When I got around to drinking
I learned how in Brownstown.
Bill McDonald had a wooden leg
but was the best quarterback
the White Swan Warriors
ever had. He got old enough to be
a habitue like me.
He was sweet on Rita, whose name
was as white as her hair
was dyed dishwater blonde.
She was a breed, her brothers
folded by the juke box
and slept until closing time,
sleeping one shift, then another
from nodding head to head,
and Bill and I were bad
bets to emulate their deaths.
Rita cut us off after hours.
She bought us good whiskey.
Don’t drink this beer piss,
it’ll kill you, honey. And Bill
melted visibly. How pretty
she could be. Always working
the same shift, till closing time.
The enormous stains her fingers
revealed, smoking Pall Malls.
She poured us Canadian Club
over ice. Bill said, Fill my leg!
Rita said, Fill mine, white boy!
and I don’t mean my leg.
It went like that Saturday nights
when I drove across the pass
and was old enough to drink
like a death-march survivor.
Relentlessly. How many miles
from Brownstown to Irene
waiting for a ride home
in the Circle Inn, cleaning up.
She said, You’ve been drinking,
why don’t you have coffee
while you’re waiting. I launched
into stories of the forbidden night.
I said I was learning to write
about drunkenness. She stopped me
dead in my tracks, pale white and desolate.
She said I should observe more
and experience less.
When Bill took Rita home, she had
him in. She taught him to make love
and clean up after himself.
Irene begged off, too tired to kiss
. . . a drunk, I added, confessing
nothing, making life a big joke
without a punch line.
I’d like to say she left me
but I’d be lying, she let me go on
living. I was dying to live with her.
(17 November 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander