Charlie Chaplin

The clown does Shakespeare
and we laugh.

Hidden waif, tortured reader,
stolen son, serious child,

why do we howl when you misbehave,
cry, when you are kind?

We are all joined in this threadbare costume—
I can live without you, father, but must seek butter,
at least one mutt, or another; I steal without
you, mother, though I never cease to seek you.

I, the child who was no child still playing a child of the wild.
I, the wild found in the child, the child in you and me.
I, the man, chased through mirrors of cost, flight and possession.
I fly, you watch, I wait at the doorstep for you to arrive;
I cross the threshold, step on a loose board, stagger, roof sags,
symphony patiently waits for me to arise, you hold your breath,
a cymbal crash as it falls on my head; it’s so much like life,

that’s what you will say as you leave the theatre,

and the band plays on.

You will always remember me,
the words you never heard.
You will laugh as I sing
my silent song, dance it on your plate
with the food of my sorrow,
look at you with a love that knows you
won’t love back. But, I will love you
and I will always smile, my eyes twinkle for you,
plain as the moustache painted on my face.

Buster

How could such a serious man be so funny?
The Wittgenstein of laughter, he bared the bones of funny
and examined them with the truth in his mind and
whiskey as witness to his soul.

Dancing with the skeleton had him banned in several states,
but he wanted to do it—no one could dissuade him.

He loved bridge,
tricks,
somersaults,
paused moments,
where everything coalesced into an instant
(not a whole),
a start perfectly prescribed
whose dissolution was a recipe
served on roller skates—
immediately.

He rode the rails
over the valley of laughter—
the angel that foretells
the coming of the end,
the transformation coming round the bend,
the clown in the wilderness—
the new kid in town.

Harpo Marx

Harpo Marx is my God —
no longer.
Whenever I need Him,
God is silent,
except for some mournful hoots
on a bicycle horn,
or tin harmonica;
sly glancing finger
pointing directly to heaven —
obvious, from
the beatific smile on his face.

I could prove it any number of ways
but my mother told me:
“Ward, in deontological arguments,
be precise.”
Harpo must have been God
because
He is so unpredictable.

He’s funny:
gives you a coffee when you ask for a quarter,
lets the wall fall down when He moves,
pulls a sword and a fish from His pocket as the password,
makes faces when least appropriate.

did He know Groucho was going to move like that
when He traced him in a mirror of silver nitrate,
first frames in the explosion of man’s testament
to the capture of twentieth space century time?
did He know silence
would speak louder than talkies ever would;
did He know He would remain a manic child
for anyone who sees Him,
staring back at us, still alive,
though others have been washed away
like sand swallowed by the sea.

He taught me not to be afraid,
He taught me laughter is not serious business,
He taught me silence is never understood.
We hunger for the eternal in the moment of silence.
And He laughs.

He knows noise. He knows nonsense.
He knows bravery in a lunatic way —
never aware of the consequences,
never tempted by the explanations.
He will always answer the phone
but never says anything, though he listens a lot.
Sometimes, he honks the horn.

But He is no longer God —
because God is further away than ever —
and I have not rehearsed this scene before,
and the man over there with the fake blond hairpiece
scares me silly.

He is chasing people, brandishing scissors,
making them hold his leg.
I am holding a pistol
but I know it is only a prop,
it can be taken away from me at any moment.

He knows it —
leers at me as He
chases women —
they are scared too —
God bless them.

One moment He stampedes everyone
and the next He stops
transfigured by a grand piano;
He opens the top, looks inside, dreaming
plucks on the strings, then strums.
A muse floats through the open French door,
and Marcel Marceau is singing;
entranced, He pushes the support and winces
as the lid crashes upon His hand;
alpha the harp, omega the melody.

A final grandiose gesture
and for a moment we are all aware
of something missing,
something left unsaid.
We all laugh uproariously.

Harpo grimmels,
turns suddenly
and races to the exit.

Advertisements