Our poetry editor, Joe Pan, has selected an excerpt from a verse play by Joyelle McSweeney for his series that brings original poetry to the screens of Hyperallergic readers.

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Laurie Anderson, “O Superman (For Massenet)” (1981) (still via yellowgowild/Youtube)

“Trial of MUSE” — An excerpt from the verse play Dead Youth, or, The Leaks

[Note: Dead Youth, or, The Leaks finds a benevolent Julian Assange piloting a stolen containership, the SS Smirk, on his way to Magnetic Island. His mission is to reboot a pack of DEAD YOUTH, tracksuited teens who have died by a variety of Anthropocene causes, and upload them to the Internet. The ship is boarded by two other would-be hijackers: Abduwali MUSE, a teenage Somali “pirate,” and a female ST-EXUPÉRY, representing the LAW-in-travesty.

In this passage, MUSE is being tried by ST-EXUPÉRY, while the dubious YOUTH oscillate between taking the MUSE’s side and that of the LAW.]

DEAD YOUTH 1: O this island. It’s a pit.
DEAD YOUTH 2: It’s a dump.
DEAD YOUTH 1: It’s a mass grave!
DEAD YOUTH 2: Without the masses. It’s deserted.
ASSANGE: Not at all. It’s just the off-season. You boys play the part of the unseasonable youth. Untimely plucked. Watch out or you’ll be juiced. [his tail switches like a lazy cat]


MUSE: I recognize the representative of France.

ST-EXUPÉRY: You are not the judge!
Nor president pro tem!
You do not recognize me.
I myself am JUSTICE.
I recognize you.

YOUTH TO YOUTH: HUM, blind Justice recognizes Muse!
YOUTH TO YOUTH: That’s what, in science, we call a double-blind.
TOUT YOUTH: A very pharmaceutical pursuit! Forsooth.

ST-EXUPÉRY: Silence, youth! It is golden.
It has a mouth, but it’s fixed.
Like a clock, or a neutered cat,
or suit brought against an emperor.
In other words, can it.

YOUTH: Silence in other words! That is strange science!

ST-EXUPÉRY: Let the interrogation proceed. Now, Muse, I don’t want to have to take out my carburetor or my salad tongs. So answer my questions. Sing, muse.

MUSE: I won’t.

ST-EXUPÉRY: Then prattle.

MUSE: The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream
YOUTH: the only emperor is the emperor de glace
MUSE: the only emperor is the one who stands naked
YOUTH: the only emperor is the emperor sans pants
MUSE: and communicates to youth, directly in his nakedness.
ASSANGE: O dream of a crystalline communication.
Flap flap to dirty ears. The pidgins of pigeons.
The germs they smuggle in their penates and pinions.
The germs they share for a puddle of crumb-ions.
Good pigeons, grey matter, rats with aspirations!
O rank mass, its rank communicants! Its holy communications!
YOUTH: We Catholics believe in transubstantiation.
Our uncanny valley runs on circuits of revulsion.
MUSE: How like a thing, how like a paragon
YOUTH: how like a think, how like an epicure
MUSE: how like a stink, how like a pedicure
YOUTH: how like bacteria that thrive in the footbath
MUSE: how like a strand of flesh-eating staph
YOUTH: how like the society ladies hobble on no feet
MUSE: until they realize Jimmy Choos fit better with no feet
YOUTH: how they then occupy the lotus position
MUSE: how like a bath salt
YOUTH: how like a bidet.
MUSE: What a piece of…work is man
YOUTH: Le seul empereur est l’empereur de glace
MUSE: Caveat emptor
YOUTH: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.
MUSE: Follow your leader. That’s called dictee.

ST-EXUPÉRY: I see you are a very learned man.

MUSE: Maleducated. Malaparte. That’s why we formed our bande à part. Before the Little Emperor could pursue his destiny, he flipped the ‘Malaparte’ to ‘Bonaparte’. A visionary must also have a literalist’s heart. And wear it like a medal on his chest.

ST-EXUPÉRY: O what a fine speech! O medals all around!

YOUTH: [affixing metals by driving pins into Muse’s torso. He now resembles a Sebastian] That’s tantalum, that’s for capacity, in hearing aids, jet blades, and telephony. There’s cassiterite that’s for circuit boards. And there’s wolframite that’s for ‘green ammunition,’ i.e. bullets with less lead. So children who eat bullets won’t get lead poisoning and perform poorly in standardized tests. Also good for making your iPhone vibrate.

ALL: What?

YOUTH: I kid you not. Wolframite is a very right metal. People mine each other for it. I’m talking about a combat mine, mined by gangpressed soldiers. I am not even talking about a data mine.

ASSANGE: O MUSE, you are a bouquet. You are a very directory, a very index, the very body of contemporary miseree.

ST-EXUPÉRY: That’s enough. Don’t encourage his vanitee. Second question. MUSE, when brought to trial in New York, why did you smile for the cameras?

MUSE: Because I have a face.

[rifle crack]


MUSE: Because I have a face.


MUSE: It is the opposite of obscene. The obscene must be hidden from view. My face I show. It is a black face, but it is not in blackface. It comes from a black site. It is a leak.

ST-EXUPÉRY: O OBSCENE! O how his teeth gleams, his smile, and his eyes, his charisma, and his native talent for being alive. O obscenity. What a felony! Youth tar him with petroleum products. Then he will know what it means to be in capitalism’s embrace. IN THE BOSOM OF THE LAW!

(YOUTH tar ST-EXUPÉRY instead)

WHAT? What is the meaning of this?

YOUTH: Are you not the font of Justice? I recognize you, I met you so many times on the other side of the bench. You sent me to juvie for a decade, took the kickback to buy golf clubs. Luckily I OD’d and was thus released from my sentence, albeit to the morgue. Now you wear the black robes you wore in life, which shows you have been invested with gravure as in the grave.

ST-EXUPÉRY: Well I see. Grandeur is grand. That’s tautologee, a very right and total logic. Let us proceed with the proceedings. Where were we?

MUSE: You asked me why I smiled, and I replied, because I have a face.

ST-EXUPÉRY: Yes, yes. And yet the next day, at your trial, you wept and wept. Why did you weep?

MUSE: Because I am a teen. Because I had just learned the role cut out for me. The role of tragic youth. I didn’t want it, but could not avoid it. I was trapped. And I wept because I had tears at my disposal. And I disposed of them. Or perhaps I had a grit in my eye. Perhaps I thought I could weep out an industrial diamond so tough I could use it as a weapon and cut up the court.

ST-EXUPÉRY: O, a threat! A threat against the body of the court. O what a mongrel! And yet we cannot lose our composure. As a final piece of evidence, I would like to read out something you wrote on your blog. “I think I should select from my poems as my favorite “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” This wears a deliberately commonplace costume, and yet seems to me to contain something of the essential gaudiness of poetry; that is the reason why I like it.”

MUSE: I wrote that?

ST-EXUPÉRY: Yes, rat, and you are trapt. You are trapt forever in your own snare because you wrote this on the Internet. It’s data. It’s datestamped.

MUSE: When did I write that?

ST-EXUPÉRY: You wrote it in 1933 in Hartford, Connecticut.

MUSE: Well, then, I denounce it. That was in my youth. Before I came into my revolutionary consciousness. Emperors indeed. Though ‘the essential gaudiness of poetry’ is quite a phrase, something to hold on to, to pin to the breast…

ST-EXUPÉRY: Your opinion about emperors has no bearing on this case. My god, you blacks. Whine whine. Somalia hasn’t been ruled by an emperor for at least…well, decades. As for ice cream, typically childish. I can’t understand this substance’s resurgence in this play as a motif. I thought this was a play about petroleum.

DEAD YOUTH: Judge, if it please the court, I’d like to file a brief. Ice cream and petroleum are polar opposites of each other, and thus may substitute for each other, bind, and form a digital system. We pow’r this colony with the swerve, with the flip-flip. Then we can parade about in speedo’s and flip-flops, and have ice-cream in the freezer and run the vacuum cleen all night. As for me, like a true hustler, I like both oil and ice cream. I’m ecumenical. Look, I’ve black nylons under my track bottoms. My jacket’s so synthetic it could melt.

ST-EXUPÉRY: Silence, dead pageboys. You call that trash philosophie the ‘idealism of youth’? With that kind of idealism you’re more suited for a Weimar cabaretto than the Furor’s youth. Now, like the Furor, let’s be rational and logical. Let’s review the facts of the case. Your excuse for your great crime of piracy is your youth. An excuse immediately invalidated by the fact that you are being tried as an adult. Therefore, ipso facto, you are no youth, therefore you are defenseless. You sir, are no youth! QED. GED. JD. STD. Associates Degree from the Lice Lycee. Also, since you refuse to ascribe to yourself a motive, I must assign one to you, and I shall select one that is more than mere larceny, which would be par de course. No, sir, let me see…your motive is villainy, villainy itself, tout court and tout de suite, and your wish to see villainy communicated to the innocent flank of the world, in the person of the MV Maersk, which you so wantonly call ‘the Smirk’. O piracy! O cult of villainy! O cur! O scourge! O sturgeon with black eggs! O rub his face in shoe polish, shoe ‘blacking’ burnt corn cobs and ash! I should sentence you to DEATH. O, but being Just I love MERCY. So instead I shall transport you to Terre Haute, Indiana for thirty-three-and-one-third years. Don’t snuffle, you’ll emerge an exhausted 51. Though I dare say you’ll have lost your looks.

YOUTH: No, MUSE, we will not let you perish! You or your good looks!
You are a role model to us!

MUSE: DEAD YOUTH, I am not a role model. I’m not even an athlete. My only mission is not to die before my time. I wanted to say my piece, and my peace is over. And yet, I feel a tear forming right here. In these two organs which are to sight what hearing is to ears. I mean my eyes. They’re pearlescing. They’re dropping white bacterial wads in front of me. O I lose my vision. I am become a twin of Justice. I am a white world. I am blind.

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Joyelle McSweeney’s play Dead Youth, or, The Leaks won the inaugural Scalapino Prize for Innovative Women Playwrights and is forthcoming from Litmus Press in November. A poetics book, The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults is forthcoming from the University of Michigan Poets on Poetry Series next winter. She co-edits the international press, Action Books.

Joe Pan grew up along the Space Coast of Florida and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His debut poetry book, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named “Best First Book of the Year” by Coldfront...