Julie Kane

Back in the 1980s, my now-deceased father was in the hospital on suspicion of having had a heart attack, and he proceeded to have a full-blown one while being hooked up to all those monitors and beepers. A couple of orderlies rushed into his room wheeling a stretcher, which they kept trying and failing to line up parallel to his bed. Finally, they gave up and asked my dad if he would please get up and walk over to the stretcher and lie back down, which he did. Next, they tried to give him oxygen, but they messed up again, and water squirted down his nose and throat and nearly choked him. By then they had reached the hall elevator, but no matter how many times they turned the stretcher around to reposition it, banging it into the walls and sides of the doorway every time, they could not fit it inside. My father remembers thinking, "Oh my God, I'm having a heart attack, and these morons are going to kill me!" Then it suddenly struck him as funny, and he began to laugh. At that point, he lost consciousness and woke up some time later in the ICU, alive and destined to live for another fifteen years.

And I guess that pretty much sums up my attitude toward humor in poetry. My "regular" poems, those in Rhythm & Booze and Jazz Funeral, convey a fairly tragic vision of life. But when things get about as bad as they can get, all I want to do is reread Cope and Parker and write funny stuff.




Learning Curve (What They Taught Me)

-- For Urie Bronfenbrenner


To brush one’s hair a hundred strokes a night
To fry a burger in a pan of salt
That tampons robbed one of virginity
To always let the boy be first to call
To give a child an aspirin for sore throat
To wash white gloves out nightly in the sink
That gold and silver clashed, and brown and black
That broccoli was best when steamed till limp

That Russia was our greatest enemy
That cowboys were the good guys, Injuns bad
To kneel down with one’s arms above one’s head
Below the desk in an atomic blast
Two hundred million in the U.S.A.
Three billion on the surface of the globe
That French was requisite for diplomats
(Though Esperanto was the future’s hope)

That girls not named for saints would go to hell
That newborn infants had already sinned
To never enter church without a hat
(Though squares of kleenex could be bobby-pinned)
To fast all night before one took the host
To stick one’s tongue out for it, not the hands
That patent leather shoes reflected all
And boys would peek to see one’s underpants

To wear white lipstick for the “London Look”
To rat one’s hair to make it pouf on top
That baby oil would give the perfect tan
That incense covered up the smell of pot
To not trust anybody 31
To save one’s calories for alcohol
That bras were only good to toss in flames
(Though Newton figured out that apples fall)

That schizophrenics had their moms to blame
That stomach ulcers were brought on by stress
That female animals would always fall
For males whose plumage was the showiest
To make a carbon copy when one types
That women climax from the womb, not clit
That authors’ bios were irrelevant
To understanding works of western lit

But one man taught me how to live in doubt,
The only precept I have not thrown out.


From "Sex Appeal of the Presidents"


Richard Milhous Nixon
looked like something out of horror fiction.
Either Pat was into necrophilia,
or we had overdone the psychedelia.

Gerald Rudolph Ford
was very uncoord-
inated, bordering on spastic
at pursuits gymnastic.

James Earl (“Jimmy”) Carter, Junior,
was far too saintly for humor,
and any mention of the clapper of his bell
would get me damned with Sharon Olds to hell.

Ronald Wilson Reagan,
on horseback, looked like a pagan
god riding a wingèd steed
with a ring through its nose, and Athena jerking the lead.

George Herbert Walker Bush
had a very skinny tush
compared to his better half,
who had an enormous aft.

William Jefferson Clinton
did a lot of early-mornin’ sprintin’,
then stopped for an Egg McMuffin,
which might explain why his pants would not stay buttoned.

I’m too afraid of rubbin’ ya
the wrong way
and blowin’ an NEA.



Julie Kane's most recent poetry collection, Rhythm & Booze, was a National Poetry Series winner and Poets' Prize finalist, and her forthcoming collection, Jazz Funeral, is the winner of the 2009 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. She teaches at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.