Play #82: The Blue Wheel

The play is set in the desert near Harar, Ethiopia, in August of 1884.  Rimbaud, his poetry now definitively behind him, is working in the coffee trade, overseeing the export of the coffee of Harar to Europe.   When the play opens, Rimbaud and his friend, Alfred Ilg, a Swiss engineer, are taking a morning walk together.  It is only just after dawn, but the sun is already merciless.

Ilg: How did you come to the coffee trade?

Rimbaud: Harar coffee is the best in the world.

Ilg: No question, but why did it need you?

Rimbaud: I suppose I found selling coffee to be a slightly less empty occupation than selling guns.

Ilg (risking everything):  Tell me, Arthur, is Abyssinia one of your “Floridas incredible”?

Rimbaud (as if he has just been slapped):  What?

Ilg (persevering): “I've slammed myself / into Floridas incredible / mixing petals / with panther / eyes and human skin / while under oceanic skies / rainbows reined / the sea-green herds."

Rinbaud (revolted).  Bah!  What’s that, The Drunken Boat?

Ilg (quietly):  You know it is.

Rimbaud (angrily): Well, keep it out of the desert. There can be no boats here, drunken or otherwise!

Ilg:  But don’t you miss poetry?

Rimbaud: I don’t think of it—unless some well-meaning fool like you rubs my nose in it!

Ilg: I don’t think you’re very well, Arthur.

Rimbaud (exasperated):  Oh, who is, Alfred?

Ilg (glancing down at his friend’s legs):  Your knee seems to be giving you some trouble.

Rimbaud (annoyed): Everything gives me some trouble.

Ilg: You need rest. 

Rimbaud (confidentially): You know what makes it better sometimes?

Ilg: What?

Rimbaud: I imagine I am a big blue wheel—a big spoked wheel, like the front wheel of some giant bicycle….

Ilg:  Taking the weight off…

Rimbaud:  Rolling over the burning sands.

Ilg (hopeful):  That’s a poem, isn’t it?

Rimbaud:  No. That’s a wish.   Poems come unbidden...whereas I really long for the blue wheel!!