An intellectual play by Edward Pearlstien























While Pocahontas (as Narrator) speaks at the side of the proscenium, the action takes place on the stage in dance-like slow motion.


Action. John Smith is pinioned on his back to four rocks, and an Indian stands over him with a club, while Powhatan, the chief, watches from his throne, a pallet covered with richly colored mats, its head raised at a 45-degree angle. Powhatan is dressed in racoon skins and is wearing large pearl-like ornaments given to him by Smith. Powhatan turns to eleven-year old Pocahontas, who is standing at his side, and nods almost imperceptibly. Pocahontas runs to Smith and lays her head on his. The executioner arrests the descent of the club.

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). John Smith came to our village and we spun a deception, of which I was proud. We called him brother and initiated him into the tribe, mocking his election with a test of his courage. My father enjoyed the contradiction. He ordered me to act as John Smith's godmother — I, a savage, barefoot and a virgin, but haggard with guile and weary of the forest's sallow blasphemies against time. The executioner raised his club. John Smith's righteous eyes impaled our triumph on uncertainty, but they were set in dark rings stained by a shadowy iridescence: terror and the fathomless glow of contempt, accident, scalding innocence, recollection, for all of which I yearned. At a sign from my father, I went to John Smith and lay my head on his. I felt his eyes at my temple, and the rings bound my parturating womanhood to his redemption. I was prepared to love him, to be reborn in him, my son and defiler, the son of my father, my brother, my judge and enemy. I was prepared to love him.


Action. Pocahontas turns cartwheels ceaselessly in front of the stockade at Jamestown and is joined by four or five boys, who also turn cartwheels, all together forming ever changing patterns of intersecting circles. Pocahontas is dressed only in a short shift, which falls over her midriff as she revolves, revealing her adolescent pubis. Smith raises his hand and the boys scurry back to the stockade. Pocahontas continues to turn cartwheels as snow begins to fall. Smith finally leaves the parapet.

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). In front of the stockade at Jamestown I turned cartwheels fixed to the axle of John Smith's indifference, and the boys of the settlement came to play, while John Smith looked on from the parapet with stolid disapproval. Of what? My nakedness? But what could he see? My callow lips engorged with lust for the burrs of self-renunciation? But they were hidden behind the chaste winter gloom shed by the boys' sniggering glances. The wan flowing first beads draining my childhood? But I had spilled them on dead leaves in the forest and had consecrated them to him by scattering the leaves on the barren, joyless, cold wind. He raised his hand, and the boys ran back to the stockade. I remained alone, the snow falling now, and I revolved and revolved, propelled by anguish. I saw glaucose thoughts temper his cunning. He smiled, he smiled. But at whom? For whom? For what? Then he left the parapet, left me revolving in the swirling snow.


Action. John Smith reclines on Powhatan's pallet inside a large leanto made of twigs. Powhatan, painted and dressed for war, stands to the side and, his arm outstretched, his finger pointing, orders his wives to entertain Smith. The wives are painted black and chartreuse. They dance for him and offer themselves. Smith is rigid with Puritan disapproval. The women shriek at him like sea gulls. Warriors begin to creep out of the forest, their bows ready. All the while, Pocahontas, now a nubile adolescent, is hiding behind a rock. Clearly torn, she hesitates, but then warns him. Smith draws his sword and flees.

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). I had become a woman and grown demure when John Smith came to our village again to barter the harridan of mortality for my father's corn, and I hid behind a rock to see. My wily father set his wives on the Englishman, then slipped away into the forest. I exulted in the rancid smell of his hatred, which mingling with the smoke from the birch faggots and dispelling John Smith's haughty disdain resurrected my withered pride. For a moment, I too hated the white man, and started to run after my father. But just then I saw the warriors seeping from the Woods, their faces painted alabaster and red, the wind between their eyes blowing hard upon John Smith's arrogance, their bows taut, their arrows fixed, the fire hot with deceit, and I waited. My father's voice lay on the rustle of the grass under their feet. I listened, glad again. John Smith rose from the pallet. The women shrieked contempt for his manhood. I joined them in my heart, but thereupon it emptied. I heard my father's voice in the hollowness of my dishonor and faltered. But vacant, I loved. I ran to John Smith and warned him. He drew his sword. He fled and was saved.


Action. Pocahontas is at the shore of the James River, the stockade nearby, and Smith is aboard a ship about
to depart. He looks contemplatively at Pocahontas a moment, then at the stockade, then gives the order to
cast away. The ship pulls out, leaving Pocahontas alone.

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). John Smith departed from Jamestown by ship, leaving me a matrix of perfidy, of love. I walked along the shore of the river, scenting the estrus of the sea, fearful, loathing, desolate. He gave a sign, a hesitancy in his haste, an instant of reluctance. His eyes cast his will on me, but also then on the stockade, in which I could hear the churr of satisfaction at his leaving. I plucked wisps of despondency from my blanket, for it had grown very cold and damp and I was rejoicing at my restored nakedness. From my soul I salvaged the ashes of my love and blew them to the wind. I was free, forever fettered, remorseless, and stricken. The sun set on the rising tide, but the moon, blue-gray and somnolent, shone tranquilly on the raging forest. I sang:

My love is the cull
of pallid endeavor,
the dross of a soul
tormented forever;

The spawn of my death
the seed of my sorrow,
the husk of my wrath —
The rancor to harrow

The wind from the night air,
The sunlight from the heavens,
The grace of morning from the circumference of the day,
And entomb them in the ignominy of betrayal.
I am lost, lost, lost, lost.
My heart is like his ship — tossed
On the waves of an endless sea,
Condemned to despair for eternity.


Action. The river is now surrounded on both sides by forest, and in a tepee, the inside of which is visible, Pocahontas, naked, her back to the audience, braids her hair, while her husband Keocum, fully dressed and seated cross-legged, watches her. He rises, takes his bow and arrow, hesitates as if to approach her tenderly but decides against it, and goes out, disappearing into the woods. Pocahontas slips on a doe-skin dress and goes out. She wanders along the river. A contingent of English soldiers enters, sees her, and takes her captive. Pocahontas does not resist. She is bound with a thong and led off.

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). With my husband, Keocum, I went to live in the forest, where eternity rose from the putrid humus like still-born beatitudes from a rotten fish, a mother's retribution, justice palpitating from the anguish of my refusal to love. Yet I did love Keocum, because he wondered at me, because he knew that I did not love him, and while it mattered to us both, it was of no importance, since it was not I who did not love him, but my spirit, which had wandered off onto the ocean, sullied and gaunt, leaving me passionate with love for him because I did not love him and he loved me for it. I circumvented life by embracing timelessness and annealed my sorrow with happiness. I was, without being, and in the morning, when storms swept more dead fish from the river onto the shore, I gathered them into little mounds of joy and affirmed the ember-silent woods, which I despised. I was thus occupied when the English soldiers found me and binding me with a thong took me captive.


Action. Pocahontas sits cross-legged on the earth as Reverend Whitaker, seated in a chair, instructs her. In the distance Pocahontas as an early adolescent appears turning cartwheels, nude except for a shift. John Rolfe enters, dressed as a farmer, and watches. Pocahontas looks at him expressionlessly. Rolfe approaches her, takes her hand, raises her, and they are married by Whitaker, as the early adolescent Pocahontas turns cartwheels around them. (The marriage ceremony should begin after the last line of the narration and be conducted in silence.)

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). I was content in captivity and spent my days weaving palls of self-abnegation at the feet of Reverend Whitaker, who taught me the ecstacy of despondent resurrection, of will splayed to numb the onslaught of death, of mercy tendered through wrath, of elective vacuity. He taught me that when evening plunges on the last pike of unredeemed sunlight and bleeds moonlight on the amber-green forest, the new day is cleansed of its innocence and rises to embrace the night in the passion of death — thus the cycle of the spirit predestined to consume itself in everlasting propagation, thus irony, thus God. Yes, I was content listening to the thistle scent of destiny. While Reverend Whitaker transfigured my memories, John Rolfe came to watch. Whom did he see? Me? Her? Us? He bound a thong of devotion around his lust and wooed me, to consecrate oblivion he said, his haughty voice an echo in the salty mist, weak, faint, floating on languid swells of memory. Willlessly I acquiesced, to remount the fragments of my splintered conscience, and I unwound the thong and sent it to John Smith.


Action. John Rolfe presents Pocahontas to the English ladies and gentlemen, who bow and curtsy and retire to watch her curiously and snigger. Pocahontas receives them majestically, but is obviously distracted. All the while her son rides around on a hobbyhorse, beating it with broad gestures, his motions reminiscent of Pocahontas's cartwheels. Smith appears. Pocahontas stiffens, but pretends not to see him. Smith approaches. Pocahontas turns majestically but expectantly. Smith bows indifferently. She lowers her eyes. He withdraws.

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). John Rolfe took me to England with our son, the bastard of conceit and despair, a cleaved spirit, his mother's son, sundered like me, unmendable, whom I wept upon for who he might have been. The Englishmen received me kindly as a princess, exhuming the royal divinity of my father from the tomb of my dereliction and anointing me with the paradox, which I accepted for my son's sake, but also, I confess, for the stipple of pride it engraved on my face, as I waited, listening to voices like leaves underfoot, waited listening, listening for his footstep. John Smith came at last. I heard his breath on a dead leaf and did not turn. But my burgled soul waited for its master, the spaniel howl of obsequious love welled from my hunted heart, whirling, beseeching, crying out to him: "Father, lover, son, I have come, I have come to you, I have come, oh hear me, hear my anguish, oh savior, oh deliverer, hear me. I love you, I love you, I love you." He approached. I turned. He bowed his head, I lowered my eyes in shame.


Action. A ship is moored to the shore at Gravesend. Rolf enters with Pocahontas, who looks weak and ill. She falters, looking at him pleadingly, but he urges her on and helps her climb up the gangway ladder. At the head of the ladder she collapses. Rolfe catches her and carries her down, laying her on shore. She dies.

POCAHONTAS (as Narrator). We went to Gravesend to board a ship and go home. But I had forgotten where. I remembered only the sunblown oblivion of a patch of land on the border of the woods — and a ghost. But whose? Or were there many ghosts? And did I really remember them? I was too weary, too weary. I begged John Rolfe to let me stay, to let me die in the swirling mists, to let me die condignly from the effluvium of my destitute passion. Generously, he refused. I climbed aboard the ship, but a bleak wind caught the sail. It was too late. He lowered me to the shore. I lay on the rocks ... looking into the emptiness ... which overwhelmed me.

SOURCE: Pearlstien, Edward W. "Pocahontas" in 3 Intellectual Plays: Jack Ruby, Mariana Alcoforado, Pocahontas, illustrations by Todd Crawshaw (San Francisco: Editorial Consultants, Inc., 1979), pp. 137-146.

©1979 Edward W. Pearlstien
©2002 Constance Webb Pearlstien. All rights reserved.
Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of Constance Webb Pearlstien.

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Uploaded 18 January 2002

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