I haven’t posted any poetry on the new blog site, have I? Well today is Imbolc, and evidently there’s a silent poetry reading in cyberspace today in celebration of the Feast of Brigid. I’m not a member of the pagan net and I only just heard of Imbolc for the first time, but I love me some poetry. I am told that today is sort of akin to the winter solstice, an occasion to declare intentions for the new year again, which I’ve already done in prose form on this blog, so I spent a little while looking around for a poem that might fit the occasion, and decided that there were a few from The Alphabet of Desire by Barbara Hamby that I would choose from to read aloud at a gathering tonight if given the chance, even though none of them’s quite exactly on that theme. I think “The Dream of the Red Drink” is properly epiphanic.
Barbara Hamby, The Alphabet of Desire
The Dream of the Red Drink
This story begins, as they so often do, with heartbreak.I am at a party for a young man whose wife has left him,so he's abandoning graduate school to join the navy.There is a lot of despair at this gathering,the young man's and the impoverished students'and, of course, mine, which has less to do with moneyand more to do with time,which is running out, in case you hadn't noticed.And then there is the red drink.
Our host looks as if he has just stepped outof a Trollope novel, a nineteenth-century clericin rumpled chinos and a tee shirt.He and a friend have driven to Georgiato buy grain alcohol and have mixed it with red Kool-Aidin a styrofoam container on the back porch.Later when this party is famous, I learn the red drinkeventually ate through the styrofoam,but this was not discovered until the next dayor maybe the next week when heads had finally cleared.My host warns me not to drink much.I don't, but I drink enough.
I don't know anyone at this party but the red drinkmakes me intrepid.I talk to many people, make jokes, see God.How many times can you see God before you realizehis face is different every time?Is this a revelation? Maybe.Not only do I see God, but I see through himto the other side, though probably it's a visionof cerebral matter being sloughed off,and I have a tête-à-tête with my most persistent epiphany,that is, life is nothing, rien, nada, niente.I find it incredibly comforting to knowthe world is transparent,insubstantial, without meaning.I think of Niels Bohr's assertion that there is no deepreality, and I know exactly what he means.I am looking through the woman I am talking to,seeing through herto the soft bank of azalea bushes behind.It's a nice effect, rather like a double exposure.
My husband is at this party, but I am avoiding himfor a reason I can't really remember.Oh, I remember, but it's too tedious to go into here.I look at this man whom I love to distractionand wonder how he can be so utterly dense,and I know if I say anything he will sayI've had too much to drink, which is entirely correct,and that there's alcoholism in my family, but show me a familythat doesn't have a drinker or two. . . .My beloved is in a cluster of beautiful studentswho think he's marvelous, which he is.Wait a minute, girls, I could tell you things,but the red drink has turned ethereal on me,and it's two-thirty in the morning and the young manwho's going into the navy is delirious or dead,and the lovely students have disappearedinto their enchanted student hovels.
So we leave and the car seems flimsy, as if made fromcardboard, like the East German cars about whichI saw a documentary in a hotel room in Tampa:after World War II the East Germans didn't have any steel,so they made cars out of cotton wool compressedbetween layers of organic plasticthat has proved to be almost completely unbiodegragable.I look out into the night and think, this could be East Berlin,except it so obviously isn't, unless magnoliasand enormous oaks dripping with Spanish moss have been sightedon the Alexaderplatz.But we are in motion and I sit in my seat, pulled throughthe night as if by a magnetto an intersection in which I see that a low-slung blackOldsmobile will run a red lightand plow into my side of our flimsy East German carand the metaphysical and the physical worlds will haveto come to some kind of decision about my corporeal frame,and I think that maybe I don't want to walkinto that good night just yet.
I say to my husband, "That black car's not going to stop,"and he slows down, even though we have the green light,because I have authority in my voice,authority bestowed on me by the red drink; in fact, I believethe red drink has made me slightly psychic,because the black car doesn't stop.We watch it sail through the deserted early-morningintersection with wonder and astonishment,or at least I dofor Death has passed me by, its chariot zooming toward Perry,Florida, driven by a laughing young man with an Elvishaircut and his blonde teenaged girlfriend.
Time passes, probably a few minutes, but it seemsinterminable hours have stretched out before us.We continue through the now-empty intersection,down an oak-lined street,and turn to drive through the park,but a red fox is in the middle of the rumpledasphalt and stares into our headlights.He has a message for me and for my husbandand the pretty spellbound studentsand our Trollopian hostand the unconscious soon-to-be ensign,and I should be able to hear it clearly,but I'm too giddy with being alive,my arms still chilled from the sleeve of death.