“Portrait of the Alcoholic Three Weeks Sober” Kaveh Akbar

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“Undrinkable as a Glass of Scorpions”

Alcoholism, it would seem, is fertile ground for poetry. Only, like poetry, nothing’s as simple as a notion stating it should be simple. Alcoholism is so… abstract. Nebulous, Incendiary.

Sure, your poem could go under the influence and come up with some obvious concrete words, but what about not-so-obvious words like lamb, puddle, black cigar, romas, cream, rainclouds, piles of ash, bayonet, the Nile, bluebrown ocean, glass of scorpions, fragrant honey and the bees, and dust on a mirror? 

Can you drink that in such a way that it works?

Which brings me to a second Kaveh Akbar poem from his book Portrait of the Alcoholic. If drinking brings altered states, poetry-writing does, too—only a wild and disciplined altered state. You know. Kind of like New Jersey.

Imbibe, why don’t you:


“Portrait of the Alcoholic Three Weeks Sober”
by Kaveh Akbar

The first thing I ever saw die—a lamb that took ten
long minutes. Instead of rolling into the grass, her blood
pooled on the porch. My uncle stepped away
from the puddle, called it a good omen for the tomatoes
then lit a tiny black cigar. Years later I am still picking romas

out of my salads. The barbarism of eating anything
seems almost unbearable. With drinking however
I’ve always been prodigious. A garden bucket filled with cream
would disappear, and seconds later I’d emerge
patting my belly. I swear, I could conjure rainclouds

from piles of ash, guzzle down whole human bodies,
the faces like goblets I’d drain then put back in the cupboard.
So trust me now: when I say thirst, I mean defeated,
abandoned-in-faith, lonely-as-the-slow-charge-into-a-bayonet
thirst. Imagine being the sand forced to watch silt dance

in the Nile. Imagine being the oil boiling away an entire person.
Today, I’m finding problems in areas where I didn’t have areas before.
I’m grateful to be trusted with any of it: the bluebrown ocean
undrinkable as a glass of scorpions, the omnipresent fragrant
honey and the bees that guard it. It just seems such a severe sort of

miraculousness. Even the terminal dryness of bone hides inside our skin
plainly, like dust on a mirror. This can guide us forward
or not guide us at all. Maybe it’s that forward seems too chronological,
the way the future-perfect always sounds so cavalier
when someone tells me some day this will all have been worth it.