Donal Mahoney

That Laugh - Poem 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.

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, December 7, 2013

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