714: A Personality Test

714: A Personality Test

714: A Personality Test


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I have been known for what people call inappropriate laughter. If I am told not to laugh, if I’m told something is sullen, somber, I am bound to be the person that cracks a joke, that tries to hide a devious smile when the serious teacher or tour guide is passing by. Is this a bit immature? Sure. Is it a coping mechanism? Absolutely!

The truth is, I am also prone to tears. At any moment I could be crying, I can break into tears at the slightest kindness, or the minor moment of sorrow.

My best friend, who is a playwright, used to strategically place me in front of the theater reviewer from the New York Times during her productions because I carried in me all the big feelings at once. I laugh hard. I cry hard. I give this play five stars. So should you.

I remember once in college getting in trouble with my friend Thea as we were canoeing in the wetlands of Lake Washington. I can’t even remember what was so funny, but I couldn’t stop laughing, which meant I couldn’t steer the canoe and we ended up stuck in the shallow reeds. Which made me laugh harder. I laughed so hard that my glasses fell into the water. And then the rest of the summer we continued laughing by imagining a majestic white egret wearing my sunglasses.

Lately, in the face of the way the world is going—the millions of small and large hits we take on a daily basis, the hits to the soul, the intensity of our modern world and its layers of anxieties—I find myself making a type of nervous laughter. It’s the loop of dark humor that’s essentially laughing to keep from crying.

The other day, I was talking to my friends, celebrating good news, the launch of books and plays and art in the world and then someone made a joke about surviving the end of the world one poem at a time. And we laughed and then worried about each other and our futures and then said that all we could do would be to double down and make art. Keep making art, and keep loving and laughing like it was some sort of rebellion in the blood. We will keep watering the plants and walking the dog and petting the cat and hugging each other and in this way we can make it through it all. Laughing at the absurdity of life so we could keep on living.

Today’s poem considers that urge to root for something to keep on living, but also the need to laugh back at the danger of this world.

A Personality Test
by Maureen Thorson

In the orchard, I catch
out of the corner
of my eye
a black rag
snapped tight
in the wind.

Turns out to be
a field mouse
across fallen leaves,
in and out of pocks

like a Marine recruit,
all go!go!go!
purely exposed
to the eyes of hawks,
foxes, whatever
wants to eat her,

which is everything.
As I watch,
she disappears
into divots, reappears,
slides, carroms, and slaloms,
a little dark clown.

I can’t help it—
I laugh at her pratfalls.
I laugh at her fear.
I laugh at her fear.
I laugh
as she runs
for her life.

"A Personality Test" by Maureen Thorson, from SHARE THE WEALTH copyright © 2022 Maureen Thorson. Used by permission of Veliz Books.