A performance poem for multiple characters. First presented at the Manawatu Festival of New Arts 2008.

High school student, Young man, Mother, Traveller, Widow.

Cast are lined up either side of stage facing each other, men on one side, women on the other, with about three feet between them – Young man is opposite high school student downstage, then mother and traveller, finally widow stands without anyone facing her. They are all dressed in black, and each holds a torch. There are a pile of bags and cases upstage centre, including an old leather satchel, a large suitcase covered in stickers, a baby module car seat, a tea chest and some empty cardboard boxes scattered about. There should be a number of others too.

Torches are turned on and are used to point into the audience at the floor and into the roof as if searching for something as the cast speak.

It accumulates.
In the hidden corners, beneath drifts of dust;

or under the attic eaves
wrapped in soft shadows

High school student:
it breathes and grows.

Young man :
So often I’ve thought
I left it behind
buried in the skip

Young man/Mother:
with the other dead memories,

only to discover it
glimpsed in passing
as I turned, distracted
from this to that.

By the end, the torches of all but the high school student are swung to shine on the bags. Hers is pointed upward to illuminate her face from below.

High school student: Goes and kneels by the pile of bags. Puts her torch down – she should be illuminated by the other torches. Drags the satchel out - it’s buried under everything else. Stands and puts it over her shoulder, picks up the torch and walks downstage right. She points the torch back at her face, and the other torches are turned off.

Right at the bottom, deep, deep
the battered leather satchel;
its surface is compass-point tatooed
with names whose faces I‘ve
forgotten forgetting, never mind
the promises of eternal friendship.

Inside: the diary, the folded notes,
the crumpled hankie,
blood, hormones, glasses, braces,
Deeper still: the razor,
(Down, not across, down not across
down not… ) pause

a jumble, a gasp
a first kiss
a last goodbye.

Walks to sit to one side of the widow, facing the audience. Points her torch towards the bags.

Other torches turn on, pointed towards bags, except Young man’s. He walks to the bags and picks up the suitcase. He turns to face the audience, torch below his chin.

Young Man:
Here’s my leaving-home suitcase.
I put the stickers on it when it was new
kicked it about – I wanted
people to think we’d both been around a bit
I don’t think we fooled anyone.
The lock’s popped,
because I lost the key,
and I wanted, once in passing,
to see who I’d been back then.
I can’t remember why I wanted its
secrets so badly. I think I was looking
for something real.
All I found was the posters: the Amnesty Candle,
Rainbow Warrior, the stark, black
face of Che.
And I remembered that I was a fake, even then
starting my adult life by
packing a guarantee of acceptance.
It held a uniform, a book of rules,
a list of things to say
and, more cogently
a list of things to not.
Things to smother in silence,
tuck in a corner and leave
folded and unlooked at
while I put on team colours
and ran along the right tunnel

Carrying the case, walks to stand behind and to the left of the widow, facing the audience.

Mother: Moves to bags, turns off torch picks up baby capsule, walks down stage, kneels and looks into audience. The other torches follow her as she moves and stay pointed at her.

How much resentment can you hide
under a sleepy smile
and a pile of nappies?

It wasn’t that I didn’t want
her... him...

Well, most of the time.
It was simply that sometimes
I’d have liked to put them down
and walked around a while in my own name
and forget that I wasn’t only me any more.

Begins to rock the seat.

I could look at her there, my daughter, sleeping
and almost choke on the desire to
breathe her in, and hold my
breath, making myself a fortress around her,
My eyes would itch with tears
of joy, yeah, sure,
but enough tears that
I’d be floundering, helpless
hopeless, and I knew I must
lift her up out of the flood,
even though in saving her,
I drowned a hundred times.

I’d beach her in her daddy’s arms
and if I’d kicked away
I could, probably, have swum
but I always sank
and I hardly even minded.

Most of the time.

She stands and carries the Capsule to where the High School Student sits and puts it in front of her. She kneels beside the girl and they look into the capsule smiling and rocking it.

Traveller: Drags the tea chest downstage left.

We put fifteen years into ten of these.
Love it or leave it, we said,
and most of it we left, thinking
it could be spared. I loved,
perhaps, less than she.
I certainly left less.

So brave to leave your home
they said.
So daring to take the risk
A new country
A new sky
A new world.

We laughed at them
talked about adventure,
talked about finding our home
in each other,
so we could never leave it behind

We came, we built
we got along like a
house on fire -
burning brightly, but somewhere
she got consumed in the flames.

I never even noticed
my home burning down.

Leaves the tea chest and goes to stand behind widow to her left

Widow: Walks away from the group, begins to pick up empty boxes dropping her torch in the first and stacking the smaller inside the larger. The torches of the others follow her.

Strange how heavy an empty box can be
these weighed far less this morning
when his things filled them.
This house was much less
, when there were
two of us, when the only thing
filling the corners, were his
coughs, his calls, his creaking breath.

I could turn then, freely,
move unhindered. The corners
of my mouth weren’t too
heavy to lift

Now, silence presses on one side
time, crushing, bears down from
above, and memories wrap themselves
round my ankles like hungry cats
tripping me.

My voice won’t come
when I try to shoo them –
why would I need a voice now
with nobody to hear it?

She walks downstage, boxes in her arms

It’s a new world, not mine

She exits downstage left, dropping her boxes with a thud in the wings.

Traveller: Comes downstage and picks up the tea chest. He shines his torch into the audience.

New worlds swallow old ones.

The turns off his torch, carries the tea chest off and drops it

High school student: Walks to centre stage.

Its … exciting.

Young man: joins her centre stage, puts a hand on her shoulder.

It’s full of opportunity.

They leave together, dropping the bags on exit and turning off torches.

Mother: with capsule.

But you can’t leave your baggage behind.
New worlds need a seed to grow
- you always take it with you.

Black out. She doesn’t drop the baby.

Baggage is a game show shown on the Game Show Network, hosted by Jerry Springer. It is in the sub-genre of dating game shows. Its name refers to its theme: the contestant must choose between a number of partners who have some form of "baggage", undesirable traits. Through a series of rounds, they eliminate the partners based on revelations they make about themselves. After choosing their final partner, they then reveal their own baggage, and are themselves accepted or refused. The reward of going through this is a free vacation for the couple, if they can deal with each other's baggage.

The mechanics of the game being described (which are actually much simpler to understand while actually watching the show), I want to say something about the show's importance. In the history of American television, there was a brief Golden Age of optimistic, heavily-censored and generally vanilla television. There were no toilets, and married couples didn't sleep in the same bed. Since about 1970, just as the rest of the nation started loosening up, television did as well. But as television loosened up, it did two things: it sensationalized people's sexual and personal lives, while still managing to remain utterly unrealistic. Even as television discovered promiscuity, homosexuality, divorce and any number of other things that most people now don't think twice about it, it managed to not really capture the texture of what diversity meant.

Which is what is surprising and important about "Baggage" --- the show focuses on the "baggage" of the contestants, which often involves past infidelity or promiscuity. It is also hosted by Jerry Springer, perhaps the person most infamous for exploitive television. So what is surprising is that the show is actually fairly respectful of its contestants. Instead of being presented as freak shows whose sexual or personal problems are meant to titillate the viewers, the entire point of the show is that despite their problems, these people are still real people, and are still worthy and likable. And also strangely enough, Jerry Springer starts to seem charming after a while.

Of course, all of that is in the context of this being a television show that tries to compress the issue of dating and companionship into 22 minutes of game show. However, for what it is, it is much better than it could be.

Bag"gage (?), n. [F. bagage, from OF. bague bungle. In senses 6 and 7 cf. F. bagasse a prostitute. See Bag, n.]


The clothes, tents, utensils, and provisions of an army.

⇒ "The term itself is made to apply chiefly to articles of clothing and to small personal effects."



The trunks, valises, satchels, etc., which a traveler carries with him on a journey; luggage.

The baronet's baggage on the roof of the coach. Thackeray.

We saw our baggage following below. Johnson.

⇒ The English usually call this luggage.


Purulent matter.




Trashy talk.




A man of bad character.




A woman of loose morals; a prostitute.

A disreputable, daring, laughing, painted French baggage. Thackeray.


A romping, saucy girl.




© Webster 1913.

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