Can a woman be a serious poet if laughter keeps invading her lines? I write poems about death, fear, and madness, as serious poets do. And I also write the humour of the human condition:
A lemon pie calls its tart appeal
across the dining hall,
a glowing meringue with toasted tips
spotlit on the buffet table.
The best of the dessert parade, uncut as yet,
it tests a dieter’s resolve.
A pie you can almost taste,
sliced into now by a stick of a woman.
Her thin arm lifts a perfect wedge
and sets it on her plate.
Oh god, she takes a second piece.
You will get her later.
She lifts a forkful, swallows shamelessly.
You know why she smiles.
She could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
Good thing she had the pie tonight then.
You could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
Unlikely – two pie-lovers flattened in a day – but possible,
You could die, pieless.
Here, then, is the dilemma in a pie-shell:
have another coffee, or go get some pie?
I write poems about my time in Rwanda, the women and children, their lives of struggle and joy. I write about genocide memorials, prisoners in pink jumpsuits, and murderers who now sell tomatoes in the market.
But I also wrote a spoken word poem about emotional support animals in air travel:
Attention passengers for Rarefied Air flight 2019.
Those of you with emotional support animals please line up to the left of the check-in desk.
Yes, madame. You with the peacock.
End of the line, please, behind the little old lady with the pit bull.
Welcome to Rarefied Air flight 2019.
Sir, man in the green jacket, your goat is eating your boarding pass.
Welcome to Rarefied Air, we hope your journey today will …
Madame, could you quiet your gibbon while I read the flight protocols?
I will now read the No-Fly list, some of your critters will not be boarding the plane:
Vampire bat, good-bye sir.
South American condor,
any snake from Australia.
Porcupines, hippos, crocs, and gators, of course.
Big cats, really big cats: cougars, tigers, lions, cheetahs.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this.
In fact, ALL African animals, you’re out of luck. Migrate now. Serengeti out of here.
Oh, OK , madame, meerkats can come, they’re cute.
Mollusks, invertebrates, bugs and slugs must travel in a solid container.
Sold here starting at $200 US. Twin scorpions will cost you, sir.
No skunks, honey badgers, boa constrictors or tarantulas.
If your emotional support animal is on the no-fly list you have a decision to make:
stay home, or – if you choose to fly – release it in a designated area, (now called The Pit).
In that event you may rent an emotional support puppy or kitten if you simply cannot fly alone. $200 US per flight.
Pet poop bags are located in the seat pocket next to the in-flight menu. Please be quick enough to use them. Read the bag for a list of fines, if you are not.
Consider your fellow travelers. Is your pet disturbing a seatmate, growling at a defenseless old man, lapping from a stranger’s wine glass, or crotch diving a young woman in a mini skirt?
Be aware fellow passengers may not see the need for an emotional support ferret, and may strike it with their book or tablet.
Please sign the waiver absolving Rarefied Air from all liability.
Note the option to tranquilize your emotional support animal during the flight.
Still a comfort, even if comatose.
Any questions? Lady with the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
Yes, certainly Madame, pigs can fly.
Some now expect a humorous piece from me; are they disappointed when I read a serious poem? Lyricism and depth of thought elicit mellow hums, nods of understanding, while humour evokes laughter, whistles, and hugs. So I like to lighten an evening of dead spouses, sexual abuse, and cancer poems with an off-the-wall funny-peculiar poem. I write about creatures and wilderness, nature and natural disasters. I have a manuscript of poems on bodies of water where I learned how to live and think. But I also wrote “Dildos of the Sea”:
Dildos of the Sea
O erotic ocean
O seductive seas
More than just the tide goes in and out, in and out
under the waves in the sea bed.
Pyrosomes drift and bob in the current,
a bioluminescent multitude of sea dildos
glowing pale blue-green,
tubular immigrants to the north Pacific.
O pelagic sea squirt
O colonial zooid
Sea pickles are human penis-sized and bumpy,
but some, twelve metres long, are the stallion phalluses of the open sea.
Held in a gelatinous tunic they stick together,
flush seawater through their lubricant sheath,
suck and blow themselves forward.
O constant filter feeders
O asexual reproducers
Leave your California coastlines for Canadian waters.
Come north, migrant creatures.
Let warmer currents of the Pacific be your new route
to an off-shore home-away-from-tropical home.
Let beachcombers and fishermen smile at your form,
I love to see an audience of poets chuckling and hooting. I love to see the look on newcomers’ faces: “Poetry has sure changed since high school.” But humorous poems need just as many revisions as sonnets, sestinas, or free verse. Humour, like insight, has to be cultivated through observation, through artistry with words and images. When polished into a form that works well, humour illuminates our universal human foibles:
To the Ends of the Earth
—a dramatic monologue, (apologies to the entire Hillary family)
Welcome to the Gertrude and Edmund Hillary Museum, Auckland, New Zealand.
It is my pleasure to present these photographs that show the close, close mother and son bond between Edmund and myself. Follow me.
Let us enter the first room: Gertrude, and Edmund as a child.
Oh he was a lovely baby, his nurse said so many times,
and an energetic boy, oh-ho-oh, always in motion,
always climbing things.
I think he wore out four or five nannies in the hills around the ranch.
Here is a photo of us kissing goodnight.
In the few moments I saw Edmund each day we formed a close mother and son bond.
You can tell by the way he teases me: pulling away,
making a comical face as if smelling a pungent odor.
And this room contains the photographs of Edmund’s time at boarding school.
Although separated by two oceans,
we remained close through correspondence.
Here is Edmund’s letter telling of his broken arm from falling off a cliff.
He only wrote one letter, but it is treasured.
And this series of photos is me, his loving mother, writing to Edmund.
See how the seasons change in the window behind my desk.
Notice my hairstyle altered over the six years he was away.
I have never felt closer to Edmund than when writing to him long distance.
The War Room is next.
At first Edmund was a conscientious objector.
Yes, unwilling to kill.
But, after many long and arduous talks with me
he ran from the house straight to the enlistment office.
Here is Edmund in his air force uniform.
That’s my finger covering half the lens.
Even war could not sever our close mother and son bond.
This next is a small room, containing photos of Edmund’s married life
and the birth of his children. Moving on!
Here we arrive at the main salon: Gertrude and Edmund in Nepal and Everest.
As Edmund packed to leave New Zealand, he begged me to remain at home in comfort, (such a loving son) but of course I could not.
I followed him to Nepal, I followed him to Everest.
I am awfully proud he made it all the way up and down the mountain.
And a man does need his mother when he’s been on top of the world, doesn’t he?
Even fame could not diminish our close mother and son bond.
This final room shows Edmund at the north and south poles,
the barren ice stretching for miles in all directions.
Look at the lovely smile on his face.
He did say he would go to the ends of the earth because of me.
Choices, choices: read a funny poem and lift everyone’s spirits, or read a serious poem with an insightful message? Women take risks every day and I’ll take mine on the page. But this is a predicament I can’t resolve. Instead I’ll enjoy the challenge of writing both funny and insightful poems—and often in a single verse—then I’ll laugh at myself for being such a ninny. Ninny—great word—but not for a serious poet.