I don’t know exactly what it is about this poem that haunts me, but I keep coming back to it. It might be a bunch of things – the Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket and the work-calloused hands that make me think of a lot of boys I grew up with, the fact that I love whiskey and bourbon, the way the self-hatred in it makes me sad and tired and thinking of a line from Mary Oliver that goes You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves, and how hard that is for so many people.
Body & Kentucky Bourbon
– Saeed Jones
In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back
to your work-calloused hands, your body
and the memory of fields I no longer see.
Cheek wad of chew tobacco,
Skoal-tin ring in the back pocket
of threadbare jeans, knees
worn through entirely. How to name you:
farmhand, Kentucky boy, lover.
The one who taught me to bear
the back-throat burn of bourbon.
Straight, no chaser, a joke in our bed,
but I stopped laughing; all those empty bottles,
kitchen counters covered with beer cans
and broken glasses. To realize you drank
so you could face me the morning after,
the only way to choke down rage at the body
sleeping beside you. What did I know
of your father’s backhand or the pine casket
he threatened to put you in? Only now,
miles and years away, do I wince at the jokes:
white trash, farmer’s tan, good ole boy.
And now, alone, I see your face
at the bottom of my shot glass
before my own comes through.
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