“My Grandmother Told Us Jokes” by Richard Beban

Richard Beban

MY GRANDMOTHER TOLD US JOKES

like the one about the man who
walked down the street
& turned into
a drugstore.

There was some secret in the moment
of that turning—when he was one thing,
became another—
that I return to again & again.

The day she stopped being
grandma & turned into
that madwoman.

The day my sister stopped being
& never came back. Perhaps there
was an instant between her sweet sleep

& the moment the fever struck,
from which she could have been plucked.

Do not make that turn, I want to say to the man
who becomes the drugstore; to the woman
who dies insane; to my sister;

to the boy who became an adult
the moment the cell door slammed shut.
I want to freeze-frame each instant of turning,

unfold in slow motion the moment of callous
change. Perhaps the secret’s in the man’s
intention; in the list in his pocket of mundane
nostrums he was sent to fetch home.

Or perhaps I’ve got it wrong,
perhaps there’s a soda fountain where they all sit—
the man, my grandmother, my sister, the boy—

& drink nickel root beer floats, look back
on that fateful turn, and laugh among themselves
at the rest of us, who took it all so seriously.

from Rattle #25, Spring 2006
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3 thoughts on ““My Grandmother Told Us Jokes” by Richard Beban

  1. Lovely poem. I very much admire the tonal control, the effortless flow of the narrative details, and the unexpected turn and beautiful resolution of the end. You persuasively achieve a (do I dare say spiritual?) perspective I rarely encounter in poetry today. Thank you. Have you published a book? I would love to read more of your work.

  2. i quite liked this poem–in small part because i had a grandmother
    whom i loved greatly, and in large part because it hints at a world where all are right again.

  3. Such a lovely sneaky poem. Narrative flows quietly and cleverly. I wish I’d written it, but happy the poet did.

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