670: Think of Me, Laughing

670: Think of Me, Laughing

670: Think of Me, Laughing


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

A while back, I remember listening to a grief expert talk on a podcast about ways to handle traumatic experiences. At the end of the interview, the host asked the guest what might surprise listeners about him and the grief expert answered, “People don’t get I’m actually really funny.” I think about that a lot because I’m the same way. I’ve been in the middle of a hard discussion with friends about race, politics, death, or one of the many ways the world could end, and we all start laughing maniacally and heartily because laughter seemed like the only response.

One of the things I’m aware of, as a writer of color, is that oftentimes we are asked to write about trauma or some new awfulness in the news or tragic historical events. And sometimes that work needs to be done and sometimes that work helps enlighten and heal. But sometimes, you want to just live, you want to be joyful, you want to eat a goddamn oyster and have a cocktail by the ocean and laugh, laugh, laugh.

What I love about poetry is that it makes room for all those things to be true. It can hold both the grief and the laughter and make room for the whole human experience. You can be actively protesting police brutality and still make your lover a romantic dinner. You can be terrified of the climate crisis and still enjoy staring into the undulating waves of the sea.

Today’s poem works to defy stereotypes and resists a tidy narrative. I love this poem because it allows for so many possibilities between both rage and pleasure. And in the end, it feels to me, like a defense of joy.

Think of Me, Laughing
by Major Jackson

You’re right to imagine me sobbing on the corner
of 6th Avenue & West 4th or raising
a hashtagged cardboard above my head
near the Liberty Bell. You’re right to
picture me lying down below the gold-domed
capitol demanding Don’t shoot!
It is my annual day of sobbing. What are these
brown hands for if not to bury my eyes in the 
ancient rivers of wrongs? And isn’t this my consigned
single note in our final piece of music, mindless as a blink?
So go ahead: you and I are once again rehearsing decency.
It is the dream of loving fruited plains that do not love you back.
It is our feet planted in concrete that has me weep.
But first give thought to my luxuries, the sunset
I toasted over the Val di Chiana with an aperitivo
in Caffè Poliziano the summer of ’15, or give thought
to the promontories of conversation with my father
yesterday in which, among other delights, we discussed
the dignity of eggplants whose purplish tint
reminded him of a great aunt. Consider my love
of celestial bodies. You’re better off thinking 
of me singing this morning a little Marvin Gaye,
not What’s Going On, but I Want You, sultry
and soulful: a one-way love is just a fantasy,
O Sugar! Forgive me for being bound up in the
ecstatic right now. I do not regret my little bout with life.

"Think of Me, Laughing" by Major Jackson. Used by permission of the poet.