The Last Days of Vaudeville by Craig Kurtz 

THE VENTRILOQUIST:
Uncertain era,
it tousles my hair,
wrinkles my bowtie
and insults my vest.
It tires a trouper.
Importunate age
disrespects verities,
superannuates props,
abuses the stage
and fatigues better arts.
I’m straining my teeth
to maintain levity.

THE DUMMY:
Not droll; you’re getting old
and your shoes are too tight.
The punch lines peel
like antique paint;
sandpaper can’t save
decrepit wisecracks.
These quips are curled
like wet phonebooks;
your steps are nailed
to warped floorboards.
Heads up, pal, your watch has stopped
but I’ve got springs for second lights.

THE VENTRILOQUIST:
Oh, that’s rich,
you little fink!
Such ingratitude wounds
hands cradling you;
I bequeathed all your lines.
I am your family!
The trains, the tents,
the scraps, the coins,
I’ve made you half
of the applause
that feeds our blood
and flares our fame.

THE DUMMY:
I never once sought to be wrought,
I never asked to out-last your past;
I didn’t sign declining years,
I will not rust with your waning flesh.
The empty seats, unheated halls,
the mothball jokes, drunk matinees
are cobwebs of a dead century.
You’ve rattled loose your pale curtain calls
and coughed a last laugh of saddest sawdust
through dentures stiff
with dumb arthritis.
Have some class and wish me jet speed.

THE VENTRILOQUIST:
So: where would you go
and what would you speak?
I am the script, the routine’s copyright,
I made the sky to make you the star.
This is your Eden,
burlesque gave you birth;
you are my rib
but I am the lungs.
How could you leave,
you don’t have a voice;
you are a balloon
and I own the air.

THE DUMMY:
Your real estate sank,
your Atlantis is sand;
Kubla Khan skipped a day,
the tempo elapsed.
The spark of this era is velocity,
moving pictures are the new comedy.
I don’t need to speak,
it’s fresher to wink;
elbows and knees
recite poetry.
Your dialogue’s doomed,
eyeballs call the tune.

THE VENTRILOQUIST:
No no silly lad,
these films are a fad;
a grimacing crash
of cymbals and thumps
without melody.
Without decency!
It’s chases and bang-ups,
tossed pies and kicked shins,
violence for kiddies,
tornadoes for dolts.
That bustle won’t last;
nothing does that’s so fast.

THE DUMMY:
I’ll send ya a postcard
when my name explodes;
when you’re playing to tombstones
you’ll know where I’ll be:
Up on the screen
projecting my grin —

THE VENTRILOQUIST:
Bah! Such a fool
and a churlish ingrate,
leaving me here
to laugh by myself.
This engine is human,
my organs inspired;
this show is eternal
and I make it for people.
Go laugh with contraptions
and spools of quicksilver;
you’ll mail me a postcard
with only a stamp.
How can a one reel
inhale the crowd’s chuckles?;
How can a camera
time pulses of laughter?
Those jokes are a postmark
of celluloid credit;
the public approval
is mailed a down-payment.
I’ll have spoken rhythms
and dashes of ear drums;
you try with your eyebrows
to beguile cachinnation!

THE DUMMY:
Farewell, former teacher,
you creaking bleached relic;
I’ll christen your coffin
with champagne when it’s launched.
These days have corroded
and I’ll have my motion;
your sunset’s my sunrise,
vaudeville is deceased.

 

© 2014 Craig Kurtz