Read MURDOCK PEMBERTON of The Broadway Anthology, free online book, by Edward L. Bernays‚ Samuel Hoffenstein‚ Walter J. Kingsley‚ Murdock Pemberton, on ReadCentral.com.

THE SCREEN

From midnight till the following noon
I stand in shadow,
Just a splotch of white,
Unnoted by the cleaning crew
Who’ve spent their hours of toil
That I might live again.
Yet they hold no reverence for my charms,
And if they pause amid their work
They do not glance at me;
All their admiration, all their awe,
Is for the gold and scarlet trappings of the home
That’s built to house my wonders;
Or for the gorgeous murals all around,
Which really, after all,
Were put in place as most lame substitutes,
Striving to soothe the patron’s ire
For those few moments when my face is dark.
Yes, men have built a palace sheltering me,
And as the endless ocean washes on its stretch of beach
The tides of people flow to me.

All things I am to everyone;
The newsboys, shopgirls,
And all starved souls
Who’ve clutched at life and missed,
See in my magic face,
The lowly rise to fame and palaces,
See virtue triumph every time
And rich and wicked justly flayed.
Old men are tearful
When I show them what they might have been.
And others, not so old,
Bask in the sunshine of my fairy tales.
The lovers see new ways to woo;
And wives see ways to use old brooms.
Some nights I see the jeweled opera crowd
Who seem aloof but inwardly are fond of me
Because I’ve caught the gracious beauty of their pets.
Then some there are who watch my changing face
To catch new history’s shadow
As it falls from day to day.
And at the noiseless tramp of soldier feet,
In time to music of the warring tribes,
The shadow men across my face
Seem living with the hope or dread
Of those who watch them off to wars.

In sordid substance I am but a sheet,
A fabric of some fireproof stuff.
And yet, in every port where ships can ride,
In every nook where there is breath of life,
Intrepid men face death
To catch for me the fleeting phases of the world
Lest I lose some charming facet of my face.
And all the masters of all time
Have thrummed their harps
And bowed their violins
To fashion melodies that might be played
The while I tell my tales.
O you who hold the mirror up to nature,
Behold my cosmic scope:
I am the mirror of the whirling globe.

BROADWAY NIGHT

I saw the rich in motor cars
Held in long lines
Until cross-streams of cars flowed by;
I saw young boys in service clothes
And flags flung out from tradesmen’s doors;
I saw some thousand drifting men
Some thousand aimless women;
I saw some thousand wearied eyes
That caught no sparkle from the myriad lights
Which blazoned everywhere;
I saw a man stop in his walk
To pet an old black cat.

MATINEE

They pass the window
Where I sit at work,
In silks and furs
And boots and hats
All of the latest mode.
They chatter as they pass
Of various things
But hardly hear the words they speak
So tense are they
Upon a life they know begins for them
At 2:15.

Within the theatre
The air is pungent with the mixed perfumes,
More scents than ever blew from Araby.
And there’s a rapid hum
Of some six hundred secrets;
Then sudden hush
As tongues and violins cease.

The play is on.

There is a hastening of the beat
Of some six hundred hearts.
There’re twitches soon about the lips,
And later copious tears
From waiting eyes;
But all this time
There are six hundred separate souls
The playwright’s puppet has to woo,
To win, to humor, or to cajole,
Until, with master stroke
Of Devil knowledge,
Or old Adam’s,
He crushes in his manful arms
The languid heroine
And forcing back her golden head
Implants the kiss.

And then against his heaving breast
The hero feels the beatings of six hundred hearts
In mighty unison,
And on his lips there is the pulse
Of that one lingering kiss
Returned six-hundred fold.

PAVLOWA

I was working on The Daily News
When I first heard of her,
And from that time
Until the day she came to town
I longed to see her dance.
The night the dancer and her ballet came
The Desk assigned me to my nightly run
Of hotels, clubs, and undertakers’ shops;
I was so green
I had not learned
The art of using telephones
To make it seem
That I was hot upon the trail of news
While loafing otherwhere.
How could I do my trick
And also see her dance?
So I left bread and butter flat,
To feast my eyes, which had been prairie-fed,
Upon this vision from another world.

I’d seen the wind
Go rippling over seas of wheat;
I’d stood at night within a wood
And felt the pulse of growing things
Upon the April air;
I’d seen the hawks arise and soar;
And dragon-flies
At sunrise over misty pools
But all these things had never known a name
Until I saw Pavlowa dance.

Next day the editor explained
That although art was art,
He’d found a boy to take my place.
The days that followed
When I walked the town
Seeking for some sort of work,
The haze of Indian Summer
Blended with the dream
Of that one night’s magic.
And though I needed work to keep alive
My thoughts would go no further
Than Pavlowa as the maid Giselle ...
Then cold days came,
And found the dream a fabric much too thin;
And finally a job,
And I was back to stomach fare.

But through the years
I’ve nursed the sacrifice,
Counting it a tribute
Unlike all the things
That Kings and Queens have laid before her feet;
And wishing somehow she might know
About the price
The cub reporter paid
To see Pavlowa dance.

And then by trick of time,
We came together at the Hippodrome;
And every day I saw her dance.
One morning in the darkened wings
I saw a big-eyed woman in a filmy thing
Go through the exercises
Athletes use when training for a team;
And from a stage-hand learned
That this Pavlowa, incomparable one,
Out of every day spent hours
On elementary practice steps.
And now somehow
I can not find the heart
To tell Pavlowa of the price I paid
To see her dance.

THE OLD CHORUS MAN

He’s played with Booth,
He’s shared applause with Jefferson,
He’s run the gamut of the soul
Imparting substance to the shadow men
Masters have fashioned with their quills
And set upon the boards.
Great men-of-iron were his favored roles,
(Once he essayed Napoleon).
And now, unknowing, he plays his greatest tragedy:
Dressed in a garb to look like service clothes,
Cheeks lit by fire of make-up box,
He marches with a squad of sallow youths
And bare-kneed girls,
Keeping step to tattoo of the drums
Beat by some shapely maids in tights,
While close by in the silent streets
There march long files of purposed men
Who go to death, perhaps,
For the same cause he travesties
Within the playhouse walls.

BLUCH LANDOLF’S TALE

When I was old enough to walk
I rode a circus horse;
My first teeth held me swinging from a high trapeze.
About the age young men go out to colleges
I trudged the sanded vasts of Northern Africa,
Top-mounter in a nomad Arab tumbling troupe.
I was Christian, that is white and Infidel,
So old Abdullah took me in his tent
And stripping off my white man’s clothes
Painted me with dye made from the chestnut hulls,
Laughing the while about the potency of juice
That would prove armour ’gainst some zealot’s scimitar.
Four camels made our caravan
And these we also used for “props.”
When we played a Morocco town
The chieftain met us at the hamlet’s edge
Asked of Abdullah what his mission there,
Then let us enter
He leading our caravan to the chieftain’s hut,
Where we sat upon the sand
The thirty odd of us
Surrounded by as many lesser chiefs.
The hookah solemnly was passed around
And then the hamlet chief would speak;
“Stranger, why have you forsaken home
And drawn believers after you,
You bear no spices, oil, or woven cloth,
No jewels nor any merchantry?”

And then Abdullah:
“True, Allah’s precious son,
We trade in naught men feed their bellies on
But we have wares to thrill brave men,
To make your youth see what use bodies are,
To make your women blush
That they have no such men.”

“What are these magic wares?”

“Why we have here an Arab youth
Who seems possessed of wings,
Jumping three camels in a row.”

“So! In this very village there’s a lad
Who jumps four camels
With half the wind it takes you, telling of your boy.”

Scoff followed boast and back again
Until the chief arose,
Saying to the lesser chiefs
That they should call the local tribe
To meet beside the caravanserai
Before another sun went down
To see if these vain wandering men
Could do one half the deeds they boasted.

So we met at sundown,
Our brown men stripped
Except for linen clouts.
We tumbled, jumped, made human pyramids,
And whirled as only Dervish whirl.

Then as a climax the village boy essayed
To span the four trained camels
Who at Abdullah’s soft-spoke word
Moved just enough apart to make the boy fall short.
And then our sinewed lad would make the leap,
The camels crowding close together
At another soft command.
Our lad making good his jump,
The populace would grant our greater skill;
A goatskin filled with wine,
And honey mixed with melted butter
Was offered us within the caravanserai.
Then we moved out beyond the town
And pitched our tents of camels’ hair,
Rising before the sun to face the friendless desert wastes
Until we reached another habitation on the camel trail,
I (who played the dumb boy of the tribe
Lest my Christian tongue betray me)
Trudging behind with all the salary
Chasing the desert after two new sheep,
Our net receipts for that Moroccan one-night stand.

Now twice each day within the Hippodrome
I, a buffoon in absurd clothes,
Strive to make the thousands laugh;
And when my act is done
There comes the tread of camels’ feet,
Followed by Slayman Ali and his Arab troupe,
Who tumble, jump and build pyramids
Before a canvas Sphinx upon a painted desert....
When I saw Slayman last
He was a boy
Chasing the sheep with me
Beneath Morocco’s moon.
Tell me, where dwells romance, anyway?
In Manhattan, or Arabian, nights?

PRE-EMINENCE

I once knew a man
Who’d met Duse,
(Or so he said)
And talked with her;
As she came down a windy street
He turned a corner
Headlong into her.
“I am so sorry,” Duse said,
“I was looking at the stars.”

My envy of that man
Withstood the years
Until one day I met a Dane
Who’d talked with Henrik Ibsen:
This man, with head bowed to the wind,
Was walking up a Stockholm way
When ’round the corner came the seer,
And he plumped into him.
And that great mind
Whose thinking moved the world
Surveyed my friend
Through his big eyes
And slowly spoke:
“Since when have codfish come to land?”

With all the awe
One has for those who’ve known the great,
These two I’ve envied
Until the other day
When blundering ’round behind the scenes
I stepped upon Pavlowa’s toe.