A LOCAL “ALCOHOLIC” BREAKS OUT AN ACOUSTIC AT HIS LAST AA MEETING

Marcus is someone not dead I once did pills with

who is, still, somehow, dead to me, 

 

and so, I am finger-picking myself back to life

for him, for he and I who together sniffed so many pills

 

have been dead to each other long enough, 

my old friend of bright flannels 

 

and corduroys with a pink shoestring wrapped 

around his waist like a belt, my old friend 

 

of that one green boot he lost in a fistfight,

and had to go back for, and got arrested for, 

 

and I’ve been arrested for throwing bricks

and elbows too, have been coldcocked,

 

and have stolen. I remember poker tournaments

and pain pills and pain pills and pain pills. I remember 

 

he and I sharpened our petty frowns in the same poopy town, 

and I believe if we stood out on that teal patio again now

 

that both of us chin deep in the belly of another workweek 

could still bitch and take pills with the best of them. 

 

I remember his steel toes, loose-laced and OG-sliding 

up the sidewalk at 5:30 PM on Fridays, his face before the heroin

 

like cowhide from framing high-rises, his smile 

like an afternoon of perfect waves and no wind, 

 

a box of Lost Coast bottles hugged under his right arm

before the heroin, and he was always the motherfucker
 

who could fill and roll a cigarette while driving, 

while haggling pill prices into the flip phone

 

taco-ed between his neck and shoulder,

that same flip phone upon which I left him 

 

my last message all those years ago. I think too much 

about all the overdoses, about how much is owed,

 

but it’s 2018, and I am alive again, and I miss the clinking 

of Friday’s first beer with Marcus on that teal patio

 

in front of 651 Buchon Avenue, miss his perfect 

eyelashes, miss the music he made out of a day 

 

with that dip and wiggle of his sleeveless 

shoulders, his soul-snaps dance, and, Goddamn, 

 

I wonder if he remembers all those possible outcomes 

so slippery and infinite of a weekend in Miami 

 

unfurling before us like a Marsh Street made 

of twenty-dollar pills and laughter? When I saw him 

 

in prison with his palm on the Plexiglas between us, 

he said he wanted to kill the pill rat who put him there. 

 

And, yes, I admit it was me, penciling down a tab of all Marcus ever did 

wrong, and I think about that too, now, how after he got out 

 

I shouted down the list of all the shit he stole on that last message 

I left him. Then, two years. Then, seventy pills. Then, poof, 

 

someone I’d have taken a punch for I am laughing with no more. 

What does he think about sobriety, now? 

 

Does he still dig pit bulls? Does he surf goofy-footed in Santa Cruz? 

Does he remember how loud the snoring could be in lockup? 
 

I can only bitch about America with Marcus on the teal patio 

of my memory now. Does he know I’m married? 

 

Does he know, last weekend, on a swamp tour with my wife, 

how I balled our old grudge up and ate it 

 

while we watched an alligator swallow a marshmallow? 

It tasted like the first good wave of the day, 

 

like the first good duck dive in decades. So here it is: 

I’m sending Marcus this ceasefire song for him to know 

 

the cost of my wrongs must be much longer than his by now, 

because after so many steering wheels and potholes, after so many 

 

Oklahomas and Ohios and Oxys and needles and cheats between him

and me, either the wrong things don’t matter, or they don’t exist. 

 

I hope it’s both, but I can’t say for sure because the tomato plants 

in my garden out back look alive, but they stand there, empty-handed

 

and silent, the same way Marcus and I still stand across the country 

from one another and say nothing because he didn’t die 

 

of heroin like I swore he would, because I don’t believe 

in God, because I still owe him two grand for the pills, 

 

because I hear he’s sober now, because I won’t stop 

drinking, because I won’t stop being the rat. 

A singer-songwriter and poet from Rock Hill, South Carolina, Ephraim Scott Sommers has performed music and poetry on flat-bed trailers, in strip clubs, in churches, on floating docks, on bales of hay, and on whiskey-liquored stages from California to New York City to London and to Costa Rica. He is the author of The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire (Tebot Bach 2017) and the forthcoming Someone You Love Is Still Alive (Jacar Press 2019). For music and poems, please visit: www.ephraimscottsommers.com

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