About this Poem 

"One year I volunteered at Gaylord, a Connecticut Long-Term Acute Rehabilitation and Chronic Care Hospital, where I would transport patients in wheelchairs from floor to floor, read them stories and work on helping them with basic therapeutic and motor activities, such as bending over and lifting small objects. Some in the condition of recovering from a body-shattering accident were understandably embittered, even despondent, but others emanated the optimism of a will directed single-mindedly towards recovery. One particularly mercurial and mischief-eyed twinkler was an elderly, health-obsessed, whiskered man in a fedora and too loose sweatpants who was able somehow to make everyone around him explode into laughter at his sundry puns and only slightly off-color jokes, which I took more as a result of his pacing and manner rather than the content of his jokes; I've attempted to use the lineation of my poem to serve that same function, producing in its movement the cumulative and ultimately timeless effect of completely cracking up."

—Ravi Shankar

Old Folks' Jokes

Ravi Shankar

Porous the punchline
spoken through wads
of lettuce at lunchtime
by the septuagenarian
vegetarian who has never
flashed a peace sign,
nor could distinguish it
from a Vulcan salute.
He’s not the font
of the jokes he paces
in front of the mirror—
even the one liners
are anonymous, traffic
conversation like air
or money. Not to him.
No sooner he hears one
he likes, he owns it.
Spins the extended bits
out with panache,
skips an extra extra
extra beat from the end,
bringing out in the eyes
and bellies of his morning
shuffleboard or pill-
buddies, laughter in rising
cascades that mistaking
each pause as ultimate
begins to agitate the rows
of green jello in the thunder
of many dentures exploding
into pure guffawing.

Copyright @ 2014 by Ravi Shankar. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2014.

Copyright @ 2014 by Ravi Shankar. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2014.

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar is the author of Deepening Groove (National Poetry Review Press, 2011) and the forthcoming What Else Could It Be: Ekphrastics and Collaborations (Carolina Wren Press, 2015). He teaches at Central Connecticut State University and in the City University of Hong Kong’s MFA Program. Shankar lives in Chester, Connecticut.

by this poet

poem
Between forest and field, a threshold 
like stepping from a cathedral into the street—
the quality of air alters, an eclipse lifts, 

boundlessness opens, earth itself retextured 
into weeds where woods once were.
Even planes of motion shift from vertical

navigation to horizontal quiescence:   
there’s a
poem
One is never alone. Saltwater taffy colored 
beach blanket spread on a dirt outcropping 
pocked with movement. Pell-mell tunneling,  

black specks the specter of beard hairs swarm, 
disappear, emerge, twitch, reverse course 
to forage along my shin, painting pathways 

with invisible pheromones that others take
poem
(Haiku Erasure of Lord Byron's "Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull")

Start spirit; behold
the skull. A living head loved
earth. My bones resign

the worm, lips to hold
sparkling grape's slimy circle,
shape of