I just thought of a poem I read when I was in high school and spending the night at my grandmother’s house out in the country. Gramps, we called her. It was in a coffee-table book of collected poems, most of them boring, meaningless, confusing, and of no value whatsoever to a freshman in high school. I hope you don’t think I still feel that way about all poetry. I’ve since come to appreciate three other poems, one of them you may have head of that starts out, “There once was a hermit named Dave.”
This particular poem was about sleeping at the foot of the bed. It’s written by a kid whose big family always has a ton of out-of-town company. When the aunts and uncles and cousins arrive, he’s the youngest so he knows he’ll have to sleep with what sounds like 4 or 5 brothers and sisters and cousins, and since you can’t get that many side by side in a bed, he ends up sleeping with his head at the foot.
I don’t know how I discovered the poem – I must have been immensely bored, but when I read it I laughed out loud. My grandmother, who loved a good joke, heard me and wanted in on it. When she read it she threw her head back and laughed so hard she started sliding out of the rocking chair. All five of her chins jiggled. She raised a meaty arm and covered her mouth with sausage fingers the way some people do when they laugh really hard. Her’s was a laugh that came from down in her belly and wheezed it’s way up her throat until she lost her breath and started coughing. Tears welled up in her eyes and she swabbed them away with the back of her hand. This went on forever, with her changing arms and pushing with her feet to try and stay in the rocker. Her ample bosom pumped with each laugh, rising and falling rapidly over her barrel of a belly.
You can’t watch a spectacle like that and not laugh yourself, which just feeds the other person’s laughter, which feeds yours, and it could go on until infinity except that one of you gets exhausted or has to go to the bathroom. Then you both take some deep breaths to calm down, and say that was the funniest thing you ever read, then one of you, against your better judgment, looks back at the book and laughs all over again, which sets the other one off.
If you’ve not had this experience, you’ve missed out on one of the greatest highs of life.
Like I said, I just thought of the poem, so I Googled to see if I could find it. Sure enough, the all-knowing Googled delivered. I read it through again, and I laughed all over, except not as heartily. It’s like in the movies when there’s a funny scene and no one else laughs. It’s just as funny, but it doesn’t seem as funny if you’re the only one laughing.
The reason this poem is funny is because I can picture this kid down in the bed with somebody’s gross old toenails in his face and the covers over his head, and people kicking him in the chin when they change position, and bristly legs rubbing against his arms. I’ve actually slept at the foot of a bed. I loved those slumber parties with a bunch of girls and everyone wanted a piece of the mattress so you had to alternate in the bed to accommodate as many as possible. My daughter has had sleepovers and I’ve done a late-night headcount and found five of them on the hide-a-bed: three up and two down.
If you’ve never slept like this, you’ve missed out on one of the greatest indignities of life.
Finally, this poem is so funny because there are creative little rhymes. I’m not a big fan of intellectual poetry, even though I had to read a gob of it to earn my English degree. Shakespeare I like, but only the comedies. Most of those other guys I can easily do without, especially the ones who don’t even have the decency to make their poems rhyme. I like ‘em rhyming cleverly or not at all, and they need to tell a story. Which I guess is why I like the foot of the bed poem so much.
I’ll recommend it, but If you read it, you may not find it as funny as I did. When someone describes something as hilarious and goes on and on, by the time I read it I’m not that impressed. Like those emails that say this is the funniest thing you’ll ever read. It never is. Mostly it’s some stupid, worn out thing that’s way too long and you can know the punch line by the second sentence into it. But I hope if you read this poem you’ll get a laugh. It may help if you find a big, jolly grandma to read it with.
I found the poem in The Best Loved Poems of the American People by Hazel Felleman. It’s called “Sleepin’ at the Foot O’ the Bed, by Luther Patrick. If you copy this very long link into your browser, it will take you to the book and the poem is on pages 525 and 526. http://books.google.com/books?id=puxcAQOneC8C&pg=PA526&lpg=PA526&dq=poem+-+sleeping+at+the+foot+of+the+bed&source=bl&ots=9IShNucvWv&sig=xqSMDBS5erYt79VsOSYyvEofCKo&hl=en&ei=qKxTS-qNF4ngtgOim82GCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CAoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=&f=false