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Rounding the horn.

I was a week away from the red chip when they outed me from Gay AA for phonesex in the detox closet, swilling bottles of phony cologne - Esprit, bootlegged by my bunkmate, a walleyed cowboy from Melville, Long Island. Brothers, Sisters, I said, cursed from birth with a terrible thirst by the Dreaded Enabler who bent my elbow at the Brazen Head bar, nursed bitter milk from barrels at Baileys, I was born of a triple-Virgo by the blind porter at World's End, the black Irish Jewish Catholic alcoholic offspring of that lost tribe of penmen, those heinous sheenies & Arab seamen, Shawn & Shem. Or, as they say in Mayo, to make a short story malinger, Once I drank to stop the voices, now I drink to bring them back. At which point Schein turned to Schauer with a sour grin, Dollink, tell me, uy iz Cleo's noze zo long? Becawz, my deeah, she'z de queen ov de Nial!

Locked on the mountaintop with all the 12-steppers & those jovial overweight Franciscan friars whose strict diet condemns them to die at 50 of beer & potatoes, I was sore all over as though fallen from a great height with a hollow ache in the blades at my back where the wings once were. Kneeling before the porcelain bowl I saw a ghost-face flower haloed by my fiery orange hair & someone had lipsticked across the glass roof of Hell: NO BUDY LUVS NO ONE. That's when the statues started talking back to me . . .

Grand Rounds. Doctor Glanders illuminates a map of the dark side of the moon - its rilles & furrows & lunar seas. Weighing each word on his tongue like a turd on a golden scale, he points toward me. This lad has the brain of an 80 year old man! With all due respect, I reply, you are not addressing some riverboat queen with a taste for pink magnolias & scarlet cock. See the pearl in this left ear? I got it rounding the Horn in rough trade, foul weather, lashed to the mast, loony as a snowbird, wailing, wailing like Ma Rainey for all those the black ox has taken away - the little gray lady on the subway, the red Indian of the sun. In sum, my dear externs & interns, I may be a refugee from a 3rd world country recuperating in your 4th world now, but when I recover I'm off to the 5th!

Well, I was high as a winged-horse on astrograss & singing Hosannas when they wheeled me, the sweet dove-gray Sisters of Bilitus, down white-tiled tunnels to the house of icy waters & electric beds - Auschwitz for angels! Honey, one crooned, as she strapped me in, just how many years do you really want? Tapdancing between powerpoles in my metal skullcap & iron shoes I heard death rattle in a baby's fist, then the juice jolted through me & I'm riding the 3rd rail from Zeroville toward Ringsend - the Alpha Express! Blue movie of windows brings me to a cindery river, switching stations, rosebrick gardens, Sunnyside, Queens. Through cloudy curtains I see my own mammy, toothless, dying in the bed I was born in. Who is that holding her in his arms?

Cap'n McCall, Sergeant Malarky, my brave night crawlers, wave mechanics, after the last go-round, how will it end? Bible? Bottle? Gun? Breathers Anonymous? A nanosecond of spark, then out in the dark again, in my moth-hole overcoat under a starless sky? There's a chill in the air, but I know the way - a step at a time. Hedgerow. Blackthorn. Elm. At the end of the lane, purple shadows, a faint afterglow. Thatched roof. Plume of smoke. & the white horse standing at the gate, still as a stone.
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Author:Asekoff, L.S.
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Date:Jul 1, 1996
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