Old Folks' Jokes

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.

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