gadget worship” of his own time:

The theme of all these tales is the danger of magic. This seems to lie in the fact that the operation of magic is singularly literal-minded, and that if it grants you anything at all it grants what you ask for, not what you should have asked for or what you intend.… The magic of automation … may be expected to be similarly literal-minded.

Writing as he did at the height of the Cold War, Wiener was especially mistrustful of the trickster servants whose mechanical “wisdom” we counted on to save the world from a nuclear holocaust. Perhaps we’ve lucked out of that threat—or perhaps we haven’t. In any case, the uneasy relationship between human and machine becomes more of a problem every day. Wiener’s aptly titled book The Human Use of Human Beings describes how machines may prove to be either the boon or bane of the human species.

As Isaac Bashevis Singer put it, “We are living in an epoch of golem-making right now. The gap between science and magic, science and art is becoming narrower.” Does this narrowing give carbon-based, wetware creatures like ourselves less thinking to do? “No,” says Wiener,

the future offers very little hope for those who expect that our new mechanical slaves will offer us a world in which we may rest from thinking. Help us they may, but at the cost of supreme demands upon our honest and our intelligence. The world of the future will be an ever more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves.

Whenever I find myself losing my battle of wits with my car, I can’t help repeating the words of Aesop’s owner, Xanthus: “Well, I didn’t realize I had bought myself a master.”