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Morgan Opera House

                                    Luke Johnson

It wasn’t what it claimed to be. The stage
was used, but no diva ever saw it, no aria
ever reverberated through the second story
windows, floated out into the village and hung
high notes over the post-office. Overalls, not ties,
were worn to shows, which were usually comedies.

The village had its own brand of comedy
that played out in the library underneath the stage.
I’d find myself there after walking railroad ties
by the lake, where I’d listen to the easy arias
of white caps sloshing onto stones hung
on shore. I could bury my head in a story

in book-stacks at the back, overhear the stories
of Village Council Members and their dark comedies
kept in closets, like the Mayor who, it was heard, hung
dresses in his, or maybe the Deacon who staged
a fight with his wife, so no one would know he loved arias
and a man. I watched them come and go, hypnotized

by how easy they would pat you on the neck, only to tie
a noose. Not even in my dog-eared stories
could I find such cuddly villains, lambent luminarias
waiting to set the whole village ablaze, a comedy
on wheels pulled by the Wells-Fargo stagecoach
down Main Street. On the library wall there hung

a letter from Mrs. Morgan, whose daughter Jane hung
herself in a dormitory with a knot she retied
twice before it held taut. I’d seen Jane on stage
upstairs playing the lead in West Side Story.
She sang like the vinyl in the library stacks, a comedy
to compare her to the cast, a real downtown Maria

with a New York City body, torturing boys, sending arias
of want cascading through my head: her naked body hung
onto my leg, or elsewhere. My fantasy a comedy
then, until I heard years later how she cut her ties
with the village. I had already rewritten my love story
by then, the one where I showed her books under the stage.

But the books could have told her: the world’s a stage
tied to tragedy, without arias or audience, and some comedies
hang on without a joke until you realize it’s just another story.

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