Tag Archives: alcoholism

Driving Through the Canyon Drunk

Decidedly LA, postmodern
in its self-awareness, post-postmodern,
submodern, supramodern, until
the word loses all meaning.
Watch out for deer.

There is no deer here.
Gas, gas, turn, Mulholland, turn, brake, brake.
The mountain lions have all driven down into
the Valley, or else

settled in beneath the rafters of the new
construction, the same as further east, but later
on into night and meetings, bars and the fog,

side streets and us,
and oh what a place to die.


the perception, of course,
is that it’s a perpetual party
that we don’t want to leave.

we’re the ones rifling through
your CD collection, the ones
who can’t take the hint

even as you’re darkening
rooms around us, one
room at a time, not knowing

that we’ve considered
the darkness at length, and we
have come to the conclusion
that it’s something we
can simply adapt to.

we’re the setup AND the punchline,
because the joke is always
on us, and the joke is always

easier than contemplation
of the riddle:
why we pickle ourselves
so we can bob and float and spin
in our own enclosed spaces
like a fetal pig in a jar
seeing nothing.


There is nothing left for people here. Our livers are no longer coddled, valued, saved. The lobby of the home is fresh and styled. There are no posters hung haphazardly, no empty bottles lining the tops of fridges or the perimeters of trash cans. When I get to the home, I drop off the fifth of gin in my pocket at the front desk. Emma wields a thick black marker, writing the names of the drunks on their bottles. We are contained in those glass enclosures on the table behind the welcome desk; we drop ourselves off and pick ourselves back up. We are not allowed to drink in the rooms, and so we do not linger there. Though there are televisions and beds more comfortable than I have known or afforded in my lifetime, I do not linger either.

The back porch is where the voices are, the warm bodies, made warmer by the booze. Faces flushed red navigate the cigarette smoke. Conversation is lively, there is usually laughter, though everyone knows how quickly laughter can turn into something else, something to defend against. Then there are the sirens and flashing lights. But those nights are fewer and farther between than before we lived here; our defenses have cooled a bit now that we are no longer in mixed company. Only three people have died since I have come here, though I know that my spot on the waiting list didn’t open because of a building expansion. There are men with yellow eyes and loose clothing. I stay away from them because there is nothing left to cultivate. Their laughter is frightening – it is weak and wheezy – and it kills my own.

I can say this much: I am calmer now. There is less that is riding on my success or my failure or any of my decisions. I watch the sunrise and the sunset from this patio, and I am no longer guilty.

Roud 1173

a toast of jameson at the grave
plastic cups a quarter full of
brilliantine amber all around me
as we sing the wild rover and
for the briefest of seconds I forget
that I’m supposed to refuse the cup

we usher our dead through
with tears and poitín
and my hand grasps at air
as I stare at blanched ground
thinking I’ve betrayed my own

an old man next to me
elbows my arm
and whispers

sometimes it’s better NOT to drink

and he hoists his empty hand
to the sky – sláinte – and beams


Here are some vignettes I’ve been working on for a while, the most recent drafts. They are separate, but work as a group.

“In the Kitchen at Dusk”

Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and my mother, her long black hair and the scent of cherry-almond Jergens. She dances, her hair a beat behind her swaying, and her falsetto following Van as he la-la-las. Her breath will smell like beer when I get close enough, I’m still a good two feet shorter than she is at this point; that disparity along with everything else will change in the coming years. For now, me, my brother, and my sisters are moving around the kitchen with bare feet, barely understanding what making love means. Mom – dancing and understanding all too well. Dad is in the backyard doing things he did back then: Building the red swing set that sits behind me in so many pictures, taking our Rottweiler Elsa out, grilling steaks that have been marinating over night. The windows and the back door are open; everywhere it smells like cooking. It’s that part of the day when everyone in a subdivision is home, when the heat of the Virginia summer has retreated and the breeze is welcome and cherished. Later, my sister and I will have a disagreement, I will probably cry, and my mom will swoop in, calling me baby the same way she will when I’m well into my twenties. After dinner, my sisters, brother and I will fall asleep in some combination of the floor, the sofa, and the loveseat, though in the morning we will wake up in our own beds without memory of being placed there. There are other things I will forget. I will not remember the time between living with my dad and not. I will not remember if there were tears, confusion, though I will assume that there were. But before all of that, we dance in the kitchen whether we know the words or the rhythm or the reason.

“Orange Slices”

Mom is asleep on the couch. Gino coughs cigarettes out of his lungs and moves my mother’s legs off of his lap onto the floor so she is lying asleep with her feet in a sitting position. Her mouth is open, her bottom lip loose. She does not hear Gino ask me to get him an orange. Even at six I understand, reaching into the bottom drawer of our fridge, that this is my father’s orange. If he were not out to sea, he might be peeling this very orange for me right now, alternating between popping entire wedges into his mouth and giving me a piece to bite and feel the juice run down my chin.

“Answering Blocked Phone Calls at Midnight”

I consider keeping her on the phone forever, think about falling asleep with her breath on the other end. I could listen while she cooked – practically smell the onions, garlic, ginger – or as she disciplined other people’s children, the only job she ever held long enough to become an expert.

I have many mothers: The mother who laughed with her head thrown back and mouth open. The mother who sent us to get switches for her to whip us with. The mother who danced, declared every song on the radio her jam, turning the volume dial as high as it would go. There is the mother my sister and I found asleep on a tire outside of our house, an empty bottle of vodka in her hand, the saliva dripping from her lips her only movement. The mother who sometimes cried for reasons I am afraid to understand. The mother with eyes bloodshot for no reason, bracelets that jangled, nails tracing stories on my back as I fell asleep. Sleeping on the floor of our tin house with no power, only candles, there is the mother who made the boils on my brother and sister’s skin seem temporary and harmless. The mother who calls all of us baby and does not discriminate amongst us. The mother who taught us not to discriminate amongst ourselves.

We’re both crying now, promising each other and ourselves that someday money will not be an obstacle. She says, “Mel, I pray every night.” “Every night,” she tells me, and neither of us question why they have not been answered yet. She ends the conversation telling me not to be sad, and though she is calling from half a world away, the sound of her swallowing over and over is the clearest sound.


It’s summer, it’s evening, but it’s not warm and it’s not dark
as we take our usual constitutional.  I am still
not enamored of the white dry sand gone cool under
my feet.  Maybe two years before I would sit rigid
in the dead center of the blanket, and scream to wake the dead
if this sand got near me.  It is still not my favorite kind
of sand, loose and prone to fly up into my face and hair.

I like the coarse, dense band that straddles the line between
loose and saturated.  Like brown sugar.  It is better for running
full tilt willy nilly looking back only to see that my father
is still visible.  We do this – my tearing ass his steady strides – whenever
the need is as palpable as the rippling heat from the car hoods
in the middle of the afternoon.  We go.  We are escape artists,
my father and I.  And for now, motion is the getaway vehicle.

Mother Knows Best

Another piece that isn’t worth $2500, $1000, or even a set of steak knives.

He could’ve been lighting a cigarette and at first, that’s what I thought he was doing. I had begun going deaf in my ear that winter, so the pop of the bullet leaving the gun, the already muted sound of it hitting my flesh, the squish of its burial, my own gasp or the scream right after, could all have been louder. There are things to be grateful for.

My mother told the reporters that my stepfather wasn’t normally a violent man. A statement that wasn’t true and that they did not believe. “Normally?” they said. “How often was he abnormally violent?” they’d ask right before going to a commercial break.

She never changed the channel, even as they berated her with their clever, legally-advised and subtle accusations. She’d sit resilient through the commercials – her thirty to sixty seconds of reprieve.

In the mornings, she made me breakfast – sausage and eggs, chocolate chip pancakes, biscuits and gravy. I knew these were not her apologies so much as her way of showing me she did not blame me for being involved in my stepdad’s imprisonment. “Grandma’s recipe,” she’d say after I complimented the biscuits, her world suddenly revolving around family and its preservation. Eventually I started getting up before the sun rose, leaving the house before she woke. I tiptoed more out of habit than necessity; she rarely budged before noon from where she was splayed out, her bottom lip loose, mouth open, her frame gaunt except for the pop of a stomach underneath my stepdad’s t-shirts that she’d taken to wearing.
She met my stepdad at a bar years before she left my dad and – she says – years before anything happened between them. He’d spilled a full pint of beer on her and made her buy him another one. She obliged – she tells me, repeating the story when she’s drunk like some old family legend – because of his eyes. “Like dark pools and I, in need of a swim.” She shakes her head when she says this, nudges me with an elbow as though we’ve ceased to be mother and daughter. As though we’re exempt from any parent/child code of conduct. She knew then, she tells me, gripping the pen as she signed the credit card slip for her bill, that it was the beginning of something.

“His nickname was Bukowski,” she says, slurring and spitting, proud of that man as though she’d given birth to him herself. Each time she tells me this story, my shoulder burns.

She forgets her keys in the ignition, forgets my birthday, but she always remembers to talk into my good ear when she recounts that night they met.

“He was an asshole, you know,” I said once.

She slapped me then and, more than the sting, I remember the dullness of not being surprised.

“And he was a damn good writer,” she said.

“Not a bad shot either,” I said when I was out of her reach.