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  • Red BeadsA Performance Poem
  • Lee Breuer


Three days before she was thirteenThe child came down to breakfastCombed and clean, to find her father

Going upstairs with a copper tray.On the tray was thin toast with theCrust trimmed off, strawberry jam

And a bowl of milk. “Mother is pale”Her father said. He knockedOn the bedroom door as soft as silk

Mother ate the strawberry jamRight out of the spoon, and drankThe milk and left the toast

How pale she was with strawberryMouth and milk skin, pale as a ghostAround her neck were red beads

“Keep your promise, Daddy dear.When I’m thirteen the thirteen beadsAre mine to wear …”

That night in her room she saidHer prayers by the light of a candleDipped in bay. Said her father as he [End Page 24]

Tucked her in, “For what did you pray?”“I prayed for my dog and my catAnd my bird, I prayed for my red beads

Ten plus three.” “Did you pray for yourSoul!” “No I forgot. Will you punish me?”He kissed her hard and closed the door

And the wind came up out of the floor.The words of the wind in her Mother’sVoice came through the window into her ear.

“Are you brave, child? Come outside. I haveYour birthday present here.” She heardRed beads falling, tinkling on the lawn.

Her dog leapt through the windowLike an angel at a ghost. SheHeard him howl like the wind

Or was the wind like a howling dog?“Daddy, save me, please,” she criedAnd pulled the covers over her head

And hid her face till the windWas mute and the beads were stillAnd her dog was dead …


Two days before she was thirteenThe child came down to breakfastDressed in green, to find her father

Going upstairs with a silver tray.On the tray were tiny cakes andCherry preserves and a pot of tea

“Mother is pale.” Her father said.“But father, you are paler …”He put the tray down by the door [End Page 25]

And took her hand and held it closeFirst to his heart, then toHis lips, then to his forehead

Birthdays, birthdays, flowers and weedsWind and lightning, thirteen beadsIs that my mother singing, father

Back behind the door?” He hurried inShe ran away and hid all dayIn the autumn field of the harvest hay

She watched from the field andShe watched from the hill and sheWatched from the bank of the stream

All day long the house was stillNot a puff of smoke, not oneLeaf fell. And the sun went down

As if under a spell. And the beetlesDreamed. “Daddy, come and find meI have your breakfast in a bowl

A fig, a pear, a lock of my hairTonight I’ll pray to save my soul!Daddy! Come and help me Daddy!

Help me bury my dog.” He cameAt once with pick and spade. SuddenlyShe was afraid. He spoke to her

“You take the tongue and I the tailWe’ll throw her into the rocky shale andCover her with mud. And mark her grave

With a drop of blood. With a bead!”All this my daddy strangely said andQuickly turned, “Now come to bed.”

That night in her room she could notPray. She could not speak orEven lay her head upon the pillow [End Page 26]

It was wet with fever sweat.Can’t sleep. Won’t sleep. I’llBite my tongue. I’ll pinch my feet.

Her cat jumped down with a tiny moanHer bird rocked on its perch withoutA sound. Then, like the shiver of an

Eyelash of a girl who starts to cryRain dropped out of a shivering skyHer mother spoke again that night.

“Come down to the basement, dearI have a present for you here toCelebrate your thirteenth year.”

She heard a cry at the cellarDoor. And a sound likeMarbles over the floor. Like



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pp. 24-32
Launched on MUSE
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