“Man, I been thirsty” pretty much sums it all up. In the hospital to dry out, but using go-out privilege to tie on one, and pretty much unapologetic about it. Man, I been thirsty. This from a guy who went on two-day drunks, where he would wake up in the hospital with no memory of where had had been for two days. The white costumes not there to help, to provide for life and healing, blah blah blah, they merely “threaten his rum.” I guess as perfect a statement regarding substance abuse as you’re likely to find. This poem doesn’t hide, doesn’t lie, and doesn’t concern itself with what anybody thinks. Putting it out there frank and straight is its point, and if an unaddicted reader shakes his head and doesn’t get it, that just means the reader has some growing to do. Figure it out. The need for a drink, for a fix, swells in the addict’s consciousness until it blots out everything else—love & family, law, dignity. I don’t get it myself. So what? What do I know? I might at least try acknowledging what I’m told by people who don’t shirk from what’s what.
There is still work to do. Alcoholic as B. was, he was as much poet and literary figure as alcoholic. He took that seriously as well. But what must a troop of Boy Scouts look like to somebody who knows he has passage booked on a train expressing him to a bad place, which won’t stop, and he couldn’t make himself get off anyway? It probably triggers a mixture of things: envy of innocence and of the physical strength and health of youth, a bit taken aback by the earnestness of the canteens and backpacks and the uniforms, maybe a guilty contempt for their dopey ignorance, with shame hot on the heels of that. They’re kids. The poem plays on the contrast between B.’s hard-edged existence and the near-alien world that features a hiking troop of do-good Boy Scouts. But maybe the job of the Scouts is to breeze a freshet of something wholesome through his befuddled brain on a Saturday morning, long enough to take care of the business of literary production, before thirst forces its way back and demands a drink. This feeds the art, though the unholy coupling of writing and drinking will more than likely lead to eventual disaster. Those trains often crash.