My dear friend George emailed me a link with recent pictures from The Strand, one of many grand old theatres in our hometown of Binghamton, NY. Those images inspired this poem. Thanks, George!
THE STRAND THEATRE, BINGHAMTON, NY
She was what they used to call A Grande Dame:
Stately, opulent, inspiring awe and delight.
Follow me back in time…
Look up: Tiffany crown.
Look down: Plush carpet.
Look around: Roomy seats, wide stage, velvet curtain, affording itinerant vaudevillians room to slay ‘em with a joke (told 2,380 times from Omaha to Syracuse, but here, heard by fresh ears, rewarded with belly laughs).
Room for dancers to tap sway meringue swing do their thing.
Singers thrived on the Strand’s perfect acoustics.
As with all perfect miracles on earth,
and She, the stately Grande Dame,
found her spacious stage usurped by a screen.
Movies drifted from Keaton to Talmadge
Robert Taylor to Rod Taylor
to Johnny Rodd (“Deep Throat played there;
the Art Theatre was deemed too small,
its floor sticky with patrons’ souvenirs)
Eventually, like even the gamest of girls,
she was abandoned.
Now she’s a shell of her former shined and
shimmering self, laid low by scavengers
and an abortive attempt at plastic surgery.
But within, her heart beats in steady memories.
Echoes of Liberace, who packed the house
(winking at fawning old ladies and
joking about his brother George).
Echoes of Ish Kabibble and Hugh Herbert,
leaving ‘em in stitches.
Echoes of the pit band, all local musicians
earning a decent living doing what they loved.
Echoes of singers whose names are remembered
only by a cloud of witnesses floating in
a plaster-dust atmosphere
or written on peeling wallpaper.
A strand of pearls, unstrung, save in our hearts.