Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Stephen Dobyns: Laugh

 For Hayden Carruth, 1921-2008

.

What he wished was to have his ashes flushed

down the ladies’ room toilet of Syracuse City Hall,

which would so clog the pipes that the resulting 

blast of glutinous broth would douse the place clean 

much in the way that Heracles once flushed out 

the Augean stables. After serious discussion,

his wife agreed to do the job.  Such an action 

was in keeping with his anarchist beginnings, 

letting life come full circle and being his ultimate 

say-so on the topic of individual liberty.  Luckily, 

or not, he then forgot, or wiser minds prevailed, 

I don’t know, and his ashes were packaged up

for the obligatory memorial service—probably 

more than one—so the mayor and his council, 

all the lackeys, flunkies, toadies and stoolies 

caught up in a shit-spotted cascade down those 

marble steps and into the astonished street 

is an event that exists first in my imagination 

and now in yours. But I’d also have you see him 

in those last days in his hospital bed in Utica’s 

St. Luke’s, wearing the ignominious blue and 

flower-specked nightie the nurses call a Johnny, 

stuck with more tubes than a furnace has pipes 

and contraptions to check every bodily function 

including the force of his farts, while his last bit 

of dignity was just enough to swell that fetid bag 

hanging like a golden trophy at the foot of his bed.

Blind and half-paralyzed, a bloody gauze mitten

to keep his hand from yanking out his piss-pipe,

his skin hop-scotched with scabs and splotches,

his hair and beard like the tossed off cobwebs

of a schizophrenic spider, he listened, when

those of us in the room felt certain he had fallen

into his final coma, listened as his wife read a note 

from a friend who wrote how could death matter 

since his prick had shuffled off its mortal coil

some years before? And he laughed, he burped out 

a truncated snort, an enfeebled guffaw from fluid-

packed lungs, and those of us with him laughed 

as well. Friends, to none will it come as a surprise 

to say we’re trudging toward the final dark 

or that to each of us in life is given a limited 

allotment of laughs. Save one, save one, to ring 

death’s doorbell and ease your final passage.


“Laugh” from The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech, copyright 2016 by Stephen Dobyns, BOA Editions, Ltd.

4 comments on “Stephen Dobyns: Laugh

  1. Philip Meyer
    May 1, 2020

    Thanks for sharing this. Provided a curious “up” in these crappy days. What a terrific first line. Have always enjoyed and appreciated your poems so much. Just wanted to send my thanks and appreciation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. melpacker
    April 30, 2020

    I loved this poem particularly because I have written that should I be cremated (in case schools of med don’t want my aged body) I would like someone to take my ashes up in a helicopter or light plane and fly over a fancy ruling class garden party. Once centered over it, my ashes should be dumped into the air with the hopes that I would fall in their eyes and irritate the bastards one last time.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Vox Populi
      May 1, 2020

      Thanks, Mel. Many of us have fantasies of haunting the rich and their political lackeys. I would like to come back as fracking fluid in the drinking water of the rich.

      Liked by 1 person

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