884: He Laughed With A Laugh

884: He Laughed With A Laugh

884: He Laughed With A Laugh


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

If you know me, you know I’m prone to unmitigated bursts of expressive laughter. I cannot help it; they are often loud, full-throated, at times spasmodically uncontrollable. Whisper a sly remark in my ear in a place of worship or concert hall, and I’m the guy disrupting the sermon or performance with a body-shaking howl.

I don’t know how it’s possible, but I have several brands of laughter. Though they retain some vestige of their previous incarnations, my multiple laughs individually evolved over time, their sound, shape, and volume. There is the hearty laugh where I bellow so hard and long, I start coughing. Beware that one: it’s infectious; tears emerge, and my body gets into it. You might start laughing at me contorting. Then, there is my fake laugh that’s really a note of sarcasm. Spawned by my making fun of your joke, it goes “Heh, heh.” I also have the quiet laugh, which is a series of rapid, dog-like breathing noises that fade out into the ether.

Earlier in life, I would have happily visited an imaginary big box store and pulled a different laugh off the shelf. During my pre-adolescent years, as my friends’ voices were deepening, I became self-conscious of my kid-laugh which was more of a snorkel. Think Urkel from the 90’s sitcom Family Matters.

I’m often told at parties: I knew you arrived because I heard your warm laugh across the room, which I appreciate. But, and I don’t know why, afterwards I feel awkward. I mean, I know, being sensitive to history and laughter as a form of masking and survival. Think Maya Angelou’s reading of “We Wear the Mask”, a poem which we featured early in my tenure on the show.

We at The Slowdown recently collaborated with producers from the Brains On Universe — APM’s Kids and Family team to produce episodes around Children’s Poetry. We invited young people who had some connection to poetry either as readers, performers, or writers of poetry. Our hosts Nova, Durete, Jasper, Cat, and Adelaide, were dynamic, energetic, smart and, most of all, funny. They all made explicit the relationship between laughter and poetry. We were goofballs in the studio as we made up words, exchanged similes on the spot, quoted rap lyrics and pop songs. They reminded me we must, as writers of poetry, occasionally tap into the zany, if we are to truly marshal in joy. No matter the source and texture of our laughter, right? As long as it comes, and that it comes frequently.

Myka and I rescued today’s fun poem from the cutting floor of our children’s poetry episodes. We present it to you today. Enjoy!

He Laughed with a Laugh
by JonArno Lawson

He laughed with a laugh
that he wished was his laugh,
but everyone knew it wasn’t.

When he laughed he would ask,
“Does that sound like my laugh?”
and everyone said, “It doesn’t.”

The laugh that he laughed
that wasn’t his laugh went
“Hardy har har, guffaw!”

The laugh that he laughed
that he wished wasn’t his went,
“Hruck, sniffle-hick, hee-haw!”

“He Laughed with a Laugh” by JonArno Lawson from BLACK STARS IN A WHITE NIGHT SKY © 2008, JonArno Lawson. Used by permission of the poet.