A big blue cheer goes up
over the town when they find
the body of Joey the town drunk
lying on the common at dawn.
“We always knew
it’d end this way,” they hoot.
It’s always grim around here,
so everyone laughs
over such a public death.
They don’t happen often –
the kid cut apart on the North End tracks,
the frozen corpse uncovered
after the snows finally melt.
This one’s no less funny
for having been
so long anticipated.
No more, then, the lopsided mouth
and the ever present crusted briar pipe.
No more the mumbled nosiness
if you were out on the street
too late for his sensibilities.
“Where you going? Too young
for this late, too young,”
and he’d brandish a bottle
of ginger brandy in admonishment. Irony
was unknown when we were kids
and we’d stay away until we knew
how easy he was to tweak
into incoherent anger.
How easy it was to steal that bottle
and toss it into the bushes
behind the library, and run.
When the word spread that he’d died
sleeping rough, we felt a twinge
of guilt that passed. The town
wouldn’t be the same without him;
we bent then our seemingly immortal selves
to the task of replacing him.
How could we continue to live here
if there was no unfortunate to jeer,
if there was no Joey to laugh at?
We stared at each other as we passed
the bag, the joint, the mirror,
visualizing briar pipes in each other’s mouths,
wondering to whom
would fall the honor
the butt of the traditional joke.