“The rape joke is that you were 19 years old,” Patricia Lockwood’s poem for The Awl begins. “The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.” The piece weaves around the story of an assault, citing details from the perpetrator’s goatee to the comic apology present he gives his victim afterward: a copy of the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds. Can humor heal, the narrator asks? “when you told people,” she says, “you laughed, and that was the rape joke.” Yes, laughter can ease pain—but the poem also suggests, with an incredibly light touch, the pain you may evoke with an offhand, off-color joke. Think before you laugh, it seems to say. And before you judge: “If you write a poem called ‘Rape Joke,’” she laments, “you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.”
Patricia Lockwood’s viral poem “Rape Joke” asks if we can laugh about the crime.