Suppose your name is the punch line to a joke.
Say it’s a variation on the man who walks
into a bar. Or the chicken crossing the road.
Or both: A man walks into a bar with his
jaywalking chicken. . . . Pretend the joke’s told
at a party in a mansion perched on a green hill.
There’s champagne, tuxedoed waiters
balancing trays of hors d’oeuvres, an ice sculpture
of a swan sweating on a white tablecloth.
That kind of party. Those kind of people.
That kind of host who throws that kind
of party attended by those kind of people.
It’s not your crowd or mine but somehow
we both received the invitation in the mailbox,
our names beautifully looped on the envelope
like the iron balustrade of the staircase
twisting up three stories. While telling the joke
the host is haloed by guests, smoke looping
from the Cuban he waves in his fingers.
The room quiets, everyone can hear the gag
which puts one of your imperfections
under a magnifying glass. If David Hernandez
was the punch line, the host would be going on
and on about someone going bald: curlicues
on a pillowcase, the scalp’s slow striptease,
one strand after another falling like tickertape.
But this joke’s about you. This flaw, your flaw.
And it’s your name which nails you to the spiral
staircase where you’ve been standing all this time,
listening: a lone knot on a strand of DNA.
David Hernandez’s third poetry collection, Hoodwinked, won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. His other collections are Always Danger (Southern Illinois University Press, 2006), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, and A House Waiting for Music (Tupelo Press, 2003). His YA novels include No More Us for You and Suckerpunch, both published by HarperCollins. His poems have appeared in FIELD, The Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, AGNI, TriQuarterly, and The Missouri Review. David lives in Long Beach, California, and is married to writer Lisa Glatt. Visit his website at davidahernandez.com. (updated 4/2013)