The Joker's Poem
"I want you to write a poem. Based on what we've learned about allegory, symbolism, meter, and rhyme, write something about how you feel. Express yourselves. No one is judging you, and no one will make fun of you for how you feel. Just let it out."
The Joker, corpselike in his Arkham grays, concentrated on his paper so hard that every other inmate was aware he was overreacting to the assignment and scooted their chairs away from him. They preferred to share the cramped space on the table with each other, not with him. He was a guy apart, even in the criminal unit.
The Joker spent almost ten minutes glaring at his paper, chewing his lip unconsciously, and wrote only once, for the space of a second or two. A thick, block-lettered word in red pencil stood out on his writing notebook.
No one dared to peek.
The doctor, a delicately petite little thing, trotted around the front of room. "Are we ready to share?"
A thug raised his hand.
"Go ahead," she said.
He read straight from his paper in stilted tones. "I feel sad, like a penny that has been thrown in a sewer. For good."
The doctor clapped politely. "That's very good. I really feel like I know what you're saying."
The Joker rolled his eyes. He tapped his pencil against his paper, chin in one hand.
Another man, whip-like and thin, raised his hand.
The doctor nodded at him. "Go ahead."
The Joker didn't even listen to that one. He droned on about something for a good minute and a half, talking in abstract terms about machines and society.
The doctor, when the Joker glanced up to gauge her reaction, looked puzzled.
"But how do you feel?" she asked.
"Isn't it obvious?" the aspiring poet asked icily, mouth turning down in a sneer. "Society is crushing us all! It's a travesty! This is institution is a gravemarker for the forgotten!"
The doctor clapped. "Ooh! Write that last one down. That was excellent, Geoffrey! A gravemarker for the forgotten. That is much more expressive than the poem you just read. I want you to turn that one in at the end of the course."
The whip-like man looked angry, and then puzzled, and then he muttered to himself, writing down his sentence as she had asked.
"Anyone else?" the doctor asked, peering around the room.
The Joker looked around with her, bored. No one was raising their hands. Most of the men in the room were shrinking down in their seats and hunching over, trying to remain unnoticed. The Joker slowly raised his own hand. He sat back in his chair for a moment, waiting.
The doctor didn't seem to see him.
Oh, but I know you do…
The Joker let out a little effeminate cough. Then he widened his eyes, looking at his own hand. "Oh. I guess that's me." He turned his blankest, most innocent look on her. "It looks like it's my turn."
"Oh…okay." The doctor backed away closer to the whiteboard nervously, smoothing down her skirt. "I'd be delighted." She looked anything but. She looked as though her gorge were rising in anticipation of a poem about his body count.
He smiled at her. Simple creature. Why would he write a poem about that? It was poetry. "Thank you, my dear doctor. Where shall I begin?" He stood straight up, one hand over his heart and his notebook in the other. He put on a solemn, Shakespearian actor expression and affected a deep, rolling voice. "Me."
Then he sat back down, looking pleased with himself. He crossed one leg over the other.
The doctor blinked rapidly. "Pardon?"
"I read my poem," the Joker said. "Weren't you listening?"
"Yes, but, I, uh…" She squirmed. "When did it begin?"
"You weren't listening?" he roared. "I went out of my way to share my impressive genius with you! What were you doing? Thinking about supper? Cleaning the wax out of your ears? I was in the sway of full blown allocution!"
"I'm sorry," she said, picking at the hem of her skirt and hanging her head. "Could you read it again?"
The Joker crossed his arms. "No. You hurt my feelings."
"Can I read it?"
He sighed. "Oh, very well. You may approach." He waved her over like a king allowing a chambermaid to get near him.
She timidly crossed the room to stand behind him and look over his shoulder. There was that one red word sitting on a blank page. ME.
"I don't understand," she said, panic nearly making her throat close up. He could hear it in the delicious tremble of her voice. "Where's the poem?"
He grabbed her by the front of her doctor's coat and shook her, nose to nose with her, glaring directly into her terrified blue eyes. "Where's the poem?"
She let out a shriek and pressed the panic button on her pocket. "Guards! Guards! Help!"
He tossed her, growling savagely. She skidded several feet on her bottom and stayed there in the middle of the room, shaken, hair falling out of her bun. "P-P-Please, don't get any closer…" she said, scooting away from him an inch at a time. "I didn't mean it. I'm sorry."
The guards burst in. It took them less than two seconds to put together the doc on the floor and the enraged form of the Joker standing up out of his seat, fists clenched at his sides. "You cretin!" the Joker yelled. "I am the poem! I am the greatest poem that ever lived!" He was interrupted by the guards dragging him away, forcing him into a straitjacket and shoving a mask over his face so he couldn't bite them. Guards had lost fingers that way when he was in one of his ranting frenzies.
Stunned by her ordeal, the doctor burst into tears. She had to be led away by one of the guards, who patted her hand comfortingly the entire time.