“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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