The Lyric Theatre: Lyceum of Dreams
On the occasion of the reopening of the Lyric Theatre, 1940s Black dream house, Lexington, Kentucky
On the East End, we shine our
own shoes, dress our own legs,
smooth down willful hair, let all
new trouble float. Done-up.
We promenade and pass, Deweese
(DoAsYouPlease) & 3rd, where
Winkfield & Murphy once hoofed
& flew backwards, black-winged,
on horseback. Under the blazing
marquee we hand our shiny quarter
over, glide toward, then across,
our eight-point star, rose-tile light
of regeneration. In the dark theater,
the salt-cod sweat of work, now left
behind, names hurled our way all day,
now set aside, paychecks that never
match our labor folded away now.
House lights dim: Paul Robeson is
Othello. Miss Ella strikes & swings.
The Duke & Count jazz-juice the night,
royalty speaks to royalty. The Ink Spots
spill all with Sarah Vaughan, Miss Mahalia
orchestrates & moans and moonbeams,
Candy Johnson & his Peppermint Sticks
fill every inch of stage. Marian Anderson
poses her hands in alto-soprano.
Woody Strode, our Black cowboy,
wild-rides the open oat fields & range.
Our dusty eyes drink in Beah Richards,
Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne.
Intermission at the Lyric: Lights up!
Freda Jones tries on a brand-new
hat and no one is arrested. Bernard
Lewis licks his ice cream cone on every
melting side, no one is booked for
licking or loitering. Morgan and
Marvin Smith, the famous picture-
taking twins, take our picture too.
At the Lyric we pose, bright futures
we portray. At the Lyric we fall in love
with our lips: Lucinda kisses Big Tank
clear through the opening act. Julia
can’t see the show for looking at the
ocean of their mouths; open, close.
We cry at the Lyric, laugh out loud at
the Lyric. Whisper Quiet! Here comes
the principal! Miss Lucy Harth Smith
proudly takes her seat. At the Lyric,
William Wells Brown pulls out his
indelible pen to write us down. Isaac
Scott Hathaway shapes our faces in
a mustard-amber clay on new money.
We come to the Lyric to rise, rejuvenate,
see ourselves win, watch ourselves lifted
up in lights, hit the home run, be hero
champion of the world. Only to file
back out live & alive, stroll back across
the rays of the eight-point star, rose-tile
light of return, sink back into the race-
track of the East End with everything
we have now become. Sweet Lyric,
lyceum of dreams, where once we came
to rise into who Mama, not dime-store
magazines, promised us we were.
From Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry (Northwestern University Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Nikky Finney. Reprinted with the permission of Northwestern University Press.