Often when I’m in despair I turn to the back page
of The New Yorker and try to think up something
funny to say. The little drawings are so succinct
it can be hard to tell who’s talking. Berryman’s
Life, friends, is boring,
though recited by poets everywhere,
has probably been the winning caption
for no cartoon. Last summer I was so low
I ran out of magazines.
I got obsessed with entropy.
Is the world more closely allied with chaos
or with order? I asked everyone I love.
Chaos, my sister said, because she’s a doctor.
Order, my mother said,
because she’s an abstract expressionist.
I showed my father a cartoon
of a psychiatrist wearing a halo
and a man stretched out on the couch.
I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one, he said,
and I was sure he’d win.
I told my sisters look, dad’s okay, his mind still works,
he’s still a funny man.
It took me all these months to realize
he was only answering me—
I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one,
you, whoever you are.
I keep sending that caption in, every week,
hoping one day to win, one day soon,
before we lose him.
Truth is we ought to buy a book of jokes
and practice them over and over until we
perfect the hospice of it,
things are that bad.
My father’s name is still funny,
one syllable, rhymes with pain.
Our friends used to call him Pain
and my mother Wacky, but I don’t think
anyone could make me laugh right now.
If you’d laugh, I’d feel less alone.
Do you know my favorite joke,
about the man condemned to be hanged?
When the priest asks if he has anything
to say before they spring the trap, the man
says yes, this thing doesn’t look safe.