RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 7

Arthur Russell 


When I started writing stories, I’d be writing a story,   
and a good line would come to me, 
And I would laugh.  In my room, alone. 
I’d be delighted; and this laughter, typically the chuckling sort, 
but sometimes I would just fall out 
from how goddamned funny I was; 
like this one story where the protagonist is complaining about the deli counter man 
getting pickle juice on his pastrami sandwich, I slayed myself so hard, I think I wept a little. 

I think Moses must’ve fallen out when he wrote Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Damn, he must’ve cried onto his chisel from that one, 
little rust spots on his chisel where the tears fell.   

Or maybe it was not a joke at all. Maybe before he went up on Mr. Sinai, 
he caught Zipporah with Aaron, and he was wroth, 
but he had to go to work, so he couldn’t confront her,  
and he just added Thou shalt not commit adultery
in with the other commandments as a kind of personal message to her that  
I see what you’re doing, girlfriend, and I do not appreciate it.

And Zipporah’s like Really?  
Like who are you, Mr. Smack The Nile
With Your Staff And Make The Waters Part?  
Smack my Nile, why doncha?
Do you know how long I’ve gone without a little staff?  
My kids are on social security, that’s how long. I’m dying here.

Oh, are you taking suggestions for those tablets?
How about this one: “Thou shalt not forget to schtupp thine wife from time to time
or else some other guy will do it for you.  
You’re giving a whole new meaning to wandering in the wilderness.”

But that doesn’t happen anymore. 
I haven’t laughed while I was writing in something like 40 years. 
I just sit here in the quiet kitchen 
with the humming refrigerator and sometimes 
the sound of the garbage truck telling me  
it’s time to stop for the day, go take a shower, 
eat breakfast, get dressed. 


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