First Reading

By | 1 August 2021

We begin rehearsals in a freezing warehouse
that was once a factory reverberating with the hum
and clanking of shuttle looms and the numbing
routine of days that chilled down into the soul,
that accumulated a tally of impoverished hours
spent tending a thread, a line of cotton, a line
of wool, all spooling and unspooling without end.
How privileged I am to be working at what I love,
to be collaborating with four men and five women
on a project that is destined for applause. I am
not one for speeches and group improvisations.
I will not impose some predetermined method
on the material. Instead, we sit around the table
and read the play. The lilt, grain and timbre
of their voices fills the room. There is no showing off,
no competition, simply the pleasure of imagining it
all unfold, as if a parachute is spread between us
ready to catch whatever shines and bounce it past our faces
while we watch it wobble, ricochet and spin. There is
not much to do but immerse myself in the listening.
And when Thao leaves her daughter, Mai, to go south
during the war, I suddenly see my father standing
next to my mother on the steps of the Saigon Opera House,
I see him buying a lottery ticket from a man with an open
suitcase and sitting down at a wedding feast with his friends—
all these young men smiling over bowls of rice. I must admit
that I’m hoping to find my father, or the ghost of my father,
that I long to be lifted up and swung through the air again,
to be wrapped up in his arms, to feel his cheek pressing
against mine, not the way he used to greet me, but now,
in this warehouse, in the pulse of this reading, to have
and hold more than the day when we last saw him,
when along with his ARVN comrades he shed
his uniform and abandoned his army boots,
leaving them unlaced and empty on a once frantic street.

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