The Lyric Theatre: Lyceum of Dreams

- 1957-

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.

Left

   Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
       —Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-Out Song,"
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

           The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

           Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirrored-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.

           The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again—

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
                      Catch a—

The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:

                      Pleas Help  Pleas

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e

do you know simply 
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can't spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn't time?

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
                      Catch a— a—

           The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.

           Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.

           Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood,

                      (but obviously not splashed
loud enough)

where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.

                      My mother said to pick
                      The very best one!

What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.

Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake?

Potato   Po tato e

           In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
in Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.

           The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while there houses don't
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.

The grandmothers were right
about everything.

           People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.

                      My mother said to pick
                      The very best one
                      And you are not   it!

           After all, it was only po' New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?

The Condoleezza Suite [Excerpt]

Concerto no. 7: Condoleezza {working out} at the Watergate

Condoleezza rises at four, 
stepping on the treadmill. 

Her long fingers brace the two slim handles
of accommodating steel. 

She steadies her sleepy legs for the long day ahead. 
She doesn't get very far. 

Her knees buckle wanting back 
last night's dream. 

                                 [dream #9]

She is fifteen and leaning forward from the bench, 
playing Mozart's piano concerto in D minor, alone, 
before the gawking, disbelieving, applauding crowd. 

                                 not [dream #2]

She is nine, and not in the church that explodes into dust, 
the heart pine floor giving way beneath her friend Denise, 
rocketing her up into the air like a jack-in-the-box
of a Black girl, wrapped in a Dixie cross.

She ups the speed on the treadmill, remembering, 
she has to be three times as good. 

Don't mix up your dreams Condi. 

She runs faster, back to the right, finally hitting her stride. 
Mozart returns to her side. 

She is fifteen again, all smiles, and relocated
to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, 

where she and the Steinway
are the only Black people in the room.

Cattails

One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone's headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as if they might be sherbet orange, long-stemmed, Confederate roses, sheared for Sherman himself. For two days she drives toward the woman in Kentucky, sleeping in rest areas with her seat lowered all the way back, doors locked. When she reaches the state line it's misting. The tired pedal-to-the-metal woman finally calls ahead. I'm here, she says. Who's this? The woman being driven to, who has never checked her oil, asks. The driving woman reminds her of the recent writing workshop where they shared love for all things out-of-doors and lyrical. Come, have lunch with me, the driving woman invites. They eat spinach salads with different kinds of dressing. They talk about driving, the third thing they both love and how fast clouds can change from state line to state line. The didn't-know-she-was-coming woman stares at she who has just arrived. She tries to read the mighty spinach leaves in her bowl, privately marveling at the driving woman's muscled spontaneity. She can hardly believe this almost stranger has made it across five states just to have lunch with her. She wonders where this mad driving woman will sleep tonight. She is of two driving minds. One convertible. One hardtop. The driving woman shows her pictures of her children. Beautiful, the other does not say. Before long words run out of petrol. The woman who is home, but without pictures of her own, announces she must go. The driving woman frets & flames, May I walk you to your car? They walk. The driver changes two lanes in third gear, fast. The trunk opens. The Mario Andretti look-alike fills the other woman's arms with sable-sheared cattails. Five feet high & badly in need of sunlight & proudly stolen from across five states. The woman with no children of her own pulls their twenty pounds in close, resting them over her Peter-Panning heart. Her lungs empty out, then fill, then fill again with the surge of birth & surprise. For two years, until their velvet bodies begin (and end) to fall to pieces, every time the driven-to woman passes the bouquet of them, there, in the vase by the front door, she is reminded of what falling in love, without permission, smells like. Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushroom, damson, salt marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, fogs eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night.