Poetry Daily: http://www.poems.com/

Two Plays

       "I could not get the ring without the finger."
                     —Thomas Middleton, The Changeling

A horrific scene: helpless in his passion
for the ruthless but cornered Beatrice Joanna,
who's hinted how grateful she'd be to be
rid of her inconvenient fiancé (she's now in love
with someone else), the hideous Deflores
(who'd do anything for her) murders the fiancé
and delivers the victim's ring, her former
love token—a struggle to extricate even after death.
And so he brings her more than just the ring.

Misunderstanding his motive, she shows her gratitude
by offering him the ring—not the reward
he had in mind. Appalled, she has no choice now
but to submit to his blackmail—then, discovering
a love more complete than any she'd ever known,
recognizes that the ugly assassin in her bed is her
moral twin, and finally, knowing it's too late (which is
what makes this Tragedy), takes him to her heart.

Middleton's best line pops into my head
in Paris, where I'm the target of a familiar scam:
a passerby suddenly stops, swoops down,
picks up what looks like a gold ring, then
hands it to you as if you had dropped it.

I forget what's supposed to happen if you take the ring.
Some set-up for a hold-up?
                                        Or that your new "friend"
will follow you, corner you, tell you his sob story.
Desperate. Homeless. Starving children.
He needs your help. Don't you owe him? Didn't he
practically give you the ring? Suddenly, his ruthless
accomplices surround you. There are threats, or worse—
your reward for being greedy.
                                            But thoroughly warned
(don't these aces read the internet?), I feel less
threatened than tickled that this ancient gambit must
still work, that some indigent schemer can still
find an easy mark, an innocent abroad.
                                                          I shake my head.
My predator pockets the ring and slinks away.

                                                                    But they
don't give up. Next day, there's yet another attempt,
which I ignore. Then minutes later, a third (has the play
become a farce?): this time a girl—
                                                   mid-teens, heartbreaking eyes.
And when I laugh out loud, she glares at me
before we both move on.
                                     Our eyes, however, meet again when,
swinging around, I see her, only a few feet away, offering
the ring to two young Asian guys. Still grinning, I wag
my finger at her and shake my head.
                                                     Enraged, outraged, she returns
my upright finger with a finger of her own. Why can't I mind my
own business? She's not a joke. She isn't in a play.
How dare I interfere with her work? Who do I think I am?

Lloyd Schwartz


Fall 2012

To view this poem online, visit the Poetry Daily archive at http://www.poems.com/archive.php
View a large-print version of this poem