father (didn’t everybody’s?) drank—
Dread Disease, plague of his generation—
we were patient, swallowed down his spite,
understood him as he thrashed and sank,
all forgave (oh, life means brief duration!)
all refrained from saying wrong or right.
knew, in dry, bright Oklahoma City,
only cure for drink was love and pity.
knew the flesh was frail, with delicate breath,
so indulged each other into death.
when he dared me—cursing me, demanding—
shuffling scrawnily down halls of my mind,
his jaw, speaking with tongue gone blind,
I have answered him with understanding?
cannot help the things he does, we said.
grinned and snitched a ten and drove off, weaving.)
heart, we said, is spotless—but his head
(Late I would hear him, racketing, heaving.)
after he was gone I think I saw
we insulted him, drove him along:
spirit we called nerves, said nerves were raw,
his holy sanction to be wrong.
sonofabitch (God bless him) drank and died
we understood away his pride.
From The Village: New and Selected Poems,
Dolphin-Moon Press, (c) 1987.