Collections of Jokes Do Not Win Pulitzer Prizes

A short story though it may be funny is not a joke.

The last line of a joke is the punchline.

The last name of a story has no name.

You remember a punchline.

You do not remember the last line of a story.

You may remember the first —- I still remember the opening lines of David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities — but I do not remember the last.

No one does.

You tell people jokes.

You do not tell short stories.

Short stories have an author.

Jokes do not.

No one knows who the first person was to tell a joke that does the rounds.

Jokes are short.

Short stories, except those of Lydia Davis, are comparatively long.

Collections of jokes do not win Pulitzer prizes.

Collections of short stories do.

I like them both.

There is one way short stories and jokes are alike: the good ones you like to hear or read over and over again..

The Case

You can bring the case in if you like, she says.

It may not want to come in, he says.

It’s a suitcase, she says. They don’t have a voice.

This one does, he says.

He goes out the door, to the car, where he lifts the lid of the boot. He looks at the suitcase for a few minutes.

What are you doing? she says. Talking to it?

Listening. It doesn’t want to come in.

Why not?

You know why not. Things deteriorate. We argue, say things that no one should say to another. I storm out, or you tell me to leave. It’s almost routine.

They look at each other, They have been here so many times before.

So what does the suitcase say? she asks.

It’s staying. In the boot , he says. It’s adamant about that.

How can a suitcase be adamant?

I’m ready for a quick getaway, it says.

Suit yourself.

That’s a bad joke, he says.

So you coming in?

I suppose so, just as soon as I close the boot.

The Scarlet Pimpernel of Cats

She was the scarlet pimpernel of cats. A thunderstorm was looming and the sun had already set and she had not made her way inside though it was her dinnertime and she was a stickler about that. Hail was forecast. Go outside and rattle the tin, I was ordered. I’m having an early night. Fair enough. A cold will do that to you.

On and off for the next four hours I did as I was instructed, rattling the biscuit tin, calling her name. Only the hail answered. If she was on the roof again, she’d be a soggy, sorry cat. Occasionally between downpours I’d check the road with the torch on my iPhone for something flat, gingery and blood-stained. Fortunately there was nothing. The Scarlet Pimpernel of cats was indeed elusive.

Around eleven I packed it in and slumped asleep.

Did you find her? came a text message next door. I’m scared.

No, I messaged. ZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

In the morning preparing two bowls of cereal I opened the pantry door and out popped a cat! She headed straight for her bowl, wofing down the food from last night. I checked the pantry for tell-tale signs of toilet distress but there were none. How did you go for so long without doing a wee? I asked.

I crossed my legs, she said.  

Tight-Lipped

If you see Millie, let me know, she says as she retires for the night.

I will, I promise.

So I watch the program I want to see

then watch the program I do not want to see

going outside to check during the ad breaks

rattling the tin of biscuits, calling out her name

but there is no sign; and the stars have come out

and the moon glows knowingly but remains tight-lipped

so I go inside to watch another show I do not want to see

going outside at intervals, rattling the old biscuit tin

looking for the cat that does not want to be found.

Fridays circa 5p.m.

There’s nothing I like better doing

than sitting here in a quiet corner

of the pub

with my Mongolian beanie on

waiting for my mates to rock up

while I have a quiet read.

I know it smacks of vanity

when I pull out my iPhone

and scroll through my posts,

reading what I said, what others said,

how many likes I got.

I like what I wrote and how I say it:

the long, slouching sentences,

the laconic phrases

[Hey! I’m an Ausssie]

the odd syntax here and there

[ like the first line of this post ].

One should be as comfortable in one’s voice

as in the clothes one’s wearing.

I like the merry banter of patrons in the bar too,

the warm embrace of companionship

as I like to gather my poems around me

like boon companions

until my real friends, my flesh and blood friends,

turn up

That Note from the Neighbours

We got a note from the young couple across the road

telling [ warning? ] us that they were holding a birthday bash

that day starting at two and going past midnight.

And, no, we were not invited.

We braced ourselves for the worst.

A few cars appeared around six, the last time we checked.

We did hear a car door slam at nine

& some intemperate laughter on the front porch a little later

& that was it.

No hordes of SUV’s. no gate crashers, no raised voices,

no loud thumping music.& no need to call the number

I set aside for the cops.

The Bacchanalia clearly hadn’t arrived.

We went to bed a little disappointed.

The Problem of Stephen King

Stephen King wrote a lot.

If God were as busy as Stephen King

He would not have rested on that seventh day.

Stephen King wrote as many books almost

as God put up stars

but not all of them were good.

None of them were duds

but only a few shine — you know them:

‘The Shining’, for instance, ‘Misery’,

the first third of ‘It’, the novella ‘Stand by Me’.

Maybe that’s all we can hope for —-

in a long and busy life only a few of our works

will shine.

*have I left any good ones out?

*what’s your favourite King book?

*which have you read over and over?

No Fairy Tale Towers

There are no fairy tales in these Tower Blocks

of Melbourne

No Rapunzel leaning from a window

to let down her golden hair

for some prince to climb up,

no balcony for a Juliet to stand on

and gaze out at her Romeo romancing her

from below

no Dire Straits song to celebrate

their desire

no tower of hope and dreams

no clambering prince

only a vicious virus climbing

the tower walls

*pic courtesy of Wiki Commons

On Being Compared to a Gnat

You have the attention span,

he said,

of a gnat.

I thought [briefly]

about that:

the skim

the look;

the review

not the book;

the single

not the CD;

a movement not

the whole symphony;

the single poem—

a story won’t do—

especially if short

think haiku.

Life’s short.

Try this, that.

Stay light,

says the gnat.

What’s Coming Down the Pike

You don’t know what’s coming down the pike.

No one does.

Covid-19 showed that.

Now there are rumours of something else.

It doesn’t have a face or name

but the word ‘China’ is often invoked.

But no one knows.

But something is coming.

You can see its shadow.

Hear its footsteps.

Feel it breathing down yr neck.

And I feel like the poet Mark Strand

who always saw something coming down the pike

which is why he always slept, he says,

with one eye open.