722: Ghazal for Dogeaters

722: Ghazal for Dogeaters

722: Ghazal for Dogeaters


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

We live in an era where the idea of what is funny to some people and what is offensive to others seems wildly at odds. I for one love to laugh and yet, if there’s anything that feels vaguely offensive, insensitive, or just plain mean, I can’t laugh at it. It’s hard for me to laugh at anything that I think disparages or hurts another human being.

To be honest, I’m not sure if that was always the case, but now I find humor hard to stomach if it’s at the expense of someone else's humanity. I struggle when the comedians I used to appreciate poke fun at their spouses, implying they are dumb or mean or inept. Even if their spouses are laughing in the audience, even if they and their spouses are happily cashing checks.

Too much humor is actually a form of bullying. The teasing of a child or a partner is a way of keeping them from feeling okay in their skin. That tired phrase, “Oh please, I was just kidding,” when everyone knows there were teeth to the joke, to the put down.

Right now, I see what is called “cancel culture” getting dragged in the world of Twitter. There seems to be some idea that people are overly sensitive and unable to take anything lightly. And while, yes, sometimes people overreact to something slight and unintentional, for the most part, what people are being sensitive to are in fact highly offensive statements.

I was once introduced at a poetry reading in the early 2000’s by a white host as, “Ada “Flores Martinez Loisa Selena blah blah blah” Limón, because you just know she has like a thousand middle names like that.” For the record, I have one middle name and it’s Elisabeth with an S. I got up to the mic, I was the only brown woman at the reading by the way, and said, “I guess the joke here is that I’m Mexican?” And the crowd went silent and I read. I managed to read and smile and be graceful, but I never forgot it. And I should never have had to go through it.

Today’s poem faces, head on, the way jokes can harm people and proliferate racism.

Ghazal for Dogeaters
by Danni Quintos

Someone yelled, That dog gonna end up in a pot of rice!
at Margaret Cho & she tells the story in her stand-up, as a joke.

When I waited tables, someone’s dad ordered flied lice. 
Someone’s brother made a dog-meat-in-the-eggrolls joke.

In 1904, they shipped twelve hundred Filipinos, shivering in
a train car, from Seattle to St. Louis for a human zoo. No joke.

They forced them to eat twenty dogs a week: a spectacle
for the fairgoers. The butt of the joke. The root of the joke.

Once a coworker barked like a dog because someone else 
ate Chinese food; but calm down, it was just a joke.

When I told her it wasn’t OK, she cried, called me a bully. 
She asked me in tears, Danni, why can’t you take a joke?

"Ghazal for Dogeaters" by Danni Quintos, from TWO BROWN DOTS copyright © 2022 Danni Quintos. Used by permission of BOA Editions.