(GK: Garrison Keillor; SS: Sue Scott; TR: Tim Russell; FN: Fred Newman; BC: Billy Collins)
TR: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets,
but on the 12th floor of the Acme Building, one man is still trying to
find the answers to life's persistent questions.....Guy Noir, Private
GK: It was the day after Thanksgiving and I was thankful to be done with it and the obligatory trip to my sister Georgina's house.
SS (WEEPY): I don't know why we never see you.
GK: I'm here right now.
SS (WEEPY): You never come and visit us.
GK: This is me. I'm here. Visiting. (BRIDGE) I didn't mind ---- I was
headed for New York. I'd gotten a call from the Poet Laureate of the United
States, Billy Collins, asking my help in tracking down a poet.
I knew the feeling. So I told him I'd be right there. (MUSIC) I flew to New York and the poet laureate limo picked me up at LaGuardia ----
TR (BRIT): We'll be there in half an hour, Mr. Noir. (CAR PULLS AWAY)
GK: ----and drove me to the poet laureate's official home, Graceful Mansion ----
TR (FRENCH): ---- Welcome, Mr. Noir. This way. (FRENCH) (FOOTSTEPS)----
GK: ---- and (IMMENSE DOOR OPENS) I was ushered into the presence of His Eminence, who was sitting at a desk in jeans and T-shirt and playing a saxophone. (BREATHY SAX, BALLAD ) Your Eminence---- I bow in the presence of your light ---- cordial salutations and felicitations to you, O wise, O beloved--- (SAX STOPS)
BC: Cut the fawning and bootlicking, Noir. And throw away those daffodils. I'm allergic.
GK: Yes, sir.
BC: Call me Billy.
GK: I'll try, sir. ----
BC: We've got a problem here with a poet ---- (FOOTSTEPS APPROACH) Yes, Leonora----?
SS: Excuse me, sir, but I just wanted to let you know that long shadows are falling across the surface of the pond in a particularly sad and wistful way.
BC: Thank you. (FOOTSTEPS FADE AWAY)
GK: So---- what can I do to help?
BC: He's flooding the world with awful poems. Dreadful poems. We're up to our dewlaps in them. A poet by the name of William Williams.
GK: William Carlos Williams?
BC: No. William Carlos Williams was the poet who wrote: "This is just to say/I have eaten the plums/That were in your icebox./And which you were probably saving for breakfast./Forgive me./They were delicious./So sweet/and so cold."
GK: Yes, I remember. We read it in high school English----
BC: William Williams is the one who wrote: "This is just
to say/I have buried your cat/Which you left with me for the weekend/And
which you were expecting to pick up on Monday./Forgive me./She was dead./So
stiff/and starting to smell funky."
BC: And he also wrote: "This is just to say/I have eaten your lunch/That was in your lunchbox./And which you were probably thinking you would eat yourself./Nuts to you./I was hungry./And I'm bigger."
GK: So he's an imitator.
BC: His stuff is driving us nuts. Come in to the conservatory, and let me tell you about it. ---Marlon, two glasses of mineral water --- sparkling but not glitzy----
TR (BRIT): Very good, sir. (FOOTSTEPS ON MARBLE, REVERB) (BRIDGE)
GK: The laureate wore an ermine cape decorated with ormolu feathers. Over his blue jeans and sneakers. Two wolfhounds were waiting for him in the conservatory (DECOROUS WOOFS) and a peacock (SCREECH) and a tree full of some kind of insects.
BC: Those are cicadas. (CICADAS)
GK: They look like locusts.
BC: Cicadas. And here comes a heron. (WINGS FLAPPING PAST) Yes, Marlon?
TR (BRIT): This is just to say that I have brought the sparkling water that was in the icebox and which probably you were expecting to be served with a slice of lemon. Forgive me, the lemon is no good. It is so wrinkly and so mossy.
BC: Fine. No problem. (FOOTSTEPS FADING)
GK: Casually throwing himself into a gilded armchair, the laureate smiled wearily at me as anxiety flickered momentarily across his handsome features like a candle guttering in a blue bowl----
BC: Cut the metaphors, Noir.
GK: Sorry, sir.
BC: Listen to this poem----
I stand by the window,
Listening to dogs
Barking in the cold rain
That falls like vinegar.
A brown leaf reminds me of my grandmother.
And eating gooseberries in the Piazza Navona
That summer of our first love.
---It's a poem written by a computer!
GK: How can you tell?
BC: By the little sprocket holes on both sides.
GK: Oh. Of course----
BC: Here's another one.
I stand at the window
In the cold gooseberry rain.
I am thinking of the vinaigrette
of the Piazza Navona
where a woman who looked like
my grandmother stood
with her dog.
FN (IGOR): Pardon me, sir.
BC: Yes, Igor----
FN (IGOR): A message has arrived -----
FN (IGOR): It was brought by this raven. (RAVEN CAW) This tape cassette, sir. (CAW)
BC: A tape cassette?
FN (IGOR): Let me put it in the cassette machine, sir. (CLUBFOOT WALK ACROSS FLOOR. CREAKING OF GIANT DOOR. INSERTION OF TAPE CASSETTE. CLOSING OF GIANT DOOR. CLICK.)
TR (ON TAPE): This is William Williams. This is just to say that I have written the poems that you found in your mailbox and which probably you were hoping would have stopped by now. Forgive me. They are irresistible, so short and so irritating. (FIENDISH LAUGH)
BC: So that's his game.
GK: I always thought that poets were out to irritate us, and now here's proof.
BC: You don't care for poetry, Mr. Noir?
GK: I like some of it. A good limerick is always welcome. Sonnets are good. Sometimes an ode or elegy --- a saga, if it's not too long.
SS: Mr. Collins ----
SS: I don't mean to be a nuisance, but I wanted you to know that it's very very dark out and the city lights have a gaiety and yet an urgency about them that is almost palpable.
BC: Thank you. WAIT! (PIANO STING) ---- I know that place!!!!
GK: What place, sir?
BC: The place in his poems! The place where dogs bark and it's cold and there's dead grass and a fountain and a sense of grief and dread. It's in Riverside Park---- up around 100th! Every time I go there I feel a sort of a vague sense of loss or something-----.
GK: Guess we better go have a look. (BRIDGE) (TRAFFIC SFX)
We walked into the street outside Graceful Mansion and paper was blowing around. Poems. Thousands of them. And some Chinese restaurant menus. We hailed a cab (TIRES SCREECH) and got in and the cabdriver said:
TR (ARAB): This is just to say that I have forgotten the way to Manhattan that probably you expected me to know. Forgive me. It is complicated, so strange and so far.
BC: Riverside and 100th! And step on it! (SCREECH OF TIRES) (BRIDGE)
GK: We got to the monument at 100th and Riverside and sure enough it was cold and raining (OUTDOOR, TRAFFIC AMBIENCE) (DOGS BARK IN DISTANCE) (FOUNTAIN) and there was a fountain and a certain sense of dread.
BC: I'm tired of being poet laureate.
GK: Come on, come on-----
BC: Traveling all the time-----
GK: Oh, stop it.
BC: In a sedan chair. You ever travel in a sedan chair? Carried by six guys on two long poles? Six guys not of equal height so you're always leaning to one side----- It's hot in there ----- You have to keep waving and waving ------ People kneeling by the roadside. ------You're bouncing along, trying to look beneficent and you feel sick to your stomach and you have to keep tossing the flower blossoms to them ----- You've just come from the banquet where you ate a bushel of grapes ----I mean, they keep peeling them for you, how can you say no? --- and you've got all these prickly wreaths on your head. I hate laurel. I hate the laureate life. I'm a poet! Sometimes I just want to stand by the window and look at the cold rain falling in the dead grass ----
GK: Look. It's Leonora. Scurrying up the stairs of that apartment building. She's going to warn someone. (STING) Billy and I dashed across the street (HORNS HONK, BRAKES SCREECH) and into the lobby in time to see that the elevator Leonora'd gotten in had stopped at the 25th floor. We took the next elevator up (DING) and we got to the 25th floor just as Leonora disappeared (CLOSE DOOR) into 25L and we pounded on the door. (POUNDING) And soon it opened and a man appeared. A man with a raven on his shoulder. (RAVEN SHRIEK)
BC: Mr. Williams, I presume.
TR: I knew you'd find me sooner or later.
SS: Please, Mr. Collins---- let us alone----- we're in love------ can't you see?
GK: Can it, sister. What's this ---- another poem?
A truck full of vinegar
Skids out of control
Across the Piazza Navona
Killing my grandmother's dog.
It's raining lightly
but they say it's going to be heavy at times,
especially this autumn
When we pick the gooseberries.
---What's the point of it, mister? Why subject the world to this dreck?
TR: I'm a writer. What's the crime in being prolific?
GK: Prolific, my foot! You were the McDonalds of poetry, you were out to turn people into vegetarians----
BC: Look---- Williams ---- your poems are awful. Give it up. Try something else.
GK: Try writing humor.
TR: What???? Humor!!!! Is that supposed to be a joke???
BC: Try writing novels. Action novels. In poetry, you tend to stand by a window quite a bit and be reminded of a day long ago with Cecily in Vermont, but in novels you can put the woman right there by your side, like this---- (MUSIC UNDER) "She looked up at me, hunger in her pale blue eyes. 'Kiss me,' she said. 'Kiss me and kiss me and kiss me and don't ever stop.' I could feel her heart pounding against the palm of my hand. 'Okay,' I said. 'I'll kiss you. But what then? It won't be enough, you know. You'll want more and more and more.'" ------- That's what a novelist can do. And a novelist can haul off and slug people----- like this. (HE SWINGS AND PASTES GK ONE) ----
GK: Hey---- whadja do that for? That hurt.
BC: I didn't like the way you were looking at her.
BC: The imaginary woman whose body is pressed against mine.
Another thing a novelist gets to do that a poet doesn't, Williams, is blow things up. Imagine that a semi was coming straight at you (DISTANT SEMI HORN) and there you are in the middle of the road (TRUCK APPROACHING) and a poet would be feeling a lot of hopeless despair right now, but a novelist just---- (EXPLOSION OF TRUCK, REVERBERATING AND ECHOING) ---- see how that works?
SS: What a beautiful explosion ---- it blossomed in the sky like a flower of flame---
BC: This is just to say that I have blown up the helicopter that came in low over the birch trees and that probably you thought was coming to take you to Aruba. Forgive me, the dynamite was in my hand, and the fuse was lit (FUSE FIZZING, CHOPPER APPROACH, EXPLOSION).
GK: Wow. That is impressive.
BC: I looked out toward the birches, standing like lonely sentinels, the blackened hulk of the helicopter, and then (THROAT CLEAR) I turned, and there he was, standing by the window-----
TR: (RUSSIAN) So---- Mister Novelist --- I see you know how to blow up birch trees. (HE CHUCKLES) Very good. But I am the one with the pistol in my hand. And you stand there with a beautiful woman. (HE LAUGHS) Give her to me. Otherwise--- I shall be forced to shoot you. (CLICK OF HAMMER OF GUN)
SS: No! No! Please!
BC: You'll never get your filthy commie hands on this American babe, you collectivist swine.
TR (RUSSIAN): Oh??? (HE LAUGHS) And what are you going to do about it, Yankee imperialist?
BC: He approached, sneering, and I waited until he was about six feet away. Five or six feet. More like four feet, actually. Or three. Make that eighteen inches. And I let him have it--- (SWING, KKRRRACK) And take that! (SWING, KKRRRACK) ----
GK: Fiction. That's the ticket.
BC: This is not to say that poetry is a waste of time. This is just to say that I have written the novel that probably you will say is a major sell-out. Forgive me. It was so much fun, and I needed the money. -----Oh my gosh. Look at the time. I'm supposed to be at the White House in forty-five minutes. National Security Council meeting. What am I going to do? (CAR PULLS OVER)
GK: Suddenly a late-model Kharmann-Ghia pulled over to the curb, driven by a 24-year-old model named Cynthia----
SS: Hi, I'm heading west for some reason, out to Minnesota. If anybody needs a ride----
GK: What a coincidence. I'm from St. Paul.
SS: What about that tall man with the intense eyes? The guy who's a dead-ringer for Billy Collins-----
BC: (PAUSE) I guess I could skip a National Security Council meeting just this once. I always wanted to see Minnesota.
SS: Thank goodness, I won't have to ride alone.
BC: Bye, Noir. Thanks for your help. See you around. (CAR PULLS
AWAY. MUSIC BRIDGE)
GK: It was right then I realized that my return plane ticket was missing. Along with my driver's license and my money. So I hiked up to the freight yards in Queens. (DISTANT TRAIN WHISTLE) Hey mister--- any of these trains going to Minnesota?
TR (HOBO): That train over there is heading to Florida, mister-----(WHISTLE, CHUGGING STARTS)
GK: This is just to say I am taking the train to Minnesota which probably you think is a dumb idea. Forgive me, it is where I live. So sweet and so cold.
TR: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, where one guy is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions...Guy Noir, Private Eye. (MUSIC OUT)
© Garrison Keillor 2002