Playing Proctor

By STEVEN LEYVA

 

“… and there is promise in such sweat.”
      —John Proctor, from The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

Given this ruddy, straightened wig no one could place
my face on a spectral scale of “ethnic.” I slid

on and off stage. I spoke plain. I didn’t name names. Some 
audiences mistook me for Muscogee Creek. I spoke

in first person. Under that wig I wore cornrows 
in Oklahoma’s emaciated winter.

Arthur Miller was writing about hysteria
which can sound like tepid applause. Inside

the theater, the set was minimal: an askew 
cross, brown flats mimicking wood. Our acting voices 

restrained with puritan diction. Everything seethed. 
Nothing was faithful, least of all the weather. Goody 

was defined in the script. The wind outside mobbed the building 
like a pack of crows. I witnessed daily the end 

of the American Plains, after removing the stage 
makeup and this wig. On the marquee of a washbasin- 

shaped convention center, another man of God 
come to town. 50 years before, Miller whet his thumb

and now his lines are in my mouth. “Common vengeance 
writes the laws.” A lead role. We left realism in 

the 19th century. And look what remains. We
wanted a straight play about paranoia. 

But outside the theater: horizon’s bloody 
lip, a monostich, the needle in a poppet. 

 

Steven Leyva was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and raised in Houston, Texas. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 2 Bridges Review, Scalawag, Nashville Review, jubilat, Vinyl, and Prairie Schooner. He is a Cave Canem Fellow, author of the chapbook Low Parish, and author of The Understudy’s Handbook, which won the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize from Washington Writers’ Publishing House. Steven holds an MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he is an assistant professor in the Klein Family School of Communications Design.

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Playing Proctor

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