Rachel Hadas

Same Screen
October 23, 2023 Hadas Rachel

Same Screen


Every summer the students at the Bread Loaf School of English
chose a play to put on.
Their choice in 1960 was Ionesco’s
1950 play The Bald Soprano.
Eleven or twelve years old, a faculty brat,
I went to rehearsals.
I went to both performances.
I drank in every word.


One line from the play is still a favorite:
A stone caught fire.  Really?
Only in an absurdist drama
where you can’t believe everything you’re old
could a stone catch fire.


But many years later that line came true.
One April morning,  as I scurried through Penn Station
on my way to work,
I slipped in a puddle and fell and hurt my leg.
In a cubicle in the ER
after waiting an hour to be wheeled into X-ray,
I finally noticed the small TV
angled overhead.  I pressed a button.
What appeared was Notre Dame in flames.


How could a stone cathedral catch fire?
Hard to believe even, hard to believe especially
when seen on a screen.
How much do we, how much should we believe
of images that reach us on a screen?
Most images do reach us on a screen.


Foretold to other eyes on the same screen
Hart Crane wrote in 1930.
Crane, born in 1899,
and Ionesco, born ten years later,
shared a prophetic vision of the century
neither of them would live to see.
Hart Crane died in 1933.


Onscreen, the cathedral went on burning.
Flames shot out of its tower.
In the ER cubicle,
I lay back on my recliner
waiting for the X-ray,
a variation on the theme of screen.

Rachel Hadas is the author of many books of poetry, essays, and translations, mostly recently poetry collection “Ghost Guest” (2023) and her translation of  Book 16 of Nonnus’s “Tales of Dionysus”, a rollicking epic from the diaspora of late antiquity (2022).  She recently retired from Rutgers University-Newark, where for many years she was Board of Governors Professor of English.