Requiem

Articles

Requiem

Kathy Acker

Editors’ Note: It is with great sadness that we inform CTHEORY readers of the death Sunday night of Kathy Acker. Her death is a terrible loss. As a memorial to Kathy we are publishing Act III of Requiem, the last writing she gave us to publish. Requiem is a three act opera commissioned by the American Opera Project. It will be performed in Spring, 1998, with Ken Valitsky, composer.

– Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

Act III

Scene 1: Electra’s monologue. Electra enters and sits cross-legged upon the stage. Just the actress, no need to dress up anymore. It’s present time.

Electra: I’m gonna to tell you about myself. (A little like a kid.) I’d been working with this woman who knows how to access past lives. When I found out that I had cancer, a cancer that had metastasized, I ran to her for help.

Why?

For this reason: When the surgeon who had taken my breasts off, a few days after this operation, informed me that some of my lymph nodes were registering cancer, I asked him if the lymph nodes or the body’s oil filter could simply be registering cancer because I was on a high anti-oxidant diet. I had been for some weeks. (Picking at her feet.) He answered me that diet has nothing to do with cancer, with the causes of cancer. He added, “Nor with environmental pollution. We have no idea,” said my surgeon, “what causes cancer.”

So I decided that he knew nothing about cancer. I had no idea why I was deciding this. I knew I had to find out who did know about cancer. But I knew I had no way of knowing how to find out.

Everything I had thought real had just been taken away from me.

I ran to George, my psychic. I told her everything that had happened, that the surgeon was good-looking. Like President Clinton. I guess they’re in the same racket, I said. George replied that I shouldn’t be scared. She would send me to someone who kills cancers. Who had killed several for her.

I was alone again and everything that was happening so fast ran through my brains. I could only think about was killing cancers. If I can kill the cause of this cancer – this was my thought – the cancer that’s in my body will go away.

I didn’t know, however, if phenomena happen by chance or by cause. Now, if things, phenomena happened by chance, then nothing that I did or could do mattered, that is, there was no way I could know what action led to what other action or event. In other words, if chance ruled the world, then my surgeon was right: cancer had no discernible cause and my life and death were meaningless.

I can’t bear this.

It was at this moment something, I don’t know what word to use, came out of me, someone larger in than me, and screamed without raising my voice, using a calm tone, “No more of this death. You’ve fucked everything up so now I’m taking over.” It was a male voice. I felt that my conscious section was just a part of a huge being.

If this world is meaningful, I continued, then so must be each of its parts, no matter how minute. If this world is meaningful, then I need to concern myself, not with cancer, but with its cause. Whatever caused it must change. I knew one thing. That writing is a way to change reality. I returned to George in order to find out how I could change reality.

But I was very scared: the growing fear that I felt was so great that it seemed just about to take me over. I was about to stop being.

Again George said that I shouldn’t be frightened. Why was I? I didn’t understand this question cause I thought that the fear of dying was enough to frighten anyone.

Had I ever been scared before I had gotten cancer?

“Yes.” I said this; then I thought. When I had been six years old, I guess it was six cause I don’t remember anything that happened before that time, I had been taking a shower. My mother entered the bathroom. I didn’t know she was in there because I couldn’t see her through the shower curtain. Just like Psycho . She threw ice water on top of me. She had already placed a bar of soap on the floor of the bathtub.

It was a game. If I can remember playing these games like this with my mother, why can’t I remember anything that happened before I was six years old?

Scene 2: Light opens up to reveal a lovely small study in tan. Most of the walls are huge clear windows through which can be seen full grown trees, tiny buds, branches, birds hopping here and there, maybe even a squirrel. The sun is clear and strong.

Electra, dressed in the actress’ normal clothing, and George are sitting in two of the three comfortable armchairs. George looks like a beautiful Hollywood actress slightly past her prime; in a way she is, for she used to be married to a well-known American film producer.

They are already in conversation.

Electra: So I went to this dingdong doctor and she made me hold vials of different cancers in one hand while her hands tapped and sort of moved my feet. She said, “You don’t register at all for breast cancer.” “Maybe I’m cured.” “But you have six other kinds of cancer.” I think I’d know if I was growing every conceivable kind of cancer.

George: Forget about her.

Electra: While I was holding each group of vials, there were fourteen, she told me to hold the thumb of my other hand, for each test, against a different finger. Each time my thumb touched my third finger, she found all these really bad emotions. She named each emotion, then told me to think about it and hit the base of my skull with that tool they use to adjust backs. A “clicker” or something or other. As soon as my head really hurt.

I told her I had thought about the emotion.

George: Don’t see her again.

Electra: The most usual emotion was anger. I want to learn about this cause I don’t think I’m angry with my mother. I’ve worked on forgiving her.

George: You must have been angry at her for what she did to you.

Electra: I don’t know, but I don’t know how I felt before I was six.

George: What’s the first thing that you remember?

Electra: I do remember one thing that happened before I was six. I was about a year old. I had this pink baby blanket with roses. I adored it. They took it away from me. They said they were taking it away to clean it, but I never got it back.

George: Now, be a child. Sit in a chair or on the floor as if you were a child.

Electra: George. (Readily sitting down on the floor, her legs away from the rest of her body.) This is silly!

George: What toy do you want?

Electra pouts.

George: Would you like a stuffed animal?

Electra: I like stuffed animals.

George (handing her a pig who’s hugging a baby pig and a mauled bear): Which one?

Electra: Both.

George: Go back to that blanket. To it being taken away. Where are you?

Electra: I don’t know. (She closes her eyes.) A bare room. Grey walls. I see a crib. I can’t see anything else.

George: Who’s taking your blanket away?

Electra: They are.

George: Your grandmother? She’s obviously the one who took care of you.

Electra: My mother, my grandmother. They’re one and the same. They’re the only people in this world.

George: What about your nurse? You said you had nurses.

Electra: I adored my nurses. It was my mother or my grandmother.

George: What do you feel?

Electra: I’m really angry.

George: Do you show your mother you’re angry?

Electra: No. (Thinks.) My mother was a monster. I wouldn’t have dared.

George: Why? Children usually show their mothers how they feel.

Electra doesn’t answer.

George: What were you so scared she was going to do to you?

Electra (her voice changing): I tell you: I’m blocked. I’m blocking. (Her body is rigid and she’s in pain.) I’m trying to think of what I’m most scared of. Lobotomy. (Reasons.) They’re going to make me into nothing. To make me a puddle so I can be just what they want. Then I’ll no longer be. That was what their society was to me: The fifties and the sixties. Hypocrisy.

George: I don’t understand.

Electra: I was constantly supposed to say to my mother, “I love you”. I wouldn’t because I didn’t know if she loved me. My father would say, “Why don’t you tell your mother you love her? She loves you so much.” I was guilty. When I was six, I would tiptoe up to the doorway of their bedroom, it was always late at night. I could hear them talking about me. My mother said that there was something bad about me which genetics couldn’t account for and my father would agree. He agreed with everything she said. They talked about how maybe I should be instituted.

George: How did that make you feel?

Electra: I was unlike everyone in the world. I decided I was a freak. So my mind made up another world: that’s when I began to live in the imagination.

George: But what had so frightened you?

Electra: I can’t remember back then cause I’m scared to. (Making herself) I’ve got to remember because I have to cure this disease.

George: Go back further.

Electra: I’m trying. I’m going to look at my fears. Lobotomy. Fire. I’m terrified of fire. Which doesn’t make sense cause I’m basically fearless: knives, guns don’t bother me; when I was a kid, I used to jump off the boardwalk over the beach. It was high.

George: Why are you scared of fire?

Electra shrugs.

George: If you were badly burned during childhood, you’d have a scar.

Electra: I don’t have a scar. I’m scared of fire.

George: Let’s go back to lobotomy. Your mother doesn’t want you to be you.

Electra: She wants me to be really dumb and get C’s on my report card. She hates how bright I am.

George: She doesn’t want you to exist.

Electra: She’s always tells me that. That she would have gotten an abortion if she hadn’t been scared.

George: She tried to kill you.

Electra: I don’t remember. (Blocking.) Let’s ask the healers.

George: Dear healers, please be with us now and answer my and Electra’s questions about her mother. Did Electra’s mother try to kill her?

Electra is sitting in her child’s position, rigid.

George: Yes.
Did Electra’s mother try to burn her when she was a child?
No.
Did Electra’s mother try to kill her before she was born?
Yes.
When she was three months in the womb?
When you were seven months in the womb, your mother tried to abort
you using something to do with heat, a method common in those days.

Electra: I know this.

George: The abortion didn’t work because you were meant to be born. You were helpless when all this happened. That’s why you’re scared.

Electra: What do I do?

George: May you go back to that child who existed before
your mother tried to abort her,
so that she can grow up in love.
Give her the help that she needs
to do what she has to do
while alive. Amen.

Electra sings in a clear, strong child’s voice:

Requiem

“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among
the angels?”

I know the answer:
no one.

Tell me: from where does love come?
An angel is sitting on my face. To whom can I run?

Take me in your arms, death,
I’m so scared;
do anything to me that will make me safe
while I kick my heels and shout out in total fear,
while we hurtle through your crags
to where it’s blacker:
Orpheus’ head eaten by rats,
what’s left of the world scatters,
in the Lethe the poet’s hairs,
below where there’s no ground, down
into your hole,
     because you want me to eat your sperm.
     Death. I know.

“Every angel is terrifying.”

Because of this, because I have met death,
I must keep my death in me,
gently,
and yet go on living.
Because of this, because I have met my death,
I give myself birth.

Remember that Persephone
raped by Hades
then by him brought
into the Kingdom of Death
there gave birth
to Dionysius.

You were the terrorized child,
Mother,
Now be no more.
Requiat in pacem.

Tell me: from where does love come?

“Emerging at last from violent insight
“Sing out in jubilation and in praise.”
to the angels who terrified away the night.
Let not one string
of my forever-child’s heart and cunt fail to sing.
Open up this body half in the realm of life, half in death
and give breathe.

For to breathe is always to pray.

You language where language goes away.

You were the terrorized child,
Mother,
Be no more.
Requiat in pacem.

Requiem.
For it was you I loved.