SO, THIS IS DRINK
"...then the drink takes you."
As for kinship, my liver. (It whispers in my sleep.) As for bedding, a futon mattress and floor. As for music, Frank Sinatra, who sings, "Alcohol is your enemy, but you should love your enemies." As for drink, one Mexican beer in the refrigerator. The linoleum sags under pyramids of empty cabernet. Amber quart bottles squat in cobweb corners, their silvery caps astray, thrown sparks of phosphorous, spinning beneath the stove, under bookshelves, wadded shirts, the waxy gravy of the kitchen sink. The blender is cracked, swollen with residue, a milky orange sky, then clear demarcation, a horizon, most likely rum. The sun fills the room; sweat pulls from my skin. I squint; the windows glare yellow, mean—they bellow light. The sun wears the face of Jesus. The sun says, "Name my first miracle."
The bottles are no longer bottles. They morphed, this morning, into artillery shells.
Vodka is translucent for an instant, frozen, a flicker of time. It then turns to blueberries, which immediately ferment, and the shadows of black swans appear. I rub the crust from my eyes. The level falls, falls again, but you might as well sit alongside a lake and watch its waters recede. The deeper you look the less likely you will see. I rise, go scrub the bathroom floor, carefully pick slivers of glass from the bathtub, and return to find less vodka. I remove my jeans from the ceiling fan, and again less. Then less. One novelist notes that drinking is the same as putting a gun to your head and firing; only the bullet travels for years. You never see the one that gets you. This is what I mean by vodka; it moves on jet streams, smoke, mirrors of sky.
Afternoon I try what I can try. Vitamins. Lotion. Wrinkle Cream. Then I steal this compact from a girl's purse and start smearing makeup on my nose. Then I go for a run, a weave and stumble through the city streets. An engine throbs overhead, contrails. Do I feel better? No. I open my door, take a shower, and fall asleep screaming. I punch out my mirror, punch out a window, scream "love this fear!" to the roiling fog, scream "doubt-God-folk-bent-rain-soak-genetic-jaundice-thud!" Then my voice, thin drug, it leaves me.
Something of returning bottles. Or in mixing martinis. Some iambic, some arch—what is the fume, the power of routine? Green glass is a good glass. I like to tip twenty percent, always. I like jukeboxes and girls with vertical hair. Summer, light beer; winter stout. I hang a new mirror; then ask: is something out there, some big thing, more than dawn/dusk/dawn/dusk? What I've lost this week:
I don't miss my voice.
On weekends, allowed. On holidays. Try to begin after 5 p.m. But what about Tuesday mornings? So, create; give half a chance. There's a game on tonight. Isn't that a meteor shower? September 12, half way to St. Patrick's Day. You're on vacation. The clouds melt, the sun shines; you see a beagle crossing highway 31 at rush hour, and he makes it! My liver keens, "Drink to sin: lying for a friend. Stealing a girl's heart. Cheating death." Functional? That's a smoke-puddle word. Taste me a tune, something real. I will listen. I will dance, listing.
Why make promises you will never keep promises of white linens white lilies promises of soymilk of soy sausage of exercise bike of eating light of watching noon news of love and heart and moon, that word moon, promises of fishing your way, flickering your way, up, up, reading your way, whispering your way, sweating your way—I am a dark-haired child in a sodden trench, a labyrinth. I sleep-slip into a deep hole. A year of flow, flood; God's fist punches me down there. Now how will I surface?
Out of toothpaste, out of soap. And what of dreams? Drink-sleep isn't real sleep. It doesn't activate. It doesn't stay. I stand shivering on the roof and see white needles in the sky, and my liver points and says, "That's a gunship. They call them Puff the Magic Dragon because they breathe fire and make everything disappear." A third of my life asleep. A third of my thoughts, twisting. I sense trouble, this faithless language. Addiction is a metal flower. Hangover brings to mind a fish, in the grip of talons. Tolerance is night gravel, boot-steps, tires burning. Functional, functional...
The night arrives with a sound (gnashing or gnawing) and expectation. It has fistfuls of apologies, shredded. It brings pain, which was always there, lying low; and a clinging smoke. The bar is basically a cave. We are regulars in a cavern. We are dust and darkness in three quarters of light. My liver says, "Fantastic job! Well done, kid! Way to go." I buy it a drink and it buys me a drink and we are crying together in the bathtub. This is when it all explodes. The lights are off; that's me. If you never clean your room you might find something: pain again, a photo not smiling, strand of blonde hair, a scar, a shrapnel shard, some truth—no, a moth...I forget things, confuse them. I lie, to friends, and now every second is:
I quit answering. Upstairs, the floor moans. Thunder, finally. Rain like a payphone ringing. Twilight—it's here now; it's stalking. In my clothes, on my back and staring, questioning: did I do it my way? After I've hollered and screeched the window glass into etchings of. After I've spilt everything I could possibly spill. This is a fishbowl, all these windows. This is a bomb crater. This is about something: bone-soak, serotonin, ring into ring into ring.
The first miracle was water to wine, for all the obvious reasons. I need to exit these walls, these windows, this light jigsaw, razor glint: streaks, echoes, ricochets. My mouth is dry. My liver throbs with a need for water. So we go; it is March and the steelhead are running, silver tongues, strumming darts leaping Sixth Street dam. "All this life," I tell my liver, "struggling upstream to die." My liver sharpens a bayonet on a wet leather strap, and says, "Fish swim three times: once in water, once in butter, once in wine." Then my liver belches; searches the crisper drawer for cheese, ocean salt, some leftover something.
Midnight again, so hide me. Hide me tufted, in a foxhole, limbs tight. Hide me naked below a pile of musty quilts, a willow, or a stream-side oak; let my energy enter its roots, transfer—Newton's law. Law of drink. Of standing at windows, exposed. Of sky, the moon as olive. The moon as memory. As seizure. As circle, cycle; here I am again. Is that the kiss of insects on glass, my flesh? Whirring wings? Or is it a husk, a spent shell, tumbling? Take this, take this bottle—now give it back! Shhh. Listen: They make these things for bullets; they call them tracers. There's one.
One year I left my family in Tennessee and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan (the reasons are varied; a whole other essay). I lived through a gray winter there, near downtown, the medical district, in a studio apartment, an odd overhang above a garage, with 16 windows. An ice cube. I often felt like a specimen. That winter I ate my meals in smoky bars. I slept on the floor of my apartment, often intoxicated, in wool hat, while shivering. I rarely dreamt. In the mornings, at eye level, arthritic tree branches swayed. Also tiny chickadees; they looked puffy, miserable, and cold. I wished to paint them, but I had no talent, and it seemed meaningless anyway, or pretentious. Our nation, per usual, was waging war. Outside snow fell, sirens howled and medevac helicopters thudded into the sky. I did quite a bit of writing. So.