NUMISMATIST AND LAUGHING GIRL
Her laughter was a public fountain flecked
with pennies: a stone Madonna at its center,
sunken money in the sun. That June
the coin collector sat beside her, nodding
at what good sense she made of all the subtle
jokes he’d heard and never gotten—a laugh
to shine the inside of his head until it gleamed
like mint-condition copper, laugh that arced
a glinting pour of nickel through the sky.
He saw how tourists photographed her jets
while squealing children splashed beneath her arches,
how, leaving her, they tossed a simple thanks
of change into the pool and called that pittance
wishful. The fountain meanwhile only laughed
as she had always laughed or even echoed
louder in their absence, as if their wishes
moved her no more than their coins were worth
and when they went they left behind her laughter.
They left the fountain lapping at the leaves
the elms had shed over her silver surface.
Autumn mornings only he remained
to hear the water clap against the quiet.
He studied the Madonna’s timid smile,
her mossy shoulders, and her upturned palms
until they seemed to offer draughts of laughter
like a well of liquid gospel to this man
who did his laughing with his mouth closed.
The futility of dimples pocked by dimes
across the fountain’s pool convinced him
that to drink with her and laugh forever
would cost at least a sentimental tithe
out of the dull and cherished coins he’d spent
his serious years collecting. From Mylar flips
and albums then, he chose full sets of Gobrechts,
draped-bust dollars, and a box of silver rounds
to dump like weighty prayers into the chuckling.
The metals sank, of course, and nothing happened.
While she continued in the selfsame laughter
the numismatist stood staring at the water
till there came a moment when he recognized
his blurred reflection frowning, wearing there
her peals of pleasure like a big wet sweater.
Could it have been a lie that laugh, designed
to rinse a sucker’s wallet? Would she receive
a sacrifice only to wink and mock it?
When, furious, he leaned over the parapet
to fish the scuttled coins out of the fountain
he lost his balance in his hurry and fell
headfirst in the water. The way he rose then,
soaked, inchoate, with the senseless crash
of humor on his shoulders, was like a classic
joke that she had minted from his sadness.
Comic solvent to his knees, he leaked
and laughed away with not an inch of him dry.
George David Clark is currently a postdoc fellow at Valparaiso University. This fall his poems will appear in The Believer, Cream City Review, Missouri Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. They can also be found online at Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. He is the editor of 32 Poems and lives in Indiana with his wife and son.