“How I Didn’t Get Myself to a Nunnery” – Suzanne Lummis
according to Suzanne Lummis Ophelia
“g[o]t outta town”
Suzanne Lummis is Ophelia here, this
is a dramatic monologue, I can’t tell you
how much I find that exciting
you’ll want to run to the source, of course,
to find pertinent references, so I’ve linked
a few for you from the text below to their
counterparts in “Hamlet“, if it’s coloured,
just click, otherwise a couple of asterisks
explain two probably too obvious items,
in which case you’ll forgive me my
infelicitous impertinence, my unintended
and hapless presumption
How I Didn’t Get Myself to a Nunnery
That girl they found ensconced in mud and loam,
she wasn’t me. Small wonder, though, they jumped.
To a conclusion. Water puffs you up,
and we pale Slavic girls looked much alike—
back then. Deprivation smooths you out.
Yes, that was the season of self-drowned maids,
heart-to-hearts with skulls, great minds overthrown.
And minds that could be great if they could just
come up for air. Not in that town. Something stank. *
But me, I drifted on. I like rivers.
And I’m all right with flowers. I floated
on a bed of roses—well, O.K., rue
and columbine. It bore me up not down.
That night I made a circle with my thumb
and finger, like a lens, and peered through it
at the moon—mine, all mine. My kissed-white moon.
“Moon River wider than a . . .” Mancini/
Mercer wrote that, sure, but I wrote it first.
You wonder where I’m going with all this?
Where water goes. It empties into sea.
Sold! I’d take it—the sea or a fresh life.
Some other life. A good man—good enough,
fair—fished me out. He’d come to quench his thirst.
No sun-god prince,* of course, like him I’d loved,
still loved. (Some loves don’t die; not even murder
kills them.) I married his thatched hut, hatched chicks—
kids running underfoot. Don’t cry for me,
Denmark. I’d learned the art of compromise
back there, in the black castle—then came blood,
ghosts. Something in me burst. If not lover,
father, king, ** then whom can you trust? Alone,
I took up some playing cards. I played them
into skinny air. A voice said, Swim or drown.
It said: Your house caught fire, flood, caught fear—
it’s coming down. No one loves you now, here.
By land or water, girl, get outta town.
* i.e. Hamlet, of course, prince of Denmark
** Hamlet, Polonius, Claudius
our debt to Shakespeare in literature
is enormous, after even 400 years –
“Hamlet” was written in 1602 – his
literary form, his countless neologisms,
his stories, his blueprints, transformed
into ballets, paintings as above, operas,
have become our myths, our moral and
philosophical standard, our modern
Olympus, the measure of our time,
our epoch, Shakespeare is our “Iliad“
only Beethoven in music has ever
matched this, in the visual arts, no
you’ll notice that the poem itself is a
monologue, in answer, in homage, to
Shakespeare, it’s in iambic pentameter,
also his wont
mine too, incidentally