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Moe Howard Considers the Death of His Brother, Curly


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[Previously published in Chronicles]

In the last scene we used you in — a sight gag,
you had lost speech — we posed you in a train,
in the smoking car, snorting like a kid
will get a mind to snort, until his parents
get a mind to smack him. A hat pulled low
framed your famous face. Then my character
yanked it away in annoyance, and revealed
the straight brown hair you were now free to grow.

With all the slaps, pokes, kicks, cream pies, and barks
in front of stage lights and kleig lights, the coffee jags
on dark roads between towns, flop sweat in green rooms,
and stray fans' nyuck nyuck nyucks and wild eye gouges
in banks and restaurants, no wonder the stupid
body decided to get in on the act.
No wonder, untrained in slapstick, it went too far.
Those six years in the Actors' Home your stare
was like a bad audience in Iowa, broken
by the random pratfalls of successive strokes.

I'd often want to grab your nose on visits,
beep like a car, and bring my other fist
down in the arc we'd worked out in rehearsals,
to yank that sad-sack anger of yours free.
Had you been all there, you would have punkslapped Death
silly. But long before that smoker scene
we'd become props. As sure as some damn mime
creates a space, our very bodies broadcast,
"Not to be taken seriously". So
you drank more than you should have, until your bloodstream
forgot its lines one night of its long tour.

Mom always lectured us on the distinction
between laughing with and at, a difference we split.
I'd like to be God. I'd set you at the gate
and judge the rubes by whether they could see
the show was over. If they couldn't — well,
I know where all the player pianos went.
Let's just say nobody has tuned them lately.

— Jim Henley

Jim Henley is an independent singer/songwriter who, when not making music on his YouTube channel, clawed his way up to middle management.

<—   b  a  c  k

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