It being the first day of 2010, and knowing that most of us likely had a drink or six last night, I was reminded of the poem below almost instantly. Sure, the thought of more booze might not be all that appealing to you at the moment, which, I suppose, is what makes this poem somehow appropriate.
I wrote the first version of this poem during my second semester at Emerson (Spring 2002), again in one of Bill Knott’s workshops. I’m not sure how many versions I ended up writing, but this poem made its way into two more workshops the following year, as I never could get it quite right. Finally, while working on my thesis with my advisor (and poet) Dan Tobin, I finally came up with a version I was pleased with. Dan has a great sense of the moment, of capturing what’s real and honest in a situation as opposed to diluting it with reader (and writer) expectation. He made me realize the importance of the speaker in “A Taste” returning to “sniff again.” This poem came out of a very real moment, when I was no older than six. I tasted that bourbon, and it floored me in the worst possible way.
Not only did this poem appear as part of my thesis, Who Would You Be?, but was eventually published in Issue No. 7 (September 2004) of Portrait, a (now defunct) literary journal out of Burlington Flats, NY. By no means do I mean to sing my own praises, but I always loved the final, haunting image in this poem. It remains, perhaps, my favorite of any metaphor I’ve written.
Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.
No way I’d have tried it, but watching him
put it down all afternoon long told me
he’d be out cold. I was ten. I ogled
that bottle like it was my father, studied
its dull, brown sheen, the label peeled back
while he raved about nothing coherent.
I sniffed its open mouth, wanting so badly
to like what he liked, what I’d watched
him drink a hundred times before. Afraid
of his massive hands that poured down on me
for less, I coughed and hacked up everything
my body could muster, knuckling both fists
into my eyes to drive the burning back —
to take it like he did. Even though I was alone,
bathed in a square of porch light that blazed
through the kitchen window, I swear
I felt him watching, stretched out across
our legless couch, pissed at his pussy kid
who couldn’t hold his own. I sniffed again,
and though the odor scratched at the back
of my throat, the taste still shocked me
when I took that first pull, how it clawed
and scraped its way into my gut
like an animal on fire.