Tag Archive: words

  1. God, sex, death: small-town revelation at Yale Cabaret

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    Where are there millers and plowmen? Or rather, when were there millers and plowmen? Did villages like the one in the play exist in the American South in the 17th or 18th century? I don’t think it matters at all — I think “Knives in Hens” is set in a kind of primordial human community. This play, I think, is mythic, and maybe symbolic. If I were a theater historian the “isms” would flow. We’ll try this: It was effective.

    I’m writing this review ten minutes after the play’s finish, and I’m still carrying an emotional charge, the kind which a newspaper review is not the ideal conduit for transmitting.

    Three characters. A white strip six feet wide, the length of the Yale Cabaret. A white bed on either side, in front of the silhouette of a white farmhouse. One woman — whose character is named “Young Woman,” but who is only ever called “Woman”(Elizabeth Stahlmann DRA ’17) — starts in one bed and ends in the other. One belongs to her, or her husband, Pony William, a plowman (Niall Powderly DRA ’16). He is rough in his looks and his demeanor, wears a tight-fitting linen shirt that reveals most of his hairy chest. These are his work clothes, and his work seems to involve horse-care more than anything else.

    He often cups Young Woman’s face and neck; it’s a firm embrace, or if not that, a chokehold, and he kisses her often, spanks her, grabs her, smirks. They like to have sex; indeed, there’s not much else for her to do, childless and jobless as she is. They fear God. They hate the miller (Paul Cooper DRA ’16) to whom they must give their harvested wheat; he is rumored to have killed his wife and child. They are simple, libidinous, agricultural. She is ravishingly beautiful. Her face stretches, her brow furrows, with the most compelling urgency.

    This is a play about language, and knowledge. Writing. Permanence. Interior worlds being called forth, named, communicated. This is a play about murder, and agency, and gender.

    Do I seem overwhelmed?

    Plot — more of it. Young Woman is tasked with delivering the wheat to the miller, who is an itinerant worker – he travels between towns, performing his specialist service. He is creepy, but not necessarily more so than her husband. He wears an apron over an undershirt; his pectoral muscles curve out from the sides. He is lanky, has wild blue eyes, gruff in the same way as William, less predictable, smarter. His and Woman’s first meeting is tense — she refuses to enter his house, she tells him he has evil breath, the prospect of rape is imminently real. He ridicules her husband. He ridicules her.

    Their second meeting is different: He shows her his pen — a “useless stick” a traveling musician sold to him at the market. She condemns the pen as irreligious — “It’s a devil stick you made” — but then shifts to defense. “Look how much of me there is,” he says, gesturing to his notebook before accusing her of illiteracy. She proves him wrong by writing her name.

    On Young Woman’s way between houses, a microphone drops from the ceiling, hanging in the air by a cord, and she speaks into it — to herself, to the audience, to God, or something — searching for the words to describe God’s creation before the microphone is unceremoniously retracted into the ceiling. The thoughts that she learns to articulate in these fleeting performances she tries to express to her plowman husband, who fails to understand, condemns her ideas as irreligious, becomes almost violently aggressive; they have sex. This is the vague trajectory of their conversations.

    Everything is white — clothes, ground, bed, skin, house, but not the ink. Young Woman tries, after the name-writing episode, to rid her hands of ink before returning to her husband. But a charm has been cast — she is under the power of something new, and complicated, and dark — and she’s tormented by nightmares of the miller sprinkling black powder throughout her home. Her world’s whiteness is tainted.

    She goes to his house to try to reverse the ink-charm, but two things happen: She kisses him, and she falls into a night-long trance of writing. In the morning she discovers what she has written and delivers an epic soliloquy, declaring, “This town has lied. William has lied.” Her pilgrimage toward self-knowledge has begun in earnest.

    Things get harder to follow toward the end — there is a rock-pushing ceremony, somehow a rite of passage for the newlyweds. She faints afterwards, in the presence of both men. The plowman espouses his theology — he suspects that God’s glory is not God, as he’s learned in church, but Creation. He proposes that Young Woman’s body parts have been named inadequately, that their beauty makes language futile, that Young Woman seems to him to reveal the glory of God.

    It’s a moment of clarity for William — an insightful heresy, that sex and the body are the true sites of revelation. But it must be too late, because Young Woman and the miller kill William, rolling the wedding-rock over him as he urinates outside. The sex they have afterwards constitutes their new shared identity, their awakenedness.

    Does literacy compel people to kill their spouses? It’s as if the knowledge the two have tapped into breaks their old faith — in the town’s traditions, in the humble finitude of an unhappy small-town marriage. Tellingly, the miller lives outside of the village; his and the Young Woman’s knowledge turns them into wanderers, outsiders.

    Much is made of language, and of names. Once something has a name, the miller says, it has a use. Maybe YOung Woman’s important realization is about her name: that her being called “Woman” is not unrelated to the terribly small sphere of possibility in which she lives, and has sex, and carries bags of flour. Is this the story of her liberation? Is it a retelling of Genesis? A monograph on the terrible power of autonomy?

    “Knives in Hens,” written by David Harrower and directed by Jesse Rasmussen DRA ’17, presents its conflict physically: Young Woman is pulled between two poles — white, pastoral, brute simplicity and the inky moral uncertainty of interiority and the written word. I’ve spoiled the ending, but I haven’t done the play itself justice — the wide net this review cast missed plenty of exciting details, not to mention the feeling of watching it. “Knives” runs tonight and Saturday night at the Yale Cabaret.

  2. Baking Up Big Words

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    This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.

    We all know Yalies like to use big words. We write essays on mouthfuls like “the politics of dehumanization” and “modes of poetic transmutation.” Our publications are filled with articles on privilege and heteropatriarchal oppression. We’re good at that. But there’s one word — smaller, but equally difficult — that rarely makes it into our discussions: loss.

    A few weeks ago, sitting on a Metro-North train back from a not-so-successful job interview, I started thinking about what it means to lose. No word scares me more than “loss.” It’s both the feeling of failure and a reminder of what is no longer there. I began to retrace the things I’ve lost over the past four years: high school friendships, crushes, the chance to be in the Writing concentration, a parent. 

    We’ve all lost something during our time at Yale. Sleep, for starters. We’ve lost The Game to Harvard every year. We’ve lost Au Bon Pain to Kiko Milano and we’ve lost Adam behind the counter at GHeav. Most of us lost our 4.0 GPAs as early as freshman fall. Some of us lost a family member, a friend, a college master or a roommate.

    We never talk about it. There’s no place for loss at Yale. We push ourselves to bounce back into action. We forget the bad grades and the football failures and the unrequited loves. We tell ourselves that we have no time for that, and, for the most part, it’s true. From freshman orientation to senior week, Yale has done an outstanding job of filling our schedules. After all, the University did promise us the brightest four years of our lives.

    But I’m scared of tomorrow, when we wake up and leave this school, this place that has turned the word “loss” into an unutterable impossibility. What happens when we lose Yale? Sure, we’ll reconnect with each other at cocktail parties across the world and we’ll keep our overpriced, big “Y” sweaters. But we’ll stop attending Yale Club events so religiously once winter comes, and we’ll wear our sweaters less and less frequently.

    Yale has given us a sense of security and resilience. We’ve been showered with free food and resume-building opportunities. But the danger in all of this is that we often measure ourselves only by our achievements and successes, never by our defeats and losses. That’s what makes leaving this school so scary — especially for the many of us, myself included, who have no clue where they will be tomorrow.

    But the thing is, no one has it figured out. We wear suits to meetings and sign leases for apartments that our parents could only dream of when they were our age. We use big words to discuss colossal ideas, yet we know so little about life.

    I think of Kayla, who’s only 19 years old and works at Willoughby’s five days a week. I think of Mohammed, who takes classes at Gateway in the morning, works the afternoon shift at the gas station next to Popeye’s and works as an Uber driver at night. And then I think of my mom, who lost her husband of 30 years and has only recently begun to smile again. I envy their tenacity and their knowledge. They don’t use big words, but they know so much more about life than I do.

    It’s frightening how young we are. We still have innumerable mistakes to make, failures to mend and losses to experience. We haven’t even begun to figure out who we are and what we can give to the world. And that’s completely okay: We have plenty of time. We’re not adults yet; thinking that we are is the worst mistake we could make. We can still party on Wednesday nights, sign up for newsletters that we’ll never read, take impromptu road trips on the weekend.

    In the words of Buffy from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (yes, I’m that old), I’m “cookie dough.” We all are. We’re not done baking yet. We’ll sit through Commencement, then we’ll get through the next thing and the one after that. And maybe one day — perhaps in 10 years, or maybe at our 50th reunion — we’ll look around and realize that, yes, we’re cookies. And no doubt, we’re all going to be delicious.

    Lorenzo Ligato is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. He was a features editor on the Managing Board of 2015.


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    What better way to kill time than by taking your shiny little neurons out for a test drive? Caleb Madison ’15, a master of the English language, delivers one of his hippest crosswords to date. If you fill out the entire puzzle and show it to him, he will emcee your next birthday bash. Happy Guessing!

    And since you’re reading this online: PRINT THIS PAGE OUT! GO HAVE SOME FUN!


    Caleb Madison ’15 is a sassy prodigy with locks of glossy brunette hair and a killer smile. A New Yorker through and through, Caleb will proudly tell you that his favorite Interpol song is “NYC.” He published his first New York Times crossword puzzle when he was just a bushy tailed 15-year-old — he’s got Will Shortz on speed dial. He also pro- vided the official definition of “bromance” for the Oxford English Dictionary, just because he could. Heralded by Yale News as a “world-class word- bender” (note: ‘word-bender’ is not a real word), this verbal virtuoso spends most of his time at Yale applying to creative writing courses and per- forming with the love of his life, the Viola Ques- tion. You can find him on campus eating alfalfa sprouts in the Calhoun dining hall or procrastinat- ing on Lynwood Place. Caleb is a total sweetheart — but sorry ladies/boys, this stud is taken.


    1. Word that can be found scrambled in the answers to the starred clues

    5. Provokes, as a memory

    9. ___ Sutra

    13. Opened the closet for?

    14. Folk singer Guthrie

    15. Fertility clinic cell

    16. *September-to-May period, usually

    18. Actor Jared

    19. “Waterfall” card, in King’s Cup

    20. *Atmospheric region threatened by carbon emissions

    22. Candy with peanut and peanut butter varieties

    25. Interrogator of a silent, invisible Barack at the Republican National Convention

    26. “Same!”

    27. One of two in a game of Settlers of Catan

    29. Ice cream measurement

    32. Network for political junkies

    34. Beat, as in a race

    35. Soak (up)

    38. *Talk show host who had a 2010 time-slot controversy

    40. CPR practitioner, often

    41. Newsfeed part

    43. Part of a squirrel’s cache

    45. Famous violin, for short

    46. ___ Jima, Japan

    47. Syllabus schedule makeup

    51. Close, as friends

    53. “Let me in!!!”

    54. *The solver of this puzzle, most likely

    58. Spanish lady: Abbr.

    59. Exclamation twice before “It’s off to work we go!”

    60. *Locale of Space and Thunder Mountain

    63. Smell

    64. Early smartphone

    65. Zellweger of “Chicago”

    66. Backup singers for Gladys Knight

    67. Automobile pioneer, for short

    68. Fortune teller


    1. Plants in the desert

    2. Goddess who turned Arachne into a spider

    3. DiCaprio, informally

    4. Tokyo, once

    5. Rapper featured on Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie”

    6. Cookie with a Double Stuf variety


    8. Philosopher Georges who wrote “Reflections on Violence”

    9. Caffeine source in some sodas

    10. Member of Animal Collective with Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist

    11. TV button

    12. Love, in Latin

    13. Target in “Zero Dark Thirty”

    17. ___ Pollos Hermanos (fast food chain in “Breaking Bad”)

    21. Get drunk

    23. Hip-hop’s Run-____

    24. Get a bad first impression of

    27. Box on a calendar

    28. Holiday visitor, often

    30. Captain Morgan, for one

    31. Certain explosive

    33. Store co-owners with mas

    34. Lennon lover

    35. Lecture building across from Commons

    36. Giant Hall-of-Famer Mel

    37. Go from a pregame to a birthday party to Toad’s, say

    39. Prefix with friendly

    42. Ones taking in suits, perhaps

    44. Pentagon-to-Lincoln Memorial dir.

    46. Queen Bee, so to speak

    48. Lunatic

    49. Ike or Tina

    50. Digging tool seen on decks of cards

    52. Couldn’t not

    53. It’s mined then refined

    54. “Come Hungry, Leave Happy” breakfast chain

    55. “Veni, ___, vici”

    56. Like some cars or condoms

    57. Biblical son of Seth

    61. Age meas.

    62. ___ Jordan (Quidditch announced and member of Dumbledore’s army in the “Harry Potter” series)