[from Nick Laird's to a fault, Norton, 2005]
A Portrait of the Artist As a Joke
And yet slaughter may also be a plural of laughter . . .
-- Javier Rodrigues Rodrigues (translated by Joseph Coleman)
I've heard it told by someone else like this:
an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scot,
all down the Union, slaughtered, lairy, and
the rest's a slow ascending followed by a drop.
I smoked and skimmed the smeary glass,
my diving watch, the Guinness sign behind
the gin, and saw three grinning faces mouth:
Your man walks into a bar, an iron bar . . . ouch.
Midway there will be wishes, wives, islands
quietly deserted, jungle tribes, firing squads,
last requests and genies bottled in the jacks.
The finish sees the jars tide-marked, abandoned
to prehensile smoke, the ripped-out wiring
of air that hangs like gags told donkeys back
which weren't too great the first time round.
So please, no laughter, and please, no applause.
Each time a round unleashes glass into shocking,
solid rain, and the pub airpockets, shudders, roots,
there's an ovation into the bogs. Some fat fuck's
thumped in the gut and bundled away in a Corsa.
The moon, an unexpected exit wound, rises
to flood the carpark. Someone else can
expand about jokes and the unconscious,
and someone else can refer to the luck of the Irish.
In the rough to the left of the fairway
the same man who walked into the bar
lies doubled up in laughter.
The clownery of his ungentle, eggshelled face
is about to break into a grin,
the last one seen in sky-blue morning dress
astride his Samsung wide-screen.
Chances are someone else won't be starting with him.
The daymoon eases downward like a drop
of condensation, and golf caps advertising
legendary local names are doffed, then someone coughs,
clicks off the dawning chorus of his watch.
The secret of good comedy.
The way the horizon nearly stops
the moon's outstretched communion tongue,
like a punchline momentarily forgotten.
To a Fault: Poems