Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine poet laureate.

According to Stu Kestenbaum of Deer Isle, this week’s poem is about a special sort of laughter: “the snorting, uncontrollable, transcendent” kind “that visits us in childhood.”


By Stuart Kestenbaum

You know the kind of laughter

when you laugh so hard and unexpectedly


you can snort liquid right through

your nose, like the soda you were drinking.

That’s what happened to me with a milkshake

when I was 11 years old and too worried

for my own good. My uncle and I were swapping

book jokes. “Have you read Tiger’s Revenge


by Claude Balls?” he asks, which strikes me

as so funny that I begin to laugh

uncontrollably and milk is dripping from my nose

almost like I’ve thrown up, but instead

I feel incredibly light and happy.

That’s the kind of laughter that even


if you have been crying and heard someone

else laughing, you would start to laugh.

It spreads like a wind passing

through leaves, it makes the bitter muscle

of the heart unclench itself. Imagine,

all this from only eight words from my uncle,

and one of those a preposition

with only two letters.

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2003 Stuart Kestenbaum. Reprinted from “House of Thanksgiving,” Deerbrook Editions, 2003, by permission of Stuart Kestenbaum. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, special consultant to the Maine poet laureate, at [email protected] or 228-8263. Take Heart: Poems from Maine, an anthology collecting the first two years of this column, is now available from Down East Books.

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