Maybe a sin, indecent for sure--dope,
The storekeeper called it. Everyone agreed
That Manuel Lawrence, who drank
Through the side of his mouth, squinting
And chortling with pleasure, was hooked;
Furthermore, Aunt Brenda,
Who was so religious that she made
Her daughters bathe with their panties on,
Had dubbed it "toy likker, fool thing,"
And so might I be. Holding the bottle
Out to the light, watching it bristle.
Watching the slow spume of bubbles
Die, I asked myself, could it be alive?
When they electrocuted Edwin Dockery,
He sat there like a steaming, breathing
Bolt, the green muscles in his arms
Strained at the chair's black straps,
The little finger of his right hand leapt up,
But the charge rose, the four minutes
And twenty-five hundred volts of his death,
Which in another month will be
Thirty-five years old. So the drink fizzed
With the promise of mixtures to come.
There it was. If the Hard-Shell
Baptists of Alabama are good and content
That the monster has died, so am I.
I swallowed. Sweet darkness, one thing
Led to another, the usual life, waking
Sometimes lost, dried blood in the ear,
Police gabbling in a strange language.
How else would I ever gauge
How pleasure might end, walking
Past midnight in the vague direction
Of music? I am never satisfied.
Because I looked out as I was looked upon
(Blue-eyed under the golden corm of ringlets
That my mother could not bring herself
To have the barber shear from my head)
I began to see, as adults approached me,
That hunger a young woman must feel
When a lover seizes one breast too long
On the ideal nipple-balm of the tongue.
When they lifted me and launched me
Ceilingward, I seemed to hang there years,
A satellite in the orbit of their affections,
Spinning near the rainspot continents
And the light globe freckled with flies.
I could smell the week-old syrupy sweat
And the kerosene of many colognes,
Could see the veined eyes and the teeth
Dotted with shreds of lettuce and meat.
When I touched down, one of them
Would hold me to the torch of a beard
And goose my underarms until I screamed.
Another would rescue me, but leave
On my cheek the heart-mark of her kiss.
So I began, at three, to push them away.
There was no ceremony and few words,
But like a woman who has let a man go too far
And, in one night's moodiness, steps
Out of a parked car and walks home alone,
I came suddenly to my life, and they
Did not begrudge me, but turned back
To the things they had done before--
The squeaking bed, the voices late at night.
Mornings I'd crawl beneath the house,
Dreaming how poignantly tragic my death
Would seem, but, having thought about it,
I happily took myself into the darkness
Of the underground, where I was king.
The Atlantic Monthly; March 1996; Two Poems; Volume 277, No. 3; page 107.