copyright © 1990 Todd Ristau

the green man
I work at the hospital.
I have a job there.
I am not a doctor, but I do hospital work.
My work is important, rewarding, and satisfying.
All day I sit in a room waiting.
Waiting for things to be brought to me,
I am summoned by a bell to get the things myself.

Sometimes I meet people in the hospital, and get to know them.
Share some part of our lives together.
Usually it is very painful things they have to share.
Its understandable.
And if they want to share their pain,
I welcome the opportunity to feel it along with them.
I met a girl in the ward that was a dancer.
She was so beautiful, with such eyes.
Her body was wonderful, but parts of it were very sick.
You could smell it even under the blankets and hospital odors.
She cried a lot.
She was so young,
with so much of her life left to her,
but all she could concentrate on were her feet,
and how she would never be able to use them again.

She talked so often about how much she would miss using her feet.

I am not allowed to tell the patients what my job is.
I am told that it would depress them
and they would shift blame for their problems onto me
simply because of the nature of my work.

I find it difficult not to tell the people what I do,
because I think they would find it reather comforting to know that it was me doing it.
That it was a friend.

I love my work.

But there are parts about it that make me very sad,
and I couldn't stand it if the patients in the wards
looked at me with anything but kindness.

They ask me what I do at the hospital,
and I say I make friends and pray for people
and care for them in wasy that they will never know about...
and the people,
even the little dancer,
smile when they hear that.

Even though they don't know how I care for them,
They like the idea that I do.

I run the incinerator.

It is my job to sit by the fire,
keep it hot,
and I turn the things that have been cut away,
the damaged and diseased parts of people I don't really know
into carbon.

Carbon is the purest form on earth.

I burn them.
There are no special tools,
I use my hands.
I don't wear gloves or use plastic wrap either...
I believe that even a severed limb remains somehow human
and somehow worthy of love and affection.

I couldn't rest if flesh weren't the last thing to touch flesh before the flames.
One touch before the fire.

I think of Hell while I work.
I imagine a fire that burns and burns and yet does not consume....
and I feel sadness.

Not for the damned, they have waited too long for it...
I feel sadness for a fire that can not burn disease into purity,
and for flesh that can't surrender to the heat.

But....I'm a romantic, and that means...
that means...
I don't sleep very well.


This morning, these arrived.

(holds up a brown paper bag)

The dancer cried and cried over losing them,
but I think I was the only one
who heard her feet crying over never being useful again...

They told me that if I would wait a while to turn them into carbon,
they would teach me to dance.

(a child's smile, lights out)

This has always been a very popular piece. I guess it was first done at No Shame on Sept 7, 1990, and I seem to remember that was a Patio No Shame. I think I've done it several times, at Best Of and certainly at Talk Art Cabaret. I know it was the piece I read to Lavonne when she asked us to bring in representative work so she could meet us through our writing rather than as people--but then after the first writer read hers she told us all to write in an action to start the piece if our pieces didn't start with an action. I had always intended the piece to be very still, spoken in a monotone, hands on the table, and staring straight out into the audience. I raised my hand and asked Lavonne if non-action, when specifically chosen could be considered an action for this purpose. She responed, and I quote, "No, that would be considered boring." She forced us to rewrite our pieces before she had even read or heard them. I was furious, and this was the start of a not very good relationship between us. When I got up to do my piece I said, "I have rehearsed this piece as I'd originally intended to do it, but if you wouldn't mind imagining the action Lavonne has requested, please picture that the character sits down to the table with a lunch box painted in the color of the American flag and during the monologue he opens it, and proceeds to make a ham sandwhich and drink a cup of coffee from his thermos." Then I just did it the way I always did it. Bless her heart, Carson Becker was the first to comment afterwards, and she said, "Maybe I'm wrong but I think it would be awful if he was making a sandwich during this piece."

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