The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Home | Project Information | Resources
Broadway . . . a brocatelle of lights and color . . . a potpourri of sounds and surging people . . . surging, surging, fat play-boys splurging, gaiety verging . . . on hysteria . . . Glamor . . . Whoopee . . . Silken hose, twinkling slippers, daffodil hair and purple, pansy eyes . . . Banjos throbbing, drums insinuating a syncopating beat, saxophones wailing like unicorns lost in a green fog . . . Laughs, tinkling of piano keys beneath darting finger tips . . . She says something about the music and hums a snatch of the tune as we dance . . . She talks about the music because she likes it and is like it, it and the raspberry lipstick that curves her lips into an enticing bow . . . And her words are lost as the music leaps from a capricious softness to a blaring crescendo . . .
The park . . . whispers of spring fill the air that has forgotten the threnodies of autumn . . . The arching span of a stone bridge . . . And across the surface of the water the images of trees ripple, blending their virgin green with the reflected gold of the tower of the Sherry Netherland hotel . . . Dreams come like the sound of a violin pastorale that echoes through arcades of blossoming trees . . . Haunting, rememberinring through the park . . . The starless void of a dark sky and a sea that undulates and gleams with phosphorous . . . Lagoons, wine red at sunset . . . lagoons, pearl moons and silver . . . The constant hum of autos purring . . . spoons in a Chop Suey restaurant on Broadway . . . Wide blue eyes, luminous . . . questioning and being questioned; wondering and wondered at . . . a voice as low as muted silver harps and soft as satin . . . Something that teases, catches and remembers . . . a slim, blue book of poetry by Conrad Aiken . . .reading:
BLOODBroadway . . . a swirling mob . . . The sun streaming down in all its brillance . . . Jazz tunes floating out from music stores . . . A well dressed youth loitering near a drug store, suddenly clenches his fists . . . sliding with a moan to the pavement.
Large crimson drops ooze sluggishly from between his clenched fingers . . . after tracing a scarlet line upon his taut flesh, fall reluctantly to the sidewalk . .
Oblivious to the morbid crowd which gathers around him, the youth stares at the fantastic designs traced upon the street by his life blood . . . His hands, wallowing in the crimson channel, never once relinquish their grasp upon the wound . . . The murmuring of the crowd increases . . . a policeman makes his wav to the side of the stricken youth.
"So, they gottcha at last, eh, Jerry?"
"Yeah," groans the youth.
The wail of a siren pierces the air . . . an ambulance plows its way through the heavy tragic . . . White-dressed men with poker faces gently lift the wounded boy into the ambulance . . . again the shriek of the siren and the traffic ceases temporarily . . .
The spectacle is over . . . but the crowd still stares in breath less wonder at the blood-stained pavement.
"Paper, Mister?" cries an urchin in tattered clothes and dirt streaked face as he wends his way through the crowd, proffering his Dailies to the spectators . . . This is sacrilege . . . The crowd is shocked . . . Men shake their heads, and the noisy intruder slinks away disappointed.
A man with a derby tilted on his head now approaches the center of the mass . . . He opens a heavy black bag. With a few quick manipulations, he creates a stand on which silk ties are exposed . . .
"Here y'are, gents," Touts the slick salesman. "Silk ties jest to advertise . . . sold at half cost. Step closer, gents, and let me demonstrate . . ."
Slowly the crowd drifts over to watch the new display . . . The group is interested . . . here is another performance to witness.
A flabby man with hanging jowls emerges from the drugstore . . . Undaunted by the fierce glances cast in his direction by the few stragglers, he proceeds to obliterate the crimson stains . . . When this task is accomplished, the sturdy man waddles back to the store . . . The few staunch spectators move on . . . the final scene of the big show is ended . . . Broadway . . .
Leonard A. Hoffman.
And reached the level of the street.
I saw men hurrying home with papers
And women carrying bundles.
I noticed boys without hats
And aged telegraph messengers.
I heard a man hawking bananas
From a cart, at three for a nickel.
I saw a mother slap her three year old
Child, and I should have interfered.
I didn't because she would have told me
To mind my own business.
Another woman, footsore and forlorn,
Laboriously pushed a baby coach.
I would offer to assist her.
She would say "Fresh!"
Woman are like that.
I saw one man buy "The Sun"
And another "The Graphic."
And they looked the same to me.
I went down into the subway.
A fat woman was changing a quarter
And dropped three nickels.
No one helped her pick them up.
Two boys tried to
Squeeze through on one fare,
And were promptly
Apprehended by a man
Who wore spats and derby.
One boy cried, but
The other was defiant.
I would have offered the change
But the man would say
"No, you're only encouraging them."
Two over-rouged girls enter.
They wear leather boots and
Shabby fur coats.
They wink at every man.
They work in Macy's.
In the train, women with
Babies stand, while
Men with newspapers sit.
One woman out of ten
Says "Thank you," when
A seat is given her.
The local is crowded.
The express is suffocating.
It's six o'clock.
Everyone's going home.
Paul J. Elkin
The Magpie Sings the Great Depression