Joke for a Dollar

That’s what his sign said.

Feeling like the sadness inside me

was a buzzard pecking my insides out,

I paid my dollar and waited to laugh,

to giggle and howl, forgetting how you

met my questions with silence,

blurring the sight of you dropping the ribbon

from my present in the garbage can

as I pleaded with you to give it back.

The joke man in the park didn’t realize

he had a heavy load to lift.

He started out with a joke about a taco stand in Arizona.

I didn’t laugh.

His ancient blue eyes capsized with hurt,

his body grew rigid as the trees in Washington

Square Park tightened around him,

the park where Bob Dylan played and the world

rocked to a new order,

the park where Jane Jacobs stopped Robert Moses

from putting a highway down the center,

the park where clowns, acrobats and hipsters

seduce throngs to throw silver coins in a hat.

But I was not moved from my misery.

The amateur with the promise on his sign

offered me another joke,

warming me to an online budding romance,

a man sent a woman a picture of just one eye.

She said she liked it so he sent her a picture
of one toe,

she swooned, she sent him a picture of her parrot, channeling the voice of May West.

The man was allergic to birds and sent her a picture

of a roasted canard, announcing, I canard do this.

Did I mention that all the jokes advertised as original?

All for a dollar in the glorious May sunshine,

with the flutey water of the fountain shooting,

students reading Baudelaire, the pigeons

bravely parading around crumbs and cores.

The jokes were lost children, scattered and torn,

like you daughter, pecking away at my Mother’s Day,

chasing me like a bird above the park and the city needing attention. Words I felt well worth my dollar.


—  Lee Schwartz

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