Tragedy for One Voice

Emily Berry


[Alone onstage with a coffin. Windchimes]

ME ONE: There is a part of me that will always miss what I lost

ME TWO: They all said the same thing in their letters. Poor little _____. I hope she will be okay, poor little _____

ME ONE: I went back to the burned house

ME TWO: Day of the week: immaterial. Time of year: immaterial

ME ONE: Who was there: me and another girl, also me (you)
        [gesturing to ME TWO]

ME TWO: [angry] During leave-taking from mother: 'without ceremony, the children were far more distressed than if mother left with the proper rituals'

CHORUS: Give us this day our proper rituals! Give us some fucking ceremony!




[A kind of light that is not the right kind of light; screaming]

ME ONE: Somebody said: 'I am a master of elision.' I veiled my tended wound. I veiled my narrative. Somebody called it: 'some kind of gratuitous beauty.' I veiled my photograph of her in sixties playsuit

ME TWO: Somebody wrote: 'Thereafter, hidden away, in some locked cupboard of the mind, he carries the murderous dead thing within him, an unappeased Doppelgänger, not to be placated, crying out to be heard'

ME ONE: I GIVE BIRTH TO MURDEROUS DEAD THING let it go to swimming pools, meditation sessions, take it on train journeys during which I feel ABANDONED and ALONE—

CHORUS: I was so small! I was so capable!

ME ONE: I run out into the street. I find someone. I tell them everything. 'I have got it in me!' I shout. 'Undigested! Whole! The dead body of a woman! I am conducting a murder investigation! Victim performed disappearing act leaving empty shell and devastation!'

ME TWO: Why didn't I—

ME ONE: I'm sorry

ME TWO: What for

ME ONE: For myself

[Sound of breaking strings]

ME TWO + CHORUS (of baritones): —SAVE HER 


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Peter Berry

Emily Berry is a poet and editor living in London. She is the author of two books of poems, Dear Boy (Faber & Faber, 2013) and Stranger, Baby (Faber & Faber, 2017) and a co-writer of The Breakfast Bible, a compendium of breakfasts. A selection of her work appears in If I’m Scared We Can’t Win: Penguin Modern Poets 1, alongside Anne Carson and Sophie Collins. She is the editor of The Poetry Review and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

“Highly intelligent, deeply moving poems that provide a new lens through which to consider grief.”
—Sarah Crown, The Guardian

“This is powerful poetry. But it is also clever, modern, and playful. Berry refuses to withhold any of her poetic artillery; she experiments with form boldly, an experiment that might fail in the hands of a weaker writer...‘Stranger, baby’ generates a high voltage; its energy feels dangerous for both writer and reader, and no one who reads it will deny the sparks that fly off it.”
The London Magazine

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