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The Last Days of Vaudeville by Craig Kurtz 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 —

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!

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