George David Clark: "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.