the laughter of women

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special. –  Jim Valvano

The Laughter of Women
Lisel Mueller

The laughter of women sets fire
to the Halls of Injustice
and the false evidence burns
to a beautiful white lightness

It rattles the Chambers of Congress
and forces the windows wide open
so the fatuous speeches can fly out

The laughter of women wipes the mist
from the spectacles of the old;
it infects them with a happy flu
and they laugh as if they were young again

Prisoners held in underground cells
imagine that they see daylight
when they remember the laughter of women

It runs across water that divides,
and reconciles two unfriendly shores
like flares that signal the news to each other

What a language it is, the laughter of women,
high-flying and subversive.
Long before law and scripture
we heard the laughter, we understood freedom.

As March came to a close and national poetry month approached, we spent our last group under the theme of sisterhood. What is it that binds people together? What is it that we remember over meals or in classrooms? When I come home and tell stories, it is most often that I’m trying to retell a joke and can’t get through the story without laughing. Because that is what binds us: laughter.  A joke is often built on what surprises us – a twist of words, a turn of phrase, a clever answer to a question we didn’t know how to ask. A joke opens and we lift our foot, poised in a space of uncertainty. The punchline is the firm ground we come down on together.

This week we focused, first, on the poem above to remind ourselves of the power of laughter and groups bonding together. Then we played improv games to exercise this common strength, bind our group, create safe space, and just laugh it out. Almost everyone participated in improv games. We used common rules of group improv including “yes, and” – the concept that anything that one player suggests is supported by the group so that the group can continue to create comedy together. This is not dissimilar to the agreements within our writing group. As we write and share, our words are received with a continual “yes, and” encouraging one another to explore the uncharted territories in our thinking and feeling within the space provided by the page and the writing circle.

Below, you’ll find the words created by our group within this safe space – one renewed and reinforced with laughter.


Sitting in my cell
with my jail sister
pretending we’re around a campfire
telling stories to make each other giggle.
Reminiscing on our past of happiness
dreaming about our future
counting down the days ‘til we are
reunited with what we know.
memories begin to slip, like a child down
a wet slide.
Laughter is one of the things that keeps
us alive.
These walls can get lonely, that’s
why laughter is needed
to echo the halls and
remind us we are not alone.




It runs across water that divides and reconciles two unfriendly shores…”

I think of myself standing on the most distant of shores just waiting to be rescued and reconciled with the people I love most. It is hard feeling I am all alone. It is scary, rainy, and stormy like the perfect storm waiting to happen. I feel a surge of emotions simmering inside and slowly starting to fester to a boil. Waiting to emerge and scream help – what do I feel all alone on a sunny, sandy shore? I am all confused, my mind is off balance, not quite right from the inside, fighting demons that are scary and mean. My thoughts are belittling. I can’t grasp the light yet I believe there is hope. Everything in my world is spinning out of control, slowly unraveling like a thread waiting to snap. I feel like I am being pulled in every-which-way direction. I need sleep, rest, food, friendship, family, laughter. “Hey, Wake up! What are you doing over there all alone? Sitting by yourself on a shore that is unfriendly and cold toward you? Why don’t you come join the party? Stop pitying yourself, wake up, and smell the flowers.” I am sorry, I can’t. I need to be alone to process my deepest, darkest thoughts so I can heal from the water that is helping to divide, reconcile two unfriendly shores.




It must be because
spring is in the air.
But lately after lock in,
my room of the four of us
are laughing and laughing.
We got so loud
that last night, the next room
told us to shut up.
Everything we said was hilarious.
Our cheeks were hurting,
our faces were beet-red,
it took all I had in me
not to pee my pants.
I haven’t laughed that much
in such a long time.
What we were laughing about
I cannot tell you.
But, it has been the third night in a row.
We laughed like laughing fools
and the subject hasn’t changed.
I can’t wait for tonight,
I hope it happens again.
Laughter in jail, the medicine
you can take.
It doesn’t come in a pill.
We laughed like we were kids again.


. . . and you?

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