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In the season before trees begin
their ritual of swapping green for rust,
a DC-9 airliner and Cessna
collided over the city where I grew up.
This isn’t funny, but comedians will tell you
laughter is possible with any tragedy
if one waits long enough, time
and timing are key. It’s been 27 years
since I stood alone in the backyard
beside our family’s orange tree,
stood within its scent and looked
northeast to witness the smoke
blocks away and not the televised one,
delayed seven seconds.
Clarity, too, is necessary, I cannot say
somebody noticed something
near the crash site. I will tell you instead
Anita saw a hand lying on Carmenita Road
and believed it was fake, given
how pristine the severing,
given the manicured fingernails,
unchipped, painted the palest crimson.
Weeks later, while passing a joint
at Regional Park, she said she thought
it was a mannequin’s. With enough distance
it might’ve seemed we were taking turns
stitching the night, there on the topmost
row of the bleachers.
Time and clarity, also a setup that tightens
the coiled spring of a punch line: so, there is
this handless mannequin
wandering around the wreckage, sifting,
when one of the firemen on location says,
I mean one of the policemen says,
one of the medics, the coroners I mean,
when one of the reporters holding
a microphone like a charred ice cream cone,
when one Henri Bergson, the French philosopher,
says, “Comedy can only begin at the point
where our neighbor’s personality
ceases to affect us. It begins, in fact,
with what might be called a growing
callousness to social life.”
This still isn’t funny, I know. I’m missing
the basic tools to build this joke
or not but cannot drill
so many holes through my conscience.
I should’ve made something else
entirely, a white heron
folded from paper or paper from a fallen tree
or crutches to prevent it from falling
in the first place, that’s what
my mother did, homemade crutches
out of dowel rods
so the orange tree’s branches wouldn’t bow, touch
grass, they were that
abundant with fruit, around July, August,
she would deliver some
to Gordon and Joan across the street.
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