after Peter Pan, the stage play by J. M. Barrie
It was terrible that man being killed next to you, but don’t be afraid to tell me of such things. … I have lost all sense I ever had of war being glorious, it is just unspeakably monstrous to me now.
—J.M. Barrie to George Llewelyn Davies four days before GLD’s death, 1915
[NB: For performance only: do not read. Please skip to next poem. Permission required from copyright holder. All casting, props, scenery, costumes & blocking to be determined by the Author. All audience members to be approved by the Author.]
Peter says we fell out of our prams in Kensington Gardens when our nannies looked
That girls are too clever to fall
That we’re brought after seven unclaimed days to Never-land to defray expense
He made us a place: we had food some times and stayed warm
When it was dry, we were dry
Some of us got names—Tootles/Nibs/Curly/Slightly/The Twins—some not
After the battle he let us go with Wendy & John & Michael
the Darlings took only the ones with names
We didn’t know until we went
They sent us to school—Eton & Oxford, just like Hook—then to war
If we came back we were judges & bankers & even a Lord—
We were pushed
We were placed
We were rolled
We fell in line—we did not fall out
Some went to France Some marched in front Some fell at Sommes
No matter how bad it got, we trimmed our beards, scraped mud
mixed with blood off tall boots: That’s when I’d think of her light—
of the sound of his pipe—I thought I heard it play last night
He took Hook’s hand with his knife, tossed it like bait—like worms to fish
The worst, when we lost our way in fog/in dark, mud above knees,
each step sinking deep in fields sewn with hands/heads/feet—
one body stacked on top of the next/next/next—guns closing in
like the croc-swallowed clock, shells stopping our eyes/our ears/our
lift one leg out of the stinking mud/advance an inch/repeat
no running/no trees/no Peter/no light: we pictured pirates/
the island/Nana/the Park, we tried to pretend, to be brave,
to be fine, but we couldn’t explain and we couldn’t write
He hung that cobweb of a house around my neck like a chain, a necklace of cannonballs.
Afraid I’d fly off. They clamored for stories: Now the story you promised to tell us as soon as we were
in bed! I told them I’d no experience, but they didn’t care. Wendy, Lady, be our mother. He wanted
their thoughts tended too. Said he’d watched my mother do that at night while we slept:
sorting the tangle, good from bad, putting the best on top where we’d look when we woke, like
clothes in drawers, hiding [shudders] beneath.
He said travel. Said world. Said adventure. There are mermaids. The first boy who saw me tried to
bury an arrow in my chest, and the merfolk? drown those who are not their kind. How we should
all respect you, he lied. After that it was diapers & dinners/ flu & February/ babies & bathing &
passing their time. I spun yarn after yarn after yarn—like yarn. He traveled. Said pretend.
When we left, he forgot us. Just like that. I’d promised to clean his house once a year, if he
came back, which he did, only once: Fancy forgetting the lost boys, even Captain Hook, I said. Tinker
Bell? he asked, Who’s that?
They treated us like dogs: Fetch my jacket, Nana. Fetch a towel. Fetch my tea. Fetch my tie. It
was like that at all the houses.
We went into service young—8, 10, 12. And the children? They lived with us, in our rooms &
our part of the house, not people either, but stories—for the club, high tea, the bazaar, dinner,
the opera, the theatre, the flower show: Made his eleven at Eton. Scholarship to Oxford. Officer at the
Then they’d skip off: Italy, France, Turkey, Greece. One month. Two. Said they’d come home
when the weather turned. Said she was delicate. Said she needed rest. As if she didn’t get that
Sometimes I think they didn’t know the children had souls. What kind of person does a story
grow up to be?
We watched over them like nobody’s business. No boy ever fell from a pram without our
knowledge. I can tell you that.
Every December before the annual production of Peter Pan, a terrifying ceremony takes place. The
measuring of the children who play in it. They are measured to see whether they have grown too tall and they
can all squeeze down about two inches, but this does not deceive the management: “It won’t do my lad. We
are sorry for you, but—farewell!”
They vary in number, according as they get killed and so on.
When the Lost Boys age—it happens,
although it’s against the rules—Peter thins them out.
Sometimes a boy disappears.
Sometimes we look for a Lost Boy on the internet. Find addresses he used to have names that
belong to someone else.
Sometimes—always—we see them in our sleep.
We make up stories about what happened: he was killed, it was suicide, he married a man and
lives in Canada, he’s in prison, he joined a right-wing cult, he became a girl. Do we want the
boy or the end of the story?
The story makes us human.
The story makes us not-human.
Once we were not your achievement scores/your empire/your altar boys/chess prodigies/
Horatio Algers We were not your math stars or Mozarts Not notes for poems you haven’t