Second Act Problems

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Solutions to the problem of the middle act are the test of character.
……………………………. —David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife

The princess wanders spellbound in a wood;
The prophet’s in the belly of a whale.
The Empire overwhelms the force of good.
Deep in the muddled middle of the tale,

The noble cause to which the hero kneeled
Devolves to meetings, columns and reports.
A mentor’s impure motives are revealed.
Through the intestines of appellate courts,

The case for justice crawls. Dorothy waits,
Watching the red sand run. The rebels mourn.
Snow White is elbow deep in greasy plates;
George Bailey wishes he was never born.

Truth is elusive in the second act.
The mind renews, in endless permutations,
Its quest for some plain, clarifying fact.
Inconsequential lies hold implications

Looming like ships through fog. And all the while
Time drains away in aimless afternoons,
Checklists and compromises, briefs to file,
Till failure, like a field of poppies, croons

You’ve tried so hard. Lie down and get some rest.
None of it matters now. Shame drops the knife.
In life, sometimes, we learn surrender’s best;
Dorothy gives the Witch her shoes. In life

George ends up, through small deficits of will,
As Potter’s partner. Mary and the kids
Live in the nicest house in Pottersville.
George golfs on Sundays. Losers on the skids

No longer ask his help. But now and then,
Nursing his final beer, he sits awake,
Vaguely unsettled by the boy again,
Pulling his brother from an icy lake.

And Alice, bored, spends evenings playing bridge,
Having not quite forgotten wonderland.
Drink me, she thinks, and rifles through the fridge.
She sighs, the bottle cool against her hand.

A window frames the rising moon. A frost
Of condensation glistens on the glass.
It’s here the battle will be won or lost,
Make no mistake. The neutral seconds pass.