Till human voices wake us, and we drown.— T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Mary Szybist’s Script Says Cry is a strange little poem about a woman in a room full of things, trapped in a moment under their watchful eyes. She first tries to be as they are—still and unbothered, but fails—her humanness demands to make itself known. The items wait for her to follow a script, in which she is supposed to cry, or cry out, but is unable to. She finally moves the moment forward by granting herself the grace of improvisation.
“They look more alert and patient now./ They quiet around me and wait”. The poem opens with an interrupting thought, a realisation. Solitude and silence, when sat in long enough, sometimes leads one to the startling awareness about the sentience of things—indeed perhaps of the world at large. And all at once, this attention is returned, necessitating the speaker to “summon the appearance”, to pretend at, even when all alone. The stage follows the actress even home, respite from the need to put a self on is only ever an illusion.
This moment stretches the length of the poem, distended uncomfortably by inaction and the woman’s inability to play her role sufficiently. Refusing, or unable to cry— to exclaim, or shed a tear—she tries her hand at mimicry, at parts she’s never trained for: “A metal teaspoon slants in a glass cup;/ I lean on a chair at the same angle./… the lamp at the end of the table is still coating the room/ with its expected flush”. Her ineptness, however, shows its hand; things fall apart: “But I am all interruption./ I arch my back a trifle, my mouth embarrassed and open—/… My leaning begins to swoon…/ a handkerchief falls”. The theatre of the world waits still, its patience enough, yet waning: “The moment is still going on… but they are tired of me now”. One shifts uncomfortably under its blank and pitiless gaze.
“[She looks] at them more directly than [she has] for several minutes”, before she opens her mouth to speak. When reduced to object, one does the only thing offered in that situation: return the gaze, albeit an othered one. Now lost in the moment, she uses tangible and physical reality as a handhold, as a map out of it, back into herself as subject again.
And finally— “To continue past the moment I say I am thirsty/ and continue past the moment”. It is impossible to summon tears from a dry well. This acknowledgement effectively and finally shatters the glass bubble magnifying and trapping her and the play resumes its relentless march.
“Script says cry”— but there are other ways of breaking.