Beyond the noise and sunlight of 42nd Street
and posters of the violent acts Now Showing
* Kung Fu Killers! * Vampire Hookers! * up stairs
with grit and urine in the treads, across the balcony—
up a steep steel ladder, through a door locked
against thieves and lunatics, is the booth at the theater
ceiling—like an office, workroom, watchman’s lair,
with toilet, hot plate, incandescent light.
It is hot, the projectionist wears a t-shirt. Small windows
look down the vast darkness to giants on the screen.
The old projector, wheezing, sucks the strip of images
into its throat, past its light,
the flame that hisses between carbon rods.
This is the arc light he tends; he’s soft
from inactivity, locked from daylight in this sanctum
as long as crowds come by.
He stacks cans of film, waits for signals
to flick switches or change the reels. You’ve seen
what happens if he dozes or turns away too long,
reading or eating, and the sound fails or light dies—
we hoot and stamp and whistle, summoning
the protector of our visions who tends the flame
and celluloid, guardian of dreams that fly across the dark
on motes of light.