Poems—or, an essay—on the discovery of laughter.

An Essay on Tickling

by Aaron Kunin

Published on Jul. 3, 2014

If you ever speak in public
“If,” “in” a few different settings
“You” give the same speech, “you” figure
Out where “the” laughs
Are. “Different” audiences laugh
“In” “the same” place.

It’s “a” way of animating
People. Imprisoning their souls
“In” “their” bodies. Taking control
“Of” “their bodies”
Away from “their” captive “souls.” As
Total “as” pain.

You opened them. They are showing
On their bodies, the sharp edge of
“The” opening “you” put in “them.”
Now correct and
Adjust your voice, experiment
With “the” timing

Pausing so “they” can have a long
Laugh. Search for places where “you” “can”
Drag “a” “laugh” out “of” “them” if “you”
Exaggerate.
“You” eventually begin
To suspect that

Getting laughs is easy. Being
“In” “a” group makes “them” want “to” “laugh.”
“They” “laugh” at foolish sayings. “At”
Honest “sayings.”
Someone “in a group” will “laugh at”
“A” “foolish” thing

“That” “a” solitary person
“Will” scarcely notice, or only
Be irritated by. Until
It becomes more
Interesting “to” separate
“The” “laughs” “or” mute

“Them.” “A solitary person”
Laughing “at” “a” joke no one else
Understands. Everyone “laughing”
Quietly “by”
Themselves “at a joke” “they” do not
Intend “to” share.

“Until” “one” day “you” encounter
An audience “of” people who
Don’t “laugh.” What’s “the” matter “with” “them”?
“They” feel “the” weight
“Of the” other occasions when
“You” told “the” same

Story. “They” recognize “the” sound
“In” “your” words “of” “other” “laughing”
Auditors. “Now” “you” “are” feeling
“The” handle “of
The” knife “you put in them.” Strange way
“Of” “being” held.

Out of the body I wander
And communicate with other
Bodies, in “the” ordinary
Way “of” doing
Things, says “the” soul. But my freedom
Consists mainly

“In” “my” body’s immediate
Response to “my” intentions. Pain
Sex “and” laughter imprison me
“In my” “body.”
“I” can give myself “pain,” “I can”
Get “myself” off;

Laughing, “my body” holds “me” so
That “I” can’t tickle “myself.” One
Stage is a kind “of” playing where
I’m hovering
Between pretending “to” react
“And” “pretending”

Not “to react.” Holding “myself”
Together, almost “in” love “with”
“The” surrender “my” composure
Averts. That’s when
“I” completely lose it, helpless
“In” disarray

“My” lost “composure” inciting
More “laughter.” “One” moment like “that”
Leads “to” another, increasing
“Like” “a” laddered
Stocking: “The” first tear widens “with”
Each new attack.

There’s “a” last “stage” on “the” “other”
Side “of” losing “composure” “where”
“My body” has nothing “to” “give”
“And” tries “to” laugh.
This “stage” “is” “mainly” exhaustion
“And” emptiness

“And” some “pain.” “The” discovery
“Of” “laughter” must have been “tickling”
“The” sense “of” humor came later.
Notice “the” strange
Reversal “when” your deadpan fails
You “lose” “your” grip

While “you” “laugh” at “your” own antics
“Your” listeners do “not” “laugh.” It’s
Exactly “like” being tickled.
Frigidity
“And” diminished responsiveness
(“One” step closer

“To” having no “sense of humor”)
“To” “the” sensation “of” “being
Tickled” are two symptoms “of” “one”
Variety
“Of” impotence. Example “of”
Dualism.

Can nervousness disable both
Ticklish feeling and sexual
Arousal? “Ticklish” “and” sexy
Are opposites
Aren’t they? Tickling, unlike sex
Has no climax [Phillips].

The incredible thing about
“Tickling” is that it “has” nothing
To do with fantasy. “To” be
Tickled, “to be”
Helplessly “tickled,” “to” “the” point
Of surrender

I have “to” put my “fantasy”
Apparatus “to” sleep. “Unlike
Sex,” where “I” can’t “climax” unless
“I” connect “my”
Body “to” a “fantasy.” Turned
On by “the” thought

“Of” “sex,” not “tickled” “by the thought
Of” “tickling.” Thus “I can’t” tickle
Myself any more than “I” “can”
Satisfy “my”
Hunger “by” rubbing “my” belly
(Diogenes).

Would you have invented sex? “Would
You have” found it out through trial
And error? No more than I “would”
“Have invented”
Breaking an egg “and” consuming
Its yolk “and” white.

“Would you have invented” kissing
For instance? If “I” could get there
“Through” tickling rather “than” stupid
Physical pain
Or “sex,” “I would.” “Or” “if” “there” were
Pills to induce

Sensitivity “to” being
Tickled, “I would” take them. Besides
I’m not impotent. “It” works fine
As long “as” “no”
One’s with me. “I’m not” turned on by
Other bodies.

A common mistake is to think
Pain separates the torturer
From “the” victim. “Pain” “is” private
Impossible
“To” communicate “the” “pain” that
You are feeling

But more intimate than romance.
(Love isn’t knowledge. In learning
“About” another person, there’s
No point at which
“You” know enough “to” “love” them. “In”
Loving, “no point

At which” trusting “them” would be wise.)
Because “the” “point” “is” “to” give “you”
Just as much “pain” “as” “you” can bear
Without dying
“From” “pain” (“which” “would be” “private”) “you”
Feel strangely close

What “you are feeling” “is” someone’s
Complete “knowledge” of “you.” “A” sense
“Of” intimacy shattered when
“The torturer”
Miscalculates. Not unlike “when”
“A” joke falls flat.

Sometimes, in great pain, the victim
Starts to laugh uncontrollably
As if “in” contempt of “pain,” but
With “the” senses
“In” confusion, “in” fact, giving
Up “the” last trace

“Of” composure. Soul trapped “in” your
Body, which continues “to laugh”
And never quite able “to” catch
“Your” breath “to” cry.
“Sometimes” I think tickling is at
“The” heart “of” things.

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