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      Karle Wilson Baker (1878-1960)

             AT THE PICTURE-SHOW

    She sits with eyes intent upon the screen,
    A quiet woman with work-hardened hands.
    Beside her squirms an eager, shock-head boy;
    Upon her lap a little rumpled girl
    With petalled cheek and bright, play-roughened hair;
    While, bulwark of the little family group,
    Her husband looms, with one unconscious arm
    Lying along her chair-back. So they come
    Often, and for a few cents, more or less,
    Slip through the wicket-gate of wonderment
    That bounds the beaten paths of everyday.
    The Indians and the horses thrill the boy
    With dreams of great adventure; the big man
    Likes the great bridges, and the curious lore
    Of alien folk in other lands; the child
    Laughs at the funny way the people die.
    And she?
              The way the hero's overcoat
    Sets to his shoulders; or a lock of hair
    Tossed back impatiently; or else a smile,
    A visible sigh, an eyebrow lifted, so,—
    They touch strange, buried, dispossessed old dreams.
    And while her hand plays with the baby's curls
    Unthinking, once again she sees the face
    That swayed her youth as ocean tides are swayed
    Until she broke her heart to save her soul . . .
    And fled back to her native town . . . and left
    In the gray canyons of the city streets
    All the high hopes of youth. . . .

                                                She has picked up
    Her life since then, and made a goodly thing
    Out of the fragments; that is written plain
    Upon the simple page for all to see.
    I fancy that she hardly thinks of him
    Through all her wholesome days; but when, at night
    They go a-voyaging across the screen,
    And suddenly a street-lamp throws a gleam
    On a wet pavement . . . and a man sits alone
    On a park bench . . . or else goes swinging past
    With that expression to his overcoat. . . .
    She does not pick this player-man, or that,
    But all the heroes have some trick of his. . . .


The above poem appeared in the October 1915 Yale Review. It can also be found in:
  • Braithwaite, William Stanley. Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1916 and Year Book of American Poetry. New York: Laurence J. Gomme, 1916.