by Mark Williams


In one study, male Siamese fighting fish were observed yawning
multiple times during different aggressive encounters with one another.

    —from “Big Question: Why Do I Yawn When I’m Nervous
        or Stressed” by Bryan Gardiner

I’m behind a 1990-something, blue Crown Vic
when it begins a starboard turn into McDonald’s. 
I slow down to thirty (the Vic’s hood is easing in),
twenty (passenger door, safely off the street), fifteen, ten,
when, behind me, the driver of a silver Volvo SUV
lays her horn on me as if my back door were entering the lot.

RAWWWK! her car horn says.

Inches from the Vic’s back bumper, I stop, reach up,
open my moon roof and fling a hand into the sky—
fingers together, thumb apart—in a kind of angry mitten gesture
at the woman and her designer-doodle in my mirror.
Who do you think you are! my angry mitten shouts.

I am a privileged, red state, white woman
who has just dropped off her amazing little boy
or girl at the Christian school next door to Wendy’s, 
a woman missing
Good Morning America, thanks to you!
her two arms exclaim, leaving the wheel
as if to signal someone’s touchdown. Hers.

Remembering what my mechanic, Leo Mehling
of M & M Motors, told me twenty years ago,
“Accelerate like there’s an egg under your pedal,”
I wait until the Vic’s back bumper clears the street
and accelerate like there’s an egg under my pedal:
five, ten, fifteen ...

If I said an average cloud weighs 216 thousand pounds,
some of you will yawn. Of those of you yawning,
here are six possible reasons why:

     1) you find the average cloud weight information boring
         and are yawning to perk up;
     2) you find the average cloud weight information:
               a. exciting; or
               b. threatening
                   and are yawning to calm down;
     3) thanks to my relatable, Crown Vic/car horn story,
          we have established some degree of empathy,
          rendering you more susceptible to a yawn
          at my mere mention of     yawn*;
     4) you slept fitfully last night and are just plain tired;
     5) your brain needs cooling—bigger the brain, longer the yawn; or
     6) you have a neurological disorder and you yawn all the time.


When my dog, Chica, hears thunder,
she yawns to calm down.

When I get stopped by a light one block from McDonald’s,
second honk reverberating in my average-sized brain, 
I feel my angry mitten rise. But when I think of Chica,
I look into my mirror and yawn (about three seconds).
Then my mitten drops, and I calmly drive away.



     If a person is more likely to yawn
     in response to a yawn yawned by someone
     with whom he or she feels empathy,
     would he or she be more apt to feel empathy
     after inadvertently yawning with a stranger?

     Good question.                 


I’d like to think the silver Volvo woman saw me yawn, 
yawned, empathized and thought, I can’t believe I honked.
I should apologize to the nice man in the sensible old Honda
with the license plate frame that says he’d rather be writing poetry

before she followed me home, pulled into my drive and said,
“I live on Bonnieview. I’ve seen you walking your dogs.
I was honking at the person who was turning. Sorry.”
I’d like to think I yawned again. I’d like to think

I smiled, relaxed and said, “That’s OK” or
“I’m sorry, too” as I leaned into her window. Even
“The average storm cloud weighs 105.8 million pounds”
would have been much better.

 Roman Stoic philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca said,
 “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”
“What about your second honk!”
I’d like to think I did not say.

* Conversely, the study, “No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria,” suggests that contagious yawning is less likely to occur among individuals (Alexandra, Moses, Aldous, Wilhelmina, Quinn, Esme, and Molly) disinclined to feel empathy.

Mark Williams Poetry

Mark Williams lives and rants in Evansville, Indiana.  His writing has appeared in "The Hudson Review," "Indiana Review," "The Southern Review," "Nimrod," "Rattle," "The American Journal of Poetry," and the anthologies, "New Poetry From the Midwest" and "American Fiction."  Finishing Line Press published his poetry chapbook, "Happiness," in 2015.  If "Yawn" makes you yawn, he asks you to contact him at mkw@wowway.com and tell him one (or more) of six reasons why.