for Miriam Marty Clark
On my way from the kitchen to the living room,
I heard you laugh while cooking and your mother
laugh while telling a story to the dinner guests
and it was uncanny, precisely the same sound,
an identical and inarticulate explosion of delight
at some absurd turn in the recipe or narrative.
I stood frozen between your matching happiness
just like the time I heard my cousin’s cackle —
its gentle unforced tone, its melodious cheer —
and shivered because it was just like Messalina,
my favorite fun-loving aunt, dead for many years
yet alive in the genuine mirth of her daughter.
What better legacy to leave my son than this?—
the family laugh, a manner of taking pleasure,
an antidote to poisonous genetics or habits,
the lethal words and looks and offhand guilt
I’ve given him without thinking; so that, one day,
somebody might hear him and his son laughing
in exactly the same way, at exactly the same time,
and hear a perfect echo of me and my parents
and all the unlikely generations of laughter
back up the Appalachians, across the dour ocean
to a place where joy was as precious as food,
all the way back to the original couple who saw
something in the garden that made them feel odd,
that inspired a sweet illogical noise, the first laugh.
It baffled the animals, but God saw that it was good.