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That Laugh by Donal Mahoney



It was stupid of Walt

not to show it to Joan

before they got married

but he was too shy.

He had no idea

what to expect

but he never expected

her to laugh.

Not a laugh exactly,

more of a cackle

children might hear

from a witch on a broom

Saturday morning

in a cartoon.


Joan's laugh rang out

the first night

of their honeymoon.

Walt never got over it.

The marriage was over

even if it continued

for six kids in ten years.

Like many men, Walt

had no problem

copulating from afar

unencumbered by love.

It was dark in the bedroom.

Joan could have been

any woman.


Had he shown it to her

before they got married

and heard that laugh,

he would have left town,

embarrassed, you bet,

but there would have been

no wedding, no kids,

no divorce, no years

in a hotel room mailing

alimony and support.


After the divorce

things didn't improve.

Walt heard the laugh

in his dreams, in cabs,

on elevators, in diners,

everywhere he went.

He heard it after the kids

earned degrees,

got married, did

well on their own,

escaping the pyre

of their childhood.


At Joan's funeral

Walt told the kids why

the marriage had failed.

He said he shouldn't

have shown her

the poem the night

they were married.

She laughed because

she thought it was funny.

She knew nothing

about poetry,

nothing of his

efforts to write it.

This was his first poem,

the first of more than 500

published after the laugh.


Who'd believe a laugh

could end a marriage

before it began?

Over the years Walt asked

critics and editors

for their opinions

about the poem.

None found it funny.

The consensus was

the piece was tragic

in theme and imagery.

The experts were right

in more ways than one.


a line, (a blue one)


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