story by gaslight

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self portrait

you know how
you tell stories

like they’re just
stories
and not really you

like the one where you
were gutted.

that’s just a story
you tell
about a man

you opened to
over and over
until he gutted you, saying
he was just like that, toxic.

just like that, but
still
he couldn’t
lose you.

so you tell a new story
you come back,
again and again
until you tell
your story
by gaslight.

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thoughts of a Canadian living in America today

It was a very long night, and this morning is not looking much better.

I’m oscillating between Debra and Maya Angelou; between Fuck absolutely everything and Oriah Mountain Dreamer; between running home to Canada, and staying here to fight for what I believe at my core is the right thing to do.

Hey, I never said I was perfect. Zen Bitch, remember?


Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

The Invitation

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

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Oh Canada, I love you and I miss you, but there is more work to do where I am.

And I wouldn’t be a yoga teacher if I didn’t tell you to breathe. Slowly and Deeply. Repeat.

faith and a full moon

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Daffodils 

Poems are much smaller than blogs and much more difficult to write.

I used to write quite a lot of them. I’m lazy now, too much instant gratification on Facebook, or perhaps I have simply lost the part of me that could write with precision and grace.

Tonight is March’s full moon. Tonight I am almost through a dark month, a month where I have questioned everything, where my thoughts went to other places even as the earth was waking from a long dark winter. “…sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness ..” Sometimes we forget this completely.

“…The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;”
– GALWAY KINNELL

 

I used to write about the moon, and my friend Marco wrote this for me (and you wonder why I keep coming back to Latino men, and Irishmen – see below). I read it when I want to remember things about myself I easily forget.

0189673d7d04de5b4ee98c70c754510a

Laguna de Luna Llena

Suspiros soplan sobre la Luna
luminada laguna

-Luna llena-

-Luna lejos-

-Luna blanca-

-Luna sola-

Hablemos esta noche
De los secretos
Escritos en tu cara;
Las manchas del ayer
Que hoy
Unduladamente son reflectadas
En estas aguas

Cuántos golpes sufriste mi amor
Que todavia sigues luminando
Sobre tierra y nubes

Cuántos amores olbidos
Te han penetrado
Que todavia esperas otro.

Eres terreno sagrado
Donde se sacrifica lagrimas
Y sangre por probar
La vida concentrada;
La angustia deliciosa.

Tu me inspiras…
Tu me inspiras
A cruzar las aguas de la vida;
De la luna llena laguna,
Con suspiros
Y esperanzas
Por amor sincero.

Faith is complicated for me. Part of my proud, stubborn arrogant heritage perhaps, but I reflexively reject things I’m told I must believe. I reject black and white, good and evil as the only options. My world is many shades of grey. Still, I do have faith, somewhere, and it is as complicated and nuanced as the rest of me.

Faith

I want to write about faith,
 about the way the moon rises
  over cold snow, night after night,

faithful even as it fades from fullness,
 slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
  sliver of light before the final darkness.

But I have no faith myself
 I refuse it even the smallest entry.

Let this then, my small poem,
 like a new moon, slender and barely open,
  be the first prayer that opens me to faith.

— David Whyte

 

I wrote this ten years ago, much has changed, but during dark times I get smaller, I sleep more or want to sleep more, and as always I cry in verse.

alive for one week

I am small

I wonder
hear my pulse
see broken glass
want only sleep

I am alive

pretend happiness
feel pain
touch deformity
worry in dreams

I cry in verse

curling within
understanding little
say less
I dream in reds

I try
I hope

I am alive.

odd bits with an occasional rhyme

me with quote

Excerpt from Sonnet XXVII by William Shakespeare

I used to think I’d organize my writing into a little book or some such thing, but that seems way too left-brained for today, so here are some scatterings in no particular order, some recent, some older (the sonnet, that one’s old, and I’m still not up to writing another).

August

As a lover, August is patient with her passions
she has none of April’s insecurity or
February’s forged sentimentality
nor will she endure
June’s vanity and boasting.

August bestows her heady scent
in velvet touches –
trailing from her finger tips, you can sense
the summit of summer’s heat
the promise of glorious autumn breezes
all at once upon on your flesh.

Her rudbeckia hued hair feels like a mane of
soft thick silk as lays across
your chest and navel.

You may think she is tamable, she is not.
she is proud and loyal
and most of all – passionate
she might be tamed, but
only by one who suits her.

Within her radiates a heart with the sun’s intensity
once embraced within its fire
you can always know its touch
even during December’s cold indecency.

She would never leave you, but
every year she is abandoned
for brightly coloured leaves
so she has learned to live alone
and hold her passions
deep inside her earth,
till it is her time to briefly love

wpid-20150910_203228.jpgbones

far away
I am this night
as blackness swallows day

sweet, my grief
rests in the folding
black from bloodless red
lay my bones
my lonely love
lay my bones
and heart of clay

coals

softly walking,
the white coals
my falling cloak
aflame

myself, behind me now
in shadow’s
yesterday

swirled by wind,
my ashes
sail away.

FB_IMG_1446961570015wordless

no words drift
between us,
our air
speechless,
embraced in single
blended breath.

breath not for
spoken thoughts; a
tongue moves within
my mouth –
all my poetry is inhaled
then released –
floating down, tangling
my hair,
spilling into your eyes,
where I watch myself,
exposed.

words without voice
caress us
in this space.

New Brunswickalive for one week

I am small

I wonder
hear my pulse
see broken glass
want only sleep

I am alive

pretend happiness
feel pain
touch deformity
worry in dreams

I cry in verse

curling within
understanding little
say less
I dream in reds

I try
I hope

I am alive

and just in case, you thought maybe I only wrote free verse or horribly depressing poetry I present one of my very few, mostly acceptable sonnets

IMG_0010and now for sonnet completely different

Oh damn! I scram, eat ham, spread jam, but Am
Incredibly not in love with Spam.
Nor can I abide a sorry sonnet;
Rather would I suck a festered garget
Then expel an iambic shoe deform’d,
My tongue fen-suck’d to a verse airiform’d.
Cinquain, senyru, haiku – will do, strained brain
Arcane, insane – I shall feign migraine,
Eat a tub a wrathful rotted puttucks,
Or have a flounder damp flog my buttocks;
Instead, may I up fill my toque with puke,
Then spew last two caked lines gobbledygook?
I could pretend, I meant not these words to offend,
And love the form, but tis too late – The End.

want

Burning-Man-2015I want you
to miss me
I want you
to think of me
before you sleep
and when you wake up,
when you’re driving
and when you’re doing
nothing at all,
miss me
when you’re flying,
and when your garden blooms
this spring.

I want you
to pick up your phone
10 times, 20 times a day
to send me a funny story
and then stop.

I want you
to be moody and sad
when that movie
we were going to see comes out
and for you to go alone
and miss holding my hand.

I want you
to read every poem that
I gave you for your birthday.

I want you
to miss my wild hair
my ass
my smile
my skin on your skin.

I want you
to get
the job
the life
the love you want

I want you
to miss me
for a while, and then
I want you
to be happy.

Dear you

image

Dear you,

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Over and over and over and over again.

That’s been me about you.

I can’t anymore.

I should never have, but I thought if I tried hard enough that I could change the way you felt (see insanity definition) about me. I know. Insane.

There’s no fool like an old fool. Or perhaps the older you are the more ridiculous you feel when you make an idiot of yourself over someone. I don’t suppose there is an age where people ‘know better’. I think we just keep making fools of ourselves over the wrong people, or we let the right people go (likely after making fools of ourselves), or we never open up and then what may have been the right person leaves anyway, or we stay with the wrong people because the thought of leaving is just too damn frightening.

I think we all are just making this shit up as we go.

I also know you and I, we simply don’t feel the same way about each other. Right one, wrong one, it doesn’t matter. I’ve made a fool of myself again.

I should know better by now (see no fool like an old fool), but I don’t, or maybe I do now. Maybe I will find the gumption to really walk away this time. Maybe.

You won’t come after me.

I like to imagine that you do. That you arrive with your intense eyes, your focused gaze and claim me as your own.

You would never do this.

I know this, which is why I keep myself so shamefully available. I have to stop.

I’m like the petulant child who runs away from home and just goes around the block. I run away, and circle back. I make stupid reasons to contact you.

This doodle didn’t start out as a heart, and it certainly wasn’t for Valentine’s Day, but that’s how it turned out. I didn’t start out like this, but this is how I’ve turned out.

I have to go.

I have to go.

I have to go. If I am going to salvage any self respect and dignity.

I can’t do this. I thought I could. I can’ t.  I can’t. I cannot.

I try so hard. I do, but I suck at this (see old fool). I mean really suck at this.

That’s okay. I’m good at other things (writing non self pitying drivel would not be one of those things tonight).

I’m okay, or I will be. I just have to go.

I love you, and I have to go.

love,
me

Dear Cupid

wordle

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and yes, I still have the same unfortunate attitude about it. I keep waiting for a year where this poem with not resonate with me, but this year is not the year, so enjoy!

a letter with footnotes….

Dear Cupid1

I wanted to personally2 thank you for all the joy3 you have brought into my life4 thus far. My high school years were especially full5 of your special touch with an arrow6. As I grew and matured7 I came to realize the unique role8 that you would playin my life9. Every step I took you were there10. I have certainly been blessed11 by your love12. It is at this wonderful13 time of the year that I really feel closest to you14. So for all15 you have done16 I want to express my gratitude17 properly18. With a kiss19.

Yours with Love20
R

1 you atrocious nude hooligan
2 meaning up close and quite personal
3 years personal gut-wrenching anguish
4 if you could call it that
5 of scatological moments
6 were you aiming for my forehead?!
7 tried desperately to out run you – you grotty little louse
8 of my private naked tormentor
9 of pain and turmoil
10 shooting barbed arrows in my back
11 I didn’t know Beelzebub did blessings
12 love of inflicting exquisite psychological and physical torture
13 commercially forced-fed sentimental pink drivel
14 hard to miss you with this sharp arrow in my throat – you vile bastard!
15 Every last agonizing…
16 each and every arrow through my head, my back…
17 I purchased a cross-bow
18 so I would watch your spiteful nude arse
19 would you like to know where?
20 here’s to snapping your “little bow”

las brisas

11215053_10207206328013482_6570683600541414150_non the last day
I spent in tu cielo,
the last day
in your sky,
I want to tell you how
the gauzy clouds failed to
shade its heavy blueness.
how on that day
el sol drew the beads of sweat
down my skin, and
how las brisas
held me aloof. I want to tell you
of their distain, spent
within cigar puffs.

I would tell you how
each sun pulled bead
rolled between my breasts,
paused inside my navel, and
lazily saturated the fabric of my shirt;
how beads trailed between my shoulders
to the curve of my back
and then continued slowly down.
how on that day my skin
would taste of salt,
had las brisas touched it
with mouths
or words.
instead they pulled deeply in
the taste of cigar,
formed their lips around its shape
their tongue and teeth
caressing its textured surface.

on that last day
I spent in tu cielo,
I want to tell you
I already knew.
I knew I had
no place, that the
air had always,
and would ever be
yours,
to bend around the spoon.

solid rock

Alex Colville, 1954 Horse and Train

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

Whatever I thought it would be like, it wasn’t this. And I did think about it, we all did. We thought about it a lot in our own ways. Of course there were, increasingly faint, bits of hope that we would cling to, even against all logic, we would hope. Just the same, we knew this day would come, and when it did it was all the things we feared it would be, but also nothing we expected.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neruda

It was a good service, as these things go, nice music, a moving slideshow of photos of you, appropriate and moving readings and memories, a traditional hymn, and a choir rendition of All You Need is Love, complete with kazoos. It was very John like, right down to the fabulous food we shared afterwards. Everyone seemed pleased. It was closure, it was a send off, it was people holding each other up, it was all you could hope for really.

scribble face 3It was all you could hope for, and yet, I still find myself walking through mud, through fog, through solid rock. I forget things. I lose hours doing nothing. I stare at nothing. I stare at your things that now are in my home, but are still your things. I sleep longer, and am still tired. I stay up too late.

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

This is the grief work they talk about. Pushing through solid rock, an apt enough description. I dream about you sometimes, not the comforting dream where you tell me all is well with you now and you are in a better place, just confusing dreams. Someone said that to me, a couple of people did actually, said that you ‘were in a better place’. I so wanted to punch them in the throat, to wipe the smug, sympathetic, head tilted ever so slightly to the side expression on their faces. I think that would be the anger stage of Loss.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross the 5 Stages of Loss are:

  1. Denial and Isolation – buffering
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining – the ‘if onlys’, the ‘what ifs’
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I honestly believe I did everything I could. Wait, that’s not true. What if I had shown up on your doorstep, dumped out all your alcohol and physically dragged you to the hospital? Would that have worked? I don’t think so, but I still take out these thoughts and hold them awhile, feel their weight in my hands, build a fantasy around them where, in the end, I save you. After a while I put them down, but I still feel their weight. More than anyone I should have been able to save you. It was everyone else’s first experience with this disease, I was a seasoned veteran. I had done this dance before, I knew all it’s steps. I saw you leaving well before anyone else.

buddha-grief-quoteI saw you leaving, and I let you go.

I let you go. I talked to you, wrote to you, I wrote about you. I wrote about our disease. The one that killed our father, has a hold of my son, the disease that I only get a daily reprieve from.

But I didn’t save you. I know, in my head, that I didn’t cause, couldn’t control or cure you. I know this in my head. Sometimes it helps, but not always. A year ago we almost lost you, but you came back. I thought you might stay. Maybe that was the time to save you that I missed. Maybe.

I still don’t know what to do with your clothes. I don’t know what to do with our stories, the ones only you and I understood. Where do I put the parts of myself that were yours too? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with a lot of things, things I should be doing, raking the leaves, clearing out the house so it will sell, making appointments, the business of living.

So I sit, pen scratching across paper, drinking coffee, and staring at the still green willow leaves, who will only fall after all the other leaves have been dutifully raked. Mostly I sit staring and nothing. Four of my orchids are re-blooming, did I tell you? No, of course not, what was I thinking. They’ve spent a year deciding to bloom, a year of somewhat attractive foliage, but now, now they are spectacular.

There is a metaphor in that somewhere, but I can’t quite grasp it. Anyhow, you get my meaning.

 

 

eulogy for my brother

10616274_10204420794615608_257153541342318674_n
“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
-W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues

To paraphrase Emily Brontë, my love for my brother was like the eternal rocks beneath, not always visible, not always a source of delight, and no more a source of pleasure than I am to myself, but necessary, it resides in my bones, not just in my heart, or my thoughts, it lives in every cell in my body. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

To say John was brilliant, or merely complex would be an understatement. He was so many, many things, – to paraphrase myself – a brilliant creator and solver of puzzles, a talented player and lover of music, a gifted conceiver and expresser of visual arts – be they paint, pencil, wood, clay, or words, and an inspired and – sometimes overly – creative chef.

He created. He created games, puzzles, paintings, delicious food. He created a home for his daughters.

He made you laugh.

John would have had you in stiches by now. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Brilliant, witty, irreverent and always ready with a joke or amusing observation.

Everyone in this room has laughed, and not just once because of something John said or did. He was the original photo-bomber, he was always ready to drop to the conversation lowest common denominator, which generally involved loud bodily functions, burping, farting, burping and farting together, burping songs, making fart noises in his arm, in his arm pit, and then drawing everyone in.

20151019_144255-01When my son first started struggling he sent him homemade Hero cards, featuring Greek, Roman God, with points and skills assigned. Each and every one said “Kicks Butt” and Hercules “Occasionally goes BESERK” The last card he sent was the Uncle John card. The Uncle John Hero was described as “The Sharpest Spoon in the drawer, fancified dancer, can kick his own butt – plus that of Uncle Ruth’s, yep, that’s what he called me when he wasn’t calling me Big Nose. His Attack number was 42, a Douglas Adams reference I’m sure, His Thoughts were listed as “Not Often”, his Symbol was “Messy Hair and Stinky Socks” – although his stinky socks, as many of us knew could be better listed as a Weapon. His special skills were “Sarcasm and Burping” – okay, that part was pretty accurate. The card was quintessentially John, from the stinky socks to the self deprecating humour. he also sent Graham a rubber chicken, a series of original Canadian comic books, still in their protective covers (a state that did not last long), and a hand sewn teddy bear.

He was generous. With his love, with his art, food, with everything he gave openly and freely.

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

He also called me Big Nose, even made me a little drawing of Big nose. I called him No Chin. It was a special sort of endearment between us. He also called me Bruce, well my whole family calls me that, between that and the Uncle Ruth is surprising I don’t have a gender identity problem. At my wedding he gave a brilliant speech – it included Ode to a Grehian Urn, my driving skills, my applying makeup while driving skills, my applying makeup, singing to the radio, while shifting gears, driving skills – you get the idea. He was brilliant. He was also charming, and a beautiful person all the way through.

Where I have been described as feisty, stubborn, Little Miss Splendid – yes, they gave me that book, John was the sucky second child, the one who charmed his way through things. I would dig my heals in and cross my arms – metaphorically and often literally when faced with obstacles, John used charm. It made me crazy. One fateful year when I was visiting from school I came home to a little brother who was now taller than I was. It was a moment he had been waiting for his whole life. In the den he wrestled me to the rug, sat on me with his hand over my mouth and the poked and tickled me all the while yelling “mom!!! Ruth’s hurting me!!” Needless to say by the time my mother arrived he had jumped back and assumed an injured stance in the corner looking beseechingly at our mother, who may or may have believed him, but certainly played along. That is how my brother rolled. Many of the times I have laughed the hardest, the stuff coming out your nose, tears coming down your cheeks, the immanent danger of peeing your pants kind of laughter, those laughs 20151019_152813-01originated with my brother.

Which makes his ending all the more tragic.

A few months ago, a friend of mine died. He was in his 90s, had lived a full life, was productive right till the end, and then one night he died peacefully in his sleep. We took comfort in that. The rare times we think about our own deaths, this is often the one we want, the good death, the peaceful, after a long well lived life death. This is what we want for ourselves and our loved ones. No one wants to die like John did, no one. There is nothing comforting about his death. It is utterly heartbreaking and tragic. It is unfair. It was wrong for him to die as he did.

The thing about a brain disease, which is what John died from, a brain disease called alcoholism, the thing about it, is that it takes away the personality, and then it takes away the person that you knew and loved. We lost John, but before that he lost himself. That guy, the one who made us laugh till we cried, who sang to us, read to us, who made wonderful art and delicious food, that beautiful person, was lost to a disease that affected and distorted the way he thought, the way he saw the world, and mostly the way he saw himself.

John felt things very deeply, maybe too deeply. One of my first memories of us is me wrapping him in a blanket during a sand storm on a beach. I have no idea what the context of the situation was, what I remember is wanting to protect my brother above anything else.

I couldn’t protect him from this. None of us could. There was never something that one of us did that caused this, there was nothing that we didn’t do that would have cured this, and there was never a way anyone else could have controlled his disease. Cunning, baffling and powerful is how alcoholism is aptly described, and it is, it is all of those things. It took our father, and it took John, both before their 50th birthdays.

John’s behavour for the last several years was baffling, it was heartbreaking. He pushed us away. His brain, his thinking was so distorted by this disease that the only way he could cope was to continue to try and numb his thoughts and feelings. It never meant that he loved any of us less. He loved his family, his daughters and Tamara were his life. That never wavered, not for a instant. He loved us, all of us, and in the end that’s what we need to hold on to. As painful as this has been, hold on to the times he made you laugh, the times he showed his love to you, the times he was his exceptionally lovable and goofy self. It won’t happen today, or maybe not this year, but start to let go of the painful memories, and hold on instead to what you loved about him. Remember him as someone full of love, caring, stinky socks and really terrible jokes. His personal favourite was “you know the corduroy pillows, the ones that are making all the headlines?”

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last ——

I was right. Love is the thing that endures. Love is what we have left of John, love and some pretty wonderful memories.

12108267_10207722033310124_8293890433605817967_nHang onto those, and hang on to each other. He loved us all, what we have to do now is continue to love each other, to create in what ever way we express ourselves, eat good food, play games, solve puzzles, and make the odd fart or burping joke.