For a Relapse
“What were all those people doing, bouncing, stuck to one another,
enclosed in a box full of smoke?”
Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche, upon entering a nightclub for the first time
I came across his name in the supermarket—
an old guy who copped for the college kids,
we called him Willy Squared, he had
good clean dope and a cat you could hear
but never see. Will Williams, thus
Willy Squared. His name in fourteen-points
on the sidebar of a local rag, BUSTED
IN DRUG RING. Willy’s photo was on the front page,
but below the fold, so you can figure
50% fewer people saw his face than if he’d been
up top with the big boys.
At the time I was fighting an itch,
“romancing the dope,” I could feel sweat
in the pits of my elbows like my own special rainstorm.
I’d sit in the ashtray row
at the Anonymous meetings off Bonnie Brae
and taste dope at the back of my throat.
(It tastes like a doctor’s office.)
On my life I swear this is true—
if I had picked up that newspaper
the entirety of sections A and B
would have burst into flames, charring
the face of the victorious closer
on the front of Section C Sports.
I saw the name and read the first few sentences—
looked at the photo and kept walking.
My ears were ringing. My ears were playing
“Oranges and Lemons.” My ears were sprouting
spikenard and exotic flowering tobacco.
I’m writing all of this to you, Lama,
because of the question you asked
in the Guardian, to answer the question you asked
in the Guardian. We do what we do
because it feels good,
because the meat of the cow tastes good
sizzled over coals, though we know we should not
have it. Because the tight grip of a mouth
is comforting, though it may cause trouble.
Because the tip of the hypodermic can,
in fact, remind us what it was like
in the liquor amnii.
In the photo, Willy Squared has a cat on his lap.
I do not know why you turned your back on your faith.
I only know what a 500 word blurb
in a foreign paper can tell me—
that you never chose your faith, that
you were worshiped as an infant,
that you were taken from your native Granada
and shipped to God knows where, that
you’re studying film, that you performed
at the Burning Man Festival. What I can do
is grip my sobriety chip, say the prayer of St. Francis,
wipe the puddle out of my arm, and tell you
what I think they were doing there,
in that box of smoke:
They were lighting a match, they were naming
a dog, they were learning to whistle, they
were eating granite, they were dyeing things
yellow, they were taking the Host, they
were jumping a broom, they were gathering
frost, they were spelling your name.