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It was the Laughter It was the Laughter
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2021-12-17 08:35:06
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It was the Laughter


Laughingest man! – it wasn’t an act, it was desperation.
It was larger than yourself, little man.
They all said you’d come to an end with it some day, kill yourself with it:
the veins standing out in your temples, ready to burst,
That cackle, those whoops, sweat dripping off your face.

Laughter as expostulation: Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Moider in da foist!
Where did all this stuff come from?
You were such a small man, after all, with not much reason to laugh.
But you blew us all out of the water with it, and then,
when you got somebody going, you’d go after them
and keep going until they near to died from it.

nana01_400You were an anarchy, and sometimes the very devil.
You gambled away all your money, and always spent your winnings right away,
for fear it might be put to good use.
On your tab drinks were always for everybody.
And singing – you could actually sing, carry the tune,
but only those old sentimental things and only if they forced you.

There were no jokes, only stories made up as you went along,
you would roar, rip-roaring down droll curves in all your stories.
These overarched the drinking and the smoking and the shouting and the cursing.
The maniacal joy, the mirth marked you, made you stand tall:
mirth as an attitude; as a weapon; as an escape.

Oh God (they’d say), help me! He’s got me on the floor now.
See that purple face coming at me again? You know what that means!
Oh, no, please no! Not another one! It’ll kill me for sure!
The poor guy driving the limo in pop’s funeral cortege, you got to him.
He had to pull off to the side of the road and dry his tears out
lest we all get killed on the way to the cemetery.

You made it all up as you went along, the way your life went too.
You didn’t even seem to know where you were going with it,
or that you were doing it, until you had done it.
When you and O’Brian got on the morning bus it was moider in the foist for sure!
Hold my sides, they hurt! Oh, I cannot get up!
Now my throat hurts – my throat! – from laughing.
I cannot walk! Carry me outta here before they put an end to me!


Mother-lover, runt of the litter, small man with small dreams,
self-hater and hater of anyone that reminded you to you,
a live wire, a pursuer of women, but taken in by a woman twice your age,
a woman who could have been your mother, which was all you wanted.

Though at all times you were horny, at least publicly,
and often pretended to be drunk, at least publicly,
still you worked hard all your life, and held conventional views,
were competent, punctual, obedient, earning not one but two pensions.
(Not great feat: you didn’t know what else to do with yourself.)


But in your own eyes you never counted for anything.
Half the time cast amid people who would never care about the laughter,
half the time doing errands for everyone, even embarrassing things.

Here you are, the little scurrying guy,
scooting along, clearing up one disaster after another.
First, the older brother, twice your size, the one who
always treated you as his slave.
A drunk, often lying in some gutter somewhere,
the source of his mother’s crying fits and breaker of her weak heart –
pick him up and flag a cab and deposit him in the nearest hospital.
And when he died the same way, who had to go and pick him out of the morgue?
Of course, it had to be you.

And it was you who had to take a day off from work
and rush around to every newsstand and buy up every copy of every newspaper
when the other brother, the so-called priest,
got himself in trouble with the law with his picture on the front page.
The front page! And his father a retired cop!
If the old man had seen the news on his daily walk
he would have died of embarrassment on the very spot!


I always wondered what was wrong.
Why the crying fits?
Always, your cackle had and edge, an element of derision.

I know you hated the old man. What a stiff! He never laughed, never got the humor.
If the world were like him no one would ever laugh.
And he beat mama.
With mama it was different.
She was always scheming, devilish, a prankster.
It was like she was a kid herself, and joy lighted her way and yours.
But the old man was enormous, and thin-skinned, and mean-spirited,
and at the drop of a hat he would beat her, right in front of everyone.
But she would carry on, and serve the dinner or what have you
like nothing had ever happened.
A queen! He should have worshipped the ground that she walked on!
No accident that you jumped into her coffin when they were closing it.

You got even with him for beating mama,
to the point where his last words were a plea for you to stop.
You let him know that it was he and he and he alone who took the good out of everything.


No hard feelings, little man.
I insist on thinking of you in your heyday.
It’s the forties, there’s a war on, the mob is king in New York and you can’t buy anything.
You are the only one home with mom and dad, unmarried, but with a good job and a car.

Mama would say, “Neely, let’s go for a ride.”
Or, “Neely, let’s go up and see the old neighborhood.”
No problem. Let’s go.
The two of you now, in the huge ’39 Oldsmobile, going fast and furious,
you looking like a little kid peering over the giant steering wheel,
mama in the back hanging on the passenger strap
as the car careens, close to overturning at every turn.
And you would go where she wanted, and do anything for her, whatever she wanted.
Just the two of you together, as though you were her only child.
And you were never so happy. In truth, this was the only happiness you ever really knew.

No one else could ever keep up with the laughter between you two.
The two of you bounce jokes back and forth fast and furious.
Mama was the only one who really appreciated you.
On the jouncing trips, always the laughter.
Then it was actual. Now it’s memorial.


Check Dr. Lawrence Nannery's Poetry Collection:
"Translations from the Cinema"
You can download them for FREE HERE!

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