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Vaudeville Balance, The General, Cuffs Rolled
Julia W. Roberts

I. Vaudeville Balance

I’ve simply been brought up being knocked down.
—Buster Keaton

The fall comes natural.

Please don’t ask for love scenes,
or dolled-up drammy, or
teeth!  That’s a bore, and Fatty
knows it, too.  Anyhow, it
cramps Buster’s style something awful!

Natural, like the falls
at Niagara, he says—a picture
without ‘em would be like
Niagara in the same fix.

Get this: he’s a charging soldier
tripping over his sword.

The fall comes natural from a kid
whose pop brought him onstage on a platter
at 6 weeks and then chucked him around
until all he could want was laughter.

Turns out he broke his neck doing a picture,
but only just a little,
he found out later.

II. The General

“Take it off!”      so stony,
wilting, he shrugs off the uniform—
they couldn’t use him but he
used it.  somehow it fit.

Heroes of the day but no pay
for the accidental espionage, the bumbled
rescue, the locomotive theft—victory—
and now love, the P.O.W., still won’t commit.

the general tosses the replacement,
a discard, thrust. what does it take? unsung,
unkissed, one arm in, then the other, and
then the stag hat, and then oh!
“Enlist the Lieutenant”!

now love sees.

“Soldier.” puffed out chest.

kiss around in circles,
locomotive bliss.

III. Cuffs Rolled

droop-sleeved and coiffed he walks the track,
the locomotive slats, in Oregon flat,
remembering warm peaches and insect swarms,
gashing rocks and pushing wind—oh, to be a kid.

stop.  reload.

this time he’ll run, chasing after
the train that is always escaping
in the shot before, though not this time,
never in this scene.

boards are splintered, thick, but
he doesn’t need a warning not to trip.

pants are suspended on his small frame, but
they fit—not like the ready-made from the war
he was in.  cuffs rolled, then.  that fighting
was real, but he missed it, and mimed instead
for the charmed French—purloining baguettes,
never slamming his back against the wall of a trench.


scruffy brush thrives in the dust and Buster
kicks up clouds.  this time he’ll go quicker,
more frantic, to catch the train that isn’t there.

when they watch it later
at the wrong speed
it’ll be frenzy—his best.

and at the Beverly Hills Italian Villa
the guests will encroach,
and he’ll drink a little more.


An undergraduate student of English. Never been published before. I would like to begin my collection of rejection letters, and would be honored to be initiated into that fun side of the writer’s life by Write This. Publication would be okay, too.
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