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