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Joyce Malwitz


Joyce Malwitz readingConvergence

Bathed in a sweeping wind,
she stands on a precipice where two worlds converge.

Prairie grasses sprawl beyond her vision
--big blue stem, buffalo grass, and skye rye.
Beckoning from the south and west,
they whisper:

You need
a delicate shimmer and gentle caress.
Step away from earth.
Soar overhead and float in the golden current.
Drift on the humming tracery of an afternoon storm.

At her back, a lush wood drapes the shoulders of the world
and anchors her to life.
A tangle of hardwood to the north and east,
skimming the bowl of heaven.
Strands of her hair drift overhead and fashion
a delicate plait with tender branches.

She throws her arms overhead, poised on the curling rim.
Her fists beat a challenge.

Wind Gods:
I desire
a monstrous thunder and brutal seduction.
Wrench me from earth's moorings,
spinning and reeling to heaven and back.
Pull me into the vortex to explode across the horizon.

At the center of the world, she is replete.
She rocks deep into the past.
She sways.
She hums a timeless song, unheard.

"It's Not That Funny"

“I’m going to comedy camp in August,” my friend Kendrick informed me over mochas at Caribou.

“Come again?” I questioned him. “You’re 47. You’re too old for camp. You don’t sleep well away from home and you’re allergic to mosquitoes. The mosquitoes will eat you for lunch. That’s all there is in northern Minnesota in August. Big hungry mosquitoes. Besides you’re not that funny. Don’t you have to pass a test to get into a camp like this? Tell a few jokes? Do some stand-up?”

“Don’t mock me," Kendrick responded between slurps. "You always mock me. Just because you’re way older than me, doesn’t mean you can mock me. Last summer I went to kayak camp. This summer I’m going to comedy camp. It’s good for me to get out of town and meet new people. People who don’t mock me.” 

“How’d you hear about this camp anyway?" I asked. "Is this some sort of Jay Leno outreach program? Sponsored by drug-addicted comics who have to perform community service or go to jail?”

“It’s sponsored by the Unitarians.”

“OK, at least it’s not the Lutherans.”

I’d like to go to comedy camp with Kendrick and learn how to be funny. I want people to laugh out loud at my jokes. Big, side-splitting guffaws. I’d like to hear people say, “Oh, God that was so funny. How do you remember those funny stories? Tell the one about….” I’d like people to linger at the dinner table in eager anticipation of a yarn I might spin over drinks and dessert. Just once, I’d like it if my daughter did not ask me to keep my comments to myself when her friends are around: “You’re the only one who thinks you’re funny, Mom.” I’d like to show her. 

I conducted a recent survey of my nearest and dearest, asking which professions in today’s politically charged climate should abandon all attempts at humor; the top three:

1. Mother
2. Wife
3. Teacher

Coincidentally, I am all three. Perhaps I should have widened my survey pool beyond my daughter, husband, and 4th hour English class.

I’d like jokes to fall effortlessly from my tongue, but I’m at my funniest after the fact and definitely not out loud. I have a James Thurber, Walter Mitty kind of humor, but on a much smaller, less funny scale. Besides, most people don’t want a middle class, 54 year old woman to be funny. Funny, old women make young people nervous. They’d rather ignore us. They think we’re not acting our age, “So Joan Rivers,” they mutter. Or, they only expect us to do good works like organize a neighborhood task force to get out the vote or eliminate graffiti or pack gift boxes for new borns or circulate petitions stating our opposition to Aids in Africa.

I do worry about the world. I worry about Aids and the bird flu and flesh-eating disease. I worry that my daughter will die from an infected sliver or she'll trip on a waste basket in her cubicle at work and hit her head on the corner of her drafting table and get amnesia and forget I'm her mother. And, I’m concerned about the environment; who’s not? I buy organic when it's on sale at Cub, and I’ve got a Sierra Club calendar. I’d like to join Green Peace, but I drive an SUV. I'd feel hypocritical applying for membership, so I donate anonymously.

My family uses humor as a shield against the world and its hard knocks. Some families share their feelings and fears. Not mine. Instead, we respond to life’s tragedies with flippancy. When dad died after a long struggle with heart disease and diabetes, my sister Linda commented as the paramedics trundled his body through the living room and out the kitchen door, “Well, at least now he’ll be able to have that afternoon nap he always wanted.” The rest of us nodded. 

My sister is a great laugher. Tell her any joke, and before the first line is out of your mouth, she’s nearly shaking with laughter, shimmying and jumping up and down, rubbing her hands together, even drooling. She’s like the Greek chorus of my family’s humor. At every pause in a funny story, she responds, “Yeah, right…Oh, I get it now…Ooooo, funny, funny.” At the punch line, she’s nearly on the floor. “Linda, my brother Steve tells, “it’s not that funny. Relax, you’ll have a coronary.” 

Linda loves any kind of comedy routine on television. Especially cable where around the clock angry young men cuss their way through a lot of bad humor. She even likes what I refer to as the "southern-bigotry-traveling-tent-show-comedy-tour" with tattooed white boys complaining about not getting enough of just about everything in the world. Steve loves to come up behind her and whisper in her ear, “Git ‘er done.” She’s down in a second. If I ever figure out how tell a joke, Linda will be my first audience. 

My brother's humor is more finely tuned. He leans toward animal sounds and bird calls. I attribute this to our childhood, glued to the grainy black and white RCA, mimicking cartoon characters like Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd. "I'm wookin' for those wascally wabbits," he informed our mother as he stalked the wild hare in our backyard. Steve reached the pinnacle of his talent, however, when he mastered Tarzan's jungle call and trained our cows to come in for evening milking with a wild, "aaah-eee-aaa."

Dad was the funniest person in the family, but you never knew when his humor might switch to a blazing anger. One minute we’re sitting around the kitchen table drinking Old Milwaukee and downing shots of Canadian Club, sharing his favorite snack of buttered saltines and I’m listening to him tell a funny story about something he’d read in The Daily Mistake, as he liked to call the local newspaper. The next minute Dad’s on a rant about the price of gas, or immigration, or the terrorists, or the neighbors. This is my cue to pack my bags and head out. I’ve overstayed my welcome. If I don’t leave soon, I know what’s next:”Dam that Jane Fonda. That Commie bitch, she should have stayed in North Viet Nam.” No sense saying, “But, Dad, that was 30 years ago, that was a different time, she’s not like that anymore.” He’s on a roll and knows what buttons to push to incite a family riot. Next up: “Dam that Hillary Clinton. Who’d vote for that Commie bitch?” I’ve listened to enough Dr. Phil to know when to smile and vamoose.

My husband Jim thinks the funniest thing in the world is mooning me on the third fairway of Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. “Yes, sweetheart, I see that it’s still white and hairy." Ha-Ha. Oh so funny. "Yes, I know you have a long driver. No, I don’t want to join you in the rough for a putting lesson.” He’s 56. But, inside every man there’s a 14 year old boy waiting to escape.

Jim has that gleeful, adolescent humor down pat. He also loves to tell long, complicated stories about his hunting expeditions, tracking the wily, white-tailed deer through southern Minnesota cornfields or stalking the ever dangerous prairie dog in South Dakota, stopping with sidebar information about the weather or the ping that suddenly developed in the car engine or his favorite hunting dog Trigger when he was a boy until I can’t remember the original purpose of his story. If we’re with friends around the dinner table, they’re either splayed out in their chairs, arms drooping by their sides, legs stretched beneath the table, heads back and eyes closed, or they’ve dropped their heads into their gin and tonics. This makes absolutely no difference to my husband as he marches along, oblivious to the snores around him. I’ve tried to speed things up in the past with no avail. I don’t want to play Martha to his George, but I have been known to prod Jim along, “CUT TO THE CHASE! GET TO THE PUCHLINE! WE'VE HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE!” I get anxious and jump around behind his chair. He's oblivious. What seems like hours later, Jim concludes the story, and much to my surprise, all laugh and clap, “That was a great story, Jim. Tell us about the time when…” 

"A great story," I think, "that was like the Sermon on the Mount." When I can ask, "Have you guys heard the Queen of England joke?" My friends groan, “Yeah, you told us that joke last time. It's not that funny.”