Trojan Women"What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?"
Cast as understudy for Cassandra,
I was plainly not the drama coach's
favorite. Face it, I was plain. The chosen girl
had hair that flamed, also a mad look
that settled in only for rehearsals.
Outside, knocking foam off Coke glasses
at the Union fountain where she served us
with a saccharine smile, or singing in glee
club, on our bucolic campus, Cassandra
was composed. The rest of us? crazed daily:
Vietnam, the Tet offensive, Kent State,
walls collapsing, towers burning. A boy
I knew returning to the job they'd held
for him—trash collecting—when the truck he drove
backfired, dove beneath a car, and started
mumbling about killing children.
On stage Hector's little son, playing dead,
fidgeted on his shield, while Hecuba
rephrased her lines between deep drags
on a cigarette. How I hated simpering Andromache
(chosen for her delicacy, her fake rolling R's).
She melted into the grassy stage
of the Greek theatre, though the throaty
voice of the old queen could console me—
Bostonian, but saltier than any Kennedy
we had ever lost. We practiced mannerist
dancing, gestures frozen like figures on an urn,
or Busby Berkeley girls in corduroy which,
from the cheap seats, resembled velvet.
Meanwhile the family movie cameras whirred,
and later, an awkward uncle, veteran
of the European theatre, parodied our upraised arms,
teased our keening: "Woe is me, woe, woe is me."
We hated war and hoped Euripides
would make our case. Yet war dragged on
for years: all those Hectors under chariot wheels,
all the Trojan widows gamely clutching
folded coffin flags against their breasts,
while older heroes joked in fractured Greek:
"You rippa deez? Then, you menna deez!"
So does cheesy humor try to mute the shocks
of buried memory. But those that rend the world
are seldom those that mend it. It's left to Hecuba,
old crone, wild with grief, to stretch her full length
down and beat the earth she once had danced on:
husband, son, grandson—all gone.