If Romeo Had Received the Letter

Part I

(in the catacomb, lying down beside Juliet)

The friar’s note said: “Romeo she will wake.”
Thus here I am now with my life at stake.
You’ll resurrect? Or will the potion err?
the anesthesia taken on a dare,
a hope that it will work, won’t stop your brain;
I start to think that this is all insane.
You are my other half; I’m facing you.
Our eyes, like wounds, one inch apart. Into
your mouth, your nose, I breath. I crawl; I turn
beneath the pall, not facing you. Discern
my back now ‘gainst your back. I feel you move!
Aristophanes “whole-human” would approve.
A caterpillar in this sick cocoon;
I’ll wait to morph out of this backwards spoon.

(One month later. She is sitting at a plain wooden table with a few crumbs on it, a dirty plate and glass, a vase full of wilted flowers, with some flies in the tepid and murky water. Romeo, who is gazing absentmindedly out of the window into one of Mantua’s more sordid city streets, has two empty wineskins of Cabernet in front of him. The apartment is small and unfurnished and you can hear the mice in the walls.)

So here we are in Mantua. What now?
Where once was sun a darkness clouds your brow.
You stay inside all day in this bare flat.
We don’t have money; yet you’re growing fat…
Tell me how that works, Romeo? Recall
our honeymoon, how ripped you were, the hall
we ran through, to our rooms, sloughing our clothes.
We really were a randy pair: God knows
we sinned; we did; but not in that way, no,
we were married; but Moses said: “I show
you these Commandments blazed into this rock
‘Obey your parents. V.’” Is it a shock
we suffer now financially, are shunned?
The friar’s plan was fry-ered; I just punned.

Our honeymoon is done. There is no dough.
We went to where the honeymooners go:
to Rome and then to Ischia where the hares
are raised in pits, and fished out, sat in chairs
out in the yellow sun at some cafe
consuming bread and cheese and wine all day,
prosciutto from an acorn-finished pig;
I clenched in purple teeth an English cig.
We laid in bed all day, or by a pool,
or on the beach, or on the balc’. The cool
sweet air, from off the water, blew the sash.
We burned and burned through bonfires of cash.
For one month, oh; oh, what a life we led?
But now that month is gone. Our love is dead.

What were we really thinking? How could we
leave all our fam behind? Just you and me?
It sounded nice while in that catacomb
but Verona’s the place I call my home.
It is the place that you call your home too
and that is why you hate me, why you’re blue.
Our dreams were dashed against the slipp’ry rocks!
Our dreams, like cars, should come with built in shocks
to mitigate the jolt of when they crash,
because of speed and speedbumps ere they smash,
careening towards the cliffs of Life, the sea
of what we know is mere Reality…
We should have got to know each other first.
The play goes poorly when it’s not rehearsed.

You say I’m growing fat; I’m growing old.
A young man ages quick pining for gold.
I don’t know what to do; I’ve killed my friends
by getting in the middle. Make amends?
with who? O you Mercutio are dead
who always mocked those silly books I read:
Petrarch’s sad numbers, Dante’s early work
La Vita Nuova. I was wont to shirk
my duties for my father, Montague,
my studies in the classroom: “Oh boohoo!”
I wailed against my fate. My fate was good!
It’s just that I had never understood
the maxim bout the fishes in the sea.
You were, I thought, the only girl for me!

I should have put you through more tests—my fault.
I was bombarded by your strong assault
of passion, ardor, language; Paris too
was knocking at my vestal door. I flew
into that bone-crib, drank the vile up,
for you, alas, the better looking pup,
the better talker, poet—Pilgrim, ah
and here we are exiles in Mantua…

Oh Romeo, I’m sorry, you’re not bad;
it’s just that when I think of what we had,
I think that life is one complex mean trick.
The gymnast needs to be coached ere she stick
her landing safely on the padded mat.
My kinsmen hate me; I blame me for that.

(after a minute, growing visibly contemplative and remorseful)

You sound like Helen but it’s not your fault.
I was the Trojan Paris. I assault
you even now, when I should go to work,
get off my ass: The breadwinner can’t shirk
the onus that he owes to his nice wife.
The problem though is my entire life
I haven’t worked at all; nor have I said
I’m sorry, when I should have. Oh we’re wed
we might as well get on with it; I’m changed.
What if our marriage wasn’t pre-arranged?
Perhaps you didn’t love me like you thought;
you’re blameless, girl; two Parises had fought
for your white hand. I had the better tongue.
Should we go out tonight? I’m feeling young.

We’ll take a walk. I want to talk tonight.
I am so glad we do not have to fight
about this any longer. When they see
us working on our marriage. It will be
clearer to them that we have settled down;
we have matured, are serious. The clown
of our old love has lost its squeaky nose.
Call our old love: “Pinocchio!” It grows
(the lie) despite the fact that one is blind
and ignorant — But that is all behind
us now, our nose has shrunk, and we are true
in that we now know what we have to do:
We have to nurture this, our Love, our seed.
My time of month’s long-gone and I don’t—

(interrupting her)

You’re kidding— No, you’re serious. I don’t
know what to think; I have to think; I won’t!
I cannot be a Hamlet-thing; I think
too much (or like the Irish say) I tink.
Tinking is like a chisel and I tick
my Time away in tinking like a mick.
I drink too much; I tink too much; I tock;
I sway as if I were a kind of clock,
a reed; I paint, I draw, I write, I read.
But Doing-Time is here and now I need
to do, (“hacer,” in Spanish), duty mad
to do my duty as a doting dad.
I’ll go to work wherever work may be.
I’ll dig a ditch or I will plant a tree.


Part II

The Nurse
(Back in Verona, having received orders from the friar to go immediately to the two women, who are in a salon getting their hair done. They jump up, startled, in curlers, when the nurse arrives…)

O Lady Montague and Capulet!
I know you have been worried but don’t fret!
I know you have lost sleep over your bond
of friendship, lest your husbands know, abscond
you need not do; but please to Mantua
come see your new grandchild! I just saw
him for myself! He’s healthy and he’s calm!
Delivered just this morning in white balm
that comes with birth: protecting him. On dug
of Juliet herself! I see you hug!
You know that all these family quarrels will
be swallowed and forgiven like a pill
that succors, uplifts. This his name will do:
Mercutio Capulet Montague…!!!


Reid McGrath lives and writes in the Hudson Valley Region of New York.

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7 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    Anachronistically witty and delightful, Reid! I like this ending better than Shakespeare’s. 🙂

  2. Sathyanarayana

    This is a very very interesting ending and of course it’s the natural good ending too. Yes, the boys and girls go mad with love, and never think of their future. No dough, no love. Aging cures some ailments, even love. The language and narrative style and poetic style(without capitalisation of first letter…the style I follow) are all beautiful.

  3. Reid McGrath

    Thank you. I’m glad you all enjoyed it. It was a fun project. There’s actually a father Montague and Capulet section that I clipped for the journal because the whole piece was too long already. But now I am hesitant to share it as this ending seems to be successful.

  4. Wilude Scabere

    Nice, down-to-Earth, humourous take on Shakespeare, some fun vernac, chock-a-block with pleasant lines and surprising scenes.


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