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A Good Laugh
by Janine Canan

Justine knocked several times on Plum’s door. When he didn’t answer, she pushed it open and stepped inside.

"Plum, are you here?" she called.

"Upstairs, dear. Come on up." Justine took the stairs two at a time, and strode swiftly into the room.

Plum sat on his bed surrounded by collapsing piles of books.

"Now you see why an old man needs a queen-sized bed," he chuckled with a twinkle in his eye. Justine sat down on the edge of the bed, and Plum took her hand in his, squeezing it.

"To be honest, I prefer these dear friends to the poverty people around me call relationships—doings based primarily on convenience, finance, vanity and lust. Arrangements in which each person is scarcely aware of the real existence of the other. And these," now his voice turned tender, "what are they?" His trembling old hand swept over his books as if it were conducting an orchestra. "Little boxes that contain vast worlds. The outer manifestations of inner life."

Justine got up and paced around the room, surveying the thousands of volumes that filled the surrounding shelves. Beautiful artifacts from Plum's travels—bronze statues, clay pots, hand-weavings—were wedged in between them.

"No, I never became a writer. Never had the time. Too busy thinking. I could spend ten life-times thinking, there is so much to think about. And sometimes lately I think I'm beginning to have my first real thought. When I finally get my thoughts, I'll be able to begin my philosophy."

Justine settled down into the worn dark leather chair across from him. "What do you think life is all about, Plum, really?" Her tone was serious now. "Why are we here?"

"According to my books," he answered without a pause, "there are three theories. Love, Power, and Work. The Love people believe that the universe has a heart, that all of creation is nothing but a vast Goodness machine invented by God for our own good. The Power people, on the other hand, believe that the universe is founded upon supreme Malevolence and has an emptiness at its core which human beings must resist falling into with every dyne of their life force.

"Whereas the Work Theory proclaims that human beings actually make a difference in the final outcome of Creation, depending on whether they choose good or evil. This is where morality comes in—a word, incidentally, I positively abhor, for it has been used as a synonym for hate more than any other word I know. That's why I say, just give me my beloved books, my thoughts, my dreams, my observations and endless ruminations, but please keep that obscene word out of it."

Justine's attention was riveted. "And which theory do you believe in, Plum," she asked with intense urgency rising in her voice. Her friend leaned back slowly until he touched the wall. Suddenly he looked hundreds of years old. Something like a tear was pressing itself out of the corner of one dim blue eye. He had little hair left, and what there was of it was white as a ghost's. He clasped his wrinkled hands together.

"Naturally, I'd like to believe in the Love Theory—like all those fortunate saints who see nothing but Love everywhere, in every frown, under every rock, as if the whole cosmos were nothing but a gigantic gorgeous flower, pulsating with triumphant joy. —And I'm working on that.

"Meanwhile, until Grace reveals herself to me naked, until She comes and tells me personally that God really is Love, I'll keep on believing in the Work Theory. It gives me sufficient hope, and seems to agree with both my optimistic nature and all the suffering I've been through and seen with my own eyes.

"Ah, let us not even speak of those demons who say that existence is nothing but an empty power game in which the petals of the cosmos are made of plastic and even the skin of the Gods is fake.

"My dearest Justine, the universe is most certainly a three-ring circus, with a ring for love, a ring for power, and a ring for work. And I wonder how many other rings there may be as well. The universe is like one of those busy yet harmonious Tibetan paintings, with agnostics hanging around the periphery burying their heads like ostriches in the sand; and just beyond them the tormented crazies buried up to their necks, their mouths producing a ceaseless cacophony of petty resentments.

"You see, the older I get, and the weaker my outer eyes become, the more I can see. Oh, It has curves, all right. It has the power of an eternal thunderbolt. It is happening. Beauty is created constantly everywhere. And love—I am sure of it—is yet to come. There are ideas, like the idea of love, that connect us. And mystic streams that heal us. And there is never-ending harm. The whole is a splendid vast writhing joyous and suffering Serpent, shedding her skin as She wiggles along, perpetually revealing a new Self that arises out of her own pure Delight.

"Ah Justine, It is luminous, explosive, awesome and miraculously funny. Do you get the incredible joke? Can you hear the roaring gusto of her laughter? There is really nothing but this sound, my child. Awful, perhaps, but listen closely!" Plum stood up, and moving toward her fell down at her feet. "Can you hear all of the voices—each one different, and all of them laughing. In that laughter is everything. And it is so important to laugh along and never stop laughing. There simply isn't time for anything else.

"So take my hand, dear, and join me in a good laugh. It will add a little spice to the side-splitting symphony of laughter. Oh, let the tears of laughter roll shamelessly down your cheek, as her skins keep falling away. For laughter is the very sound of change.

—Now there's a thought."

Janine Canan is the author of 13 books of poetry, most recently In the Palace of Creation: Selected Works 1969-1999. Her collections, Changing Woman and Star in My forehead: Selected Poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (translations) have received commendation from Book Sense, City Lights Books and Small Press Review. Her writing appears in Awakened Woman, Exquisite Corpse, Judith’s Table, Kalliope, Wemoon Calendar; and in dozens of anthologies, including Birnbaum's She Is Everywhere, Codrescu's American Poets Say Goodbye to the 20thCentury, Cotner's Comfort Prayers & Get Well Wishes, Harvey's The Divine Feminine, Muten's Her Words, Laughlin's New Directions, Ford-Gabrovsky's Womanprayers, and Macmillan's Women Poets of the World .

Canan edited Messages from Amma: In the Language of the Heart; The Rhyme of the Ag-ed Mariness: Last Poems of Lynn Lonidier; and the award-winning anthology, She Rises like the Sun: Invocations of the Goddess by Contemporary American Women Poets. Her stories, Journeys with Justine, illustrated by Cristina Biaggi, will be out soon.

Janine has taught poetry, and has given many poetry readings in milieu such as City University of New York, National Poetry Week of San Francisco, Powell Books, Rutgers University, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, the Smithsonian Institute, Stanford University, and UC Berkeley Art Museum, as well as on radio and television.

Born in Los Angeles in 1942, she is a Stanford graduate with distinction, received an MD from NYU School of Medicine in 1976, and is today a practicing psychiatrist in Sonoma, California. You may visit her at