What's So Funny

In fifth grade I submitted a poem to my school's literary journal that, to borrow a phrase from Muhammad Ali, shook up the world. People were stunned. No one could believe that an eleven-year-old had penned such a moving poem, one that resonated with such earth-shattering profundity. My English teacher was so impressed that she called my parents and read it to them over the phone prior to publication. I can't remember exactly how it went, nor can I find the journal in which it was published, as a meth-addled Mexican cleaning lady recently threw away the bulk of the What's So Funny archives from my boyhood bedroom. (She was promptly dismissed and a call was placed to Tom Tancredo, who wasted no time in installing a tracking device around her neck and deporting her back to Jalisco.) But I remember the gist of the poem. Using an ancient, little-known Middle English device known as a "simile," I likened life to a river, then talked about how I was sailing along that river with someone else. After waxing nautical, I hit with my big closer:

But if I sail away one day, it doesn't mean the river ends, it only means the river bends.

Dear reader, I want you to pause for a second to consider what a great line that is. A girl I had grown up with had recently moved away, and everyone thought I was talking about that. Which I kind of was, but really it was more that I'd stolen the poem from Charles in Charge.

Did you see that episode? God, it was so moving. Mr. Powell had an old Navy buddy come to town, and everything was peaches and gravy as they lived it up and reminisced, and Buddy Lembeck got Mr. Powell all ornery. Meanwhile, Charles had two dates on the same night and you're like, Charles, buddy, don't take them both to the same place, especially if it's that diner that your mom owns, because you know how mad she's going to get. But, of course, that's exactly what Charles did. Then, about twenty minutes in, Mr. Powell's Navy friend died. It was a sudden and tragic turn. And as the curtains drew on that powerful episode, with an artful one-shot of Mr. Powell going through old military trinkets in his bedroom, the camera slowly zoomed in on his face as he rediscovered a letter that his friend had once written him. Mr. Powell read the letter aloud. The most powerful line?

But if I sail away one day, it doesn't mean the river ends, it only means the river bends.

I was moved to plagiarism. My English teacher was moved to making me editor of the journal the following year.

So you see, Denver Office of Cultural Affairs (if that is your real name), when I submit my application to become the next Poet Laureate of Denver -- a position that you are accepting applications for through August 31 -- it is not as some novice hack, pushing trash rhetoric about alpine meadows and the cliff divers at Casa Bonita, but as a bona fide, published poet. For is not plagiarism the highest form of poetry? Something like that, anyway. And ask anyone on the street; they'll tell you What's So Funny is chock full of poetry week after endless week. Oh, you say that comedy is not poetry? Well, how come Pablo Neruda once told an assembled crowd of luminaries no dimmer than Lou Gehrig, Nelson D. Rockefeller and a bespectacled Ernst Lubitsch that "Dick jokes are the highest and my most favorite form of poetry; they are the lyrical puppetry of the penis." And he was Chilean.

As for your requirement that applicants must be legal residents of Colorado that have lived in metro Denver for at least seven of the past ten years, well, fuck all that. I was motherfucking born here, okay? Sorry I had to go and get educated for four years. My bad. Born and raised native -- you can't argue with that.

In closing, I hope that you will consider my application carefully. There is no one more qualified to comment on the beauty, attitude and bad art that make this city great than I. And as we sail along this river of life, Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, I say, let us sail together. Let us sail all the way into the sea. And when we get to the sea, and I leave you behind to chase after a Semester at Sea ship for some cheap college tail, it doesn't mean the river ends, it only means the river bends.


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