The Cat Feet of the Fog by Margaret Larlham

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This Play is the copyright of the Author and must not be Performed or Copied without the Author's prior consent


(A knocking at the door. MISS STEICHEN opens it to find a beaming CARL SANDBURG.)

SANDBURG
How do you do!

MISS STEICHEN
Mr. Sandburg I presume!

SANDBURG
(To MISS STEICHEN)
Pleased to meet you, Miss?

MISS STEICHEN
Miss Steichen!

SANDBURG
Hello! Hello to you all! So what can you tell me?

MISS STEICHEN
(Nervously)
Um…Well it's more about what you want to tell us! Would you like
to begin your recital now, Mr. Sandburg?

SANDBURG
Well certainly!
(To audience)
I will begin with my most well known poem…perhaps because
it is the shortest - he-he! Fog!

The fog comes
On little cat feet
It sits looking
Over harbour and city
On silent haunches
And then moves on.

MISS STEICHEN
(Applauds weakly)
Fog is an unusual subject!

SANDBURG
The mist is beautiful-don't you agree? Pearly gray and
mysterious…
The whole world was mist long ago and some day it will go back to
mist,
Our skull and lungs are more water than bone and tissue
And all poets love dust and mist because all the last answers
Go running back to dust and mist.

MISS STEICHEN
Er…yes!
(To audience)
A hand for Mr. Sandburg!
(To SANDBURG)
Perhaps you would be kind enough to educate the students about poetry.
What are the rules for writing a poem, Mr. Sandburg?

SANDBURG
(Taken aback)
Rules, Miss Steichen? Well…I could try and tell you…but you might
all prefer it if I show you!

MISS STEICHEN
How?

SANDBURG
I will summon the characters of my memory and imagination! You will
meet my brainchildren. How do you like that? Be prepared for a wild
ride if I produce them for you-here!

MISS STEICHEN
What do you mean? How?

SANDBURG
Supreme concentration, Miss Steichen, yes-and human fission, if you
will! Mind over matter. I will need your
help, of course, to bring forth-that is-materialize these
brainchildren of mine.

MISS STEICHEN
I'm sorry? Children? Materia…are you sure this is educational? The
School Board has very strict guidelines…

SANDBURG
Hush!
(He concentrates-eyes closed.)
Mind over matter!

MISS STEICHEN
I don't think this is possible!

SANDBURG
(Opening eyes)
Do you see anyone yet?

MISS STEICHEN
(Looking around)
Well…no…nothing!

SANDBURG
I think, someone has a negative energy! Miss Steichen?
Come everyone, let's really concentrate together! Mind over
matter.

(The BRAINCHILDREN appear briefly. They peep, wave, and duck away.)

BRAINCHILDREN
Luck!
(They disappear.)

SANDBURG
Did you hear that?

MISS STEICHEN
No!


ACT 1

Scene 2: The Mind of Carl Sandburg

SETTING: A sky of clouds. A train (or moveable flatbed platform) waits
on a wide, open prairie.
(BRAINCHILDREN - CLARA, AUGUST, WHITE HORSE GIRL, BLUE WIND BOY,
SKABOOTCH + SQUIFF - enter impishly. They are pale and dusty. Dressed
quaintly in Victorian undergarments. They transform the set as needed
during the play.)

BRAINCHILDREN
(Secretively)
Luck is a star!
Money!
Money is a plaything.
Time!
Time is a storyteller.
And the sky goes blue with mornings,
And the sky goes bronze with sunsets
And the fireborn
They go far
Being at home in the fire!

SANDBURG
Do you hear that?

MISS STEICHEN
Not really!
(To the audience.)
Can you hear anything?
(The BRAINCHILDREN surround her. MISS STEICHEN is alarmed as she
finally sees them.)
Oh, my!
(The BRAINCHILDREN gravitate to SANDBURG and whisper in chorus.)

BRAINCHILDREN
(Together)
The fog comes
On little cat feet.
It sits looking
Over harbour and city
On silent haunches
And then moves on.

SANDBURG
Thank you for coming dear mind-springers! I summoned you as
I need to be clear about how I-we-came to be poets!
(The BRAINCHILDREN cluster under, over and around SANDBURG.
Quickfire responses.)

BLUE WIND BOY
Why?

SANDBURG
Because!

AUGUST
Won't work!

CLARA
Will work!

WHITE HORSE GIRL
Why?

SANDBURG
It's important!

BRAINCHILDREN
It's important…we're important!
(They chant or sing)
We're Mr. Carl Sandburg's
Imagination
You think you see us
But we're really
A manifestation of
Mr. Carl Sandburg's
Imagination!
We'll help to tell his story-but
There's always the temptation
To run away,
Escape this play
And set ourselves free!
To enter into another realm of possibility!
But we're Mr. Carl Sandburg's personal servants presently!

MISS STEICHEN
(Overwhelmed at the strangeness)
Oh dear!
(Falls in a faint.)

SANDBURG
Oops-too much excitement! Smelling salts!
(SANDBURG tends to her with smelling salts.)

SQUIFF
(Secretively to other BRAINCHILDREN)
Well, well-distracted! Now's our chance!

(BRAINCHILDREN escape the stage. They slip into the auditorium
apparently looking for places to hide.)

SANDBURG
(Does not notice the departure of the BRAINCHILDREN.)
Here Miss Steichen. Just sit quietly and you'll soon feel
better.
(He helps her up.)
I'm sorry, I should have warned you! They can be very unpredictable!
They are my brainchildren after all and
You know how the mind can wander!

MISS STEICHEN
(Irritably)
Well, my mind doesn't wander!

SANDBURG
Hey, where is everyone? Wandered off as I suspected! I
thought this might happen! Tut! Where have they gone?
I'll call them back by name! Skabootch!
(No answer.)
That's funny!
(Calls)
Blue wind boy!

BLUE WIND BOY
(From auditorium)

That's where the blue winds begin!

SANDBURG
Not now! Later!
(BLUE WIND BOY speedily returns to the stage and physically attaches
himself to SANDBURG as he continues to call out names.)
SANDBURG
Mr. Potato Face Blind Man!

(The BRAINCHILDREN return to the stage as they are called. They
reconfigure their shaping contact with SANDBURG at every phase,
reinforcing the "Brain" image.)

POTATO FACE BLIND MAN
(Returning)
I am blind too!

SANDBURG
Clara!

CLARA
(CLARA, AUGUST, SQUIFF head back to stage)
Remember what your mother said!

SANDBURG
August!

AUGUST
It's your duty!

SANDBURG
Jason Squiff!

SQUIFF
I'm your man tra-la-la!

SANDBURG
White Horse Girl!

WHITE HORSE GIRL
Keep a corner in your hearts for us while we are gone!

SANDBURG
Where is Skabootch! Where are you, Skabootch?

SKABOOTCH
(Pops up and then ducks away again)
Gone!
SANDBURG
Get back here!
(BRAINCHILDREN laugh silently as she returns to the group.)
Come now, everyone! Focus! Let's show these students and
this dear lady our pictures, stories, poems…

BRAINCHILDREN
In the mind of Carl Sandburg!

SANDBURG
Let's go!

CLARA
Oh!

SQUIFF
Oh no!

WHITE HORSE GIRL
Oh good!

SKABOOTCH
Oh sad!

AUGUST
Let's not go!

BLUE WIND BOY
Go where?

SANDBURG
Go back in time!

MISS STEICHEN
But how?

BRAINCHILDREN
(Surrounding SANDBURG)
Hmmm?
SANDBURG
(Confidently)
We will return on the memory train! All of us can! To my early life in
Galesburg, Illinois. Miss Steichen-will
you join us!

MISS STEICHEN
Well, I don't know…I'm not dressed for a journey…and do
we have enough time?

(SANDBURG nudges BLUE WIND BOY to help persuade her.)

BLUE WIND BOY
(To MISS STEICHEN)
Go on! Dear sweet mistress eyebrow!

WHITE HORSE GIRL
You'll love it!

SKABOOTCH
You'll hate it!

SQUIFF
Could be your lucky day!

MISS STEICHEN
I'll come for a while! I'll bring my notebook and make
educational notes-yes-that's what I'll do!

SANDBURG
Excellent! Come on everyone! Get ready to catch the memory
train!


ACT 1

SCENE 3: The Flying Train

BLUE WIND BOY
Ready!
(BLUE WIND BOY produces a suitcase. Once opened there is a burst of
clothes for the BRAINCHILDREN to wear on the journey.)

SANDBURG
Time to go! We will catch the memory train back to my, back to
our-childhood.

(PIANO MUSIC UNDERSCORING: Train Song. See Appendix Score.)

BRAINCHILDREN
On your mark…get set…go!

(Train music underscoring continues. BRAINCHILDREN dress each other
and line up as the train arrives.)

SQUIFF
All aboard! Do you wish for a ticket to go away and come back or a
ticket to go away and never come back?

(ALL consider this question very seriously.)

AUGUST
No!

WHITE HORSE GIRL
Let's go to ride to where the railroad tracks run off into
the sky!

BLUE WIND BOY
So far!

CLARA
So early!

SQUIFF
So soon!

(BRAINCHILDREN board the train.)

SANDBURG
All aboard!
(BRAINCHILDREN, adept at fitting themselves into peculiar
intersecting positions, make themselves comfortable on the train. MISS
STEICHEN waits with suitcase.)
There's room right here for you Miss Steichen!

MISS STEICHEN
Are you sure?

SANDBURG
Here!
(MISS STEICHEN climbs on board. The train sets off.)
We are riding to where the railroad tracks run off into the blue sky!

(The train travels, out of the schoolroom, up into the sky, over the
prairie, heading toward Galesburg, Illinois.)

SQUIFF
Zigzagging on and on!

CLARA
To the Rootabaga Country!

BLUE WIND BOY
So far!

(Train pauses. Train music fades to quiet underscoring. SEE SCORE, p
3. SANDBURG recites from his poem "Corn Huskers.")

SANDBURG
I was born on the prairie, and the milk of its wheat and the red of
its clover, the eyes of its women gave me a song and a slogan.
(BRAINCHILDREN, humming, slow-motion slide off train. In slow forming
moving shapes they amplify aspects of the poem; becoming "loam,"
"mountains," "stars," etc.)
Here the water went down, the icebergs slid with gravel, the gaps and
the valleys hissed and the black loam came, and the yellow sandy
loam.
Here between the sheds of the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians,
here now a morning star fixes a fire sign over the timber claims and
cow pastures, the corn belt, the cotton belt the cattle ranches.
Here the gray geese go five hundred miles and back with a wind under
their wings honking the cry for a new home.
Here I know I will hanker after nothing so much as one more sunrise or
a sky moon of fire doubled to a river moon of water.

The prairie sings to me in the forenoon and I know in the night I rest
easy in the prairie arms on the prairie heart.

(BRAINCHILDREN's image collage concludes as they sculpt themselves
into shapes of farmyard animals.)

[end of extract]

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