Death of a Drunk

This is about the poem I wrote a few years ago and read at a stand-up in New York State.  I sometimes call it the Jack-McCarthy-hugged-me poem.  It was about emotional recovery from the wounds of sexual abuse by my father.  The poem ended with me accepting condolences from weeping friends to whom I had delivered the news of his death; and in that immersion into their love I saw that only love would heal me; that in fact they had washed me clean enough to truly love another.  The poem was, as I explained to the audience, about my father, dedicated to Jack, and addressed to “that man standing in the back.”  (Dan.)  Its alternate title was something like Why I can marry you now.  Death of a Drunk referred to a poem Jack had written and that he had dedicated to “My father and the people who almost saved his life;”  that one was called Drunks, and it is one of his signiture poems, in fact he read it in his “encore” after I had stood up.  I think he wanted the audience to understand the references and parallels.

So I read this poem to a roomful of people.  I read second to last, because we were the last ones there.  My poem was written on sheets of a small notebook, the kind that fits into a purse, and, as I did not know it by heart I had to read it, going a line at a time, keeping a good Bentley voice going, and looking over the audience some but mostly at Dan.  Whether I got a standing ovation I do not know, all I know is that Jack McCarthy rose from his chair in the front row and put his arms around me.  I kissed his cheek rather forcefully, which was probably not in his plans.  And unfortunately the poet who read after me switched from the long serious poem that I had come to NY to hear him read to a short comical one because he didn’t want to come after such a knock-down performance.

Death of a Drunk was to be revised, but it never got finished.  It has been, folded in half and rumpled, in a pocket of my purse ever since.  I worked on a few lines, and they were good, and I will eventually add them in and work on the rest.  It’s not that it wasn’t good; it just wasn’t finished.

It’s been ten years since my father’s death, and I have changed in ways I never anticipated changing.  For one thing, I agree with Margaret that “he tormented himself to death.”  I think, yes, the disease got him and wouldn’t let him go; but the reason he slipped in the first place was that he didn’t want to work Step 9.  How do you do that?  How do you say to your own child what has to be said?  Speaking for myself, I dreaded the possibility that he would someday do it, and I was scared even of a letter.  But I also believed he remembered it (he had said once that he never had blackouts) and I would have appreciated at least an expression of regret.  Moreover, I knew that reticence on this had the power to kill him, and however heinous his crimes against me, however bloody his betrayal, I did not think he should have had to die for it.

Dad was seriously Catholic, all the way to the end.  I hope he died in the arms of the Blessed Mother and with the realization that he was forgiven.  I hope he wasn’t cold on that floor (he’d just had his heater fixed), and I hope he knew he’d be found soon, either by Faye or Bob, whose last possible expression of love to him was to make sure his body didn’t rot.  (I hope that’s never the last thing I can do for anybody.)   Most of all I hope Dad made a confession to somebody, be it his priest, his AA sponsor, Bob or Faye, or a stranger   And I hope he said the words out loud that he needed to say to me, even if, like me that day in Richmond, he found himself laying face down screaming them unto God.

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Published in: on April 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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