A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Overdose, of a Child in Anderson (Prose Poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Ochre. Gold Siennas. Tawny-colored clusters and fallen umbers.
I last saw him just before the fall.
But these days, it feels as though there’s no such thing as Autumn. It’s just the extinction burst of a greener season.

His child was a “junior.” He took his father’s name (in vain, if you consider the short duration he used it.) The baby’s life was measured in months, not years. It was his father that I really knew.

I knew, in my heart, that “narrow is the gate.”
I knew that, conversely, hell is standing-room only.
But I guess I considered him safe.

Wasn’t he, after all, a Narcotics Anonymous coin collector? He showed off his tokens—one month, 90 days, one year—and with every new coin, it was like I watched him age in reverse: his face would smooth. His brain would wrinkle.

Even his eyes, as they creased at the corners, seemed to say, Don’t worry. I know my way home from here.

Each morning I saw him, loitering outside the courthouse, a menthol dart in one hand and an 18 ounce travel mug of Columbian in the other. A remote start for an idling mind, if you will.  He looked healthy enough to fool me. Perhaps when you work with the court you have that effect on people: the way someone straightens in their chair when a chiropractor enters the room.

But he’d come clean twice and only stayed clean once.

Mere weeks after they cut the anklet tethered to his leg, he had a needle in his arm again. They say the baby was cradled in the crook of his left elbow when it happened. He nodded out before he could cap the syringe. It pierced the infant’s skin, and his only son summarily died.

Art and poetry are defenseless against such tragedy. Scraping words around a blank page with the nib of my pen does nothing to assuage such impending feelings of guilt that plague this man.

The wages of sin are death, and devil doesn’t amortize debt. That man from Anderson had been working time and a half, and I suppose payday is coming. The whole town is seeing red, and rightfully so. There are entire area codes he’d do well to ignore when his phone rings.

I can’t shake the image from my head, though, of the man I once knew, the newly minted recovering addict. Is he shaking in his cell, gasping out fevered dope-sick prayers, begging God to cut him, cut him, cut him some slack?

I won’t pretend I haven’t scanned the headlines. I found the obituary. I keep waiting for murder to hyphenate and include suicide.

So far, that conclusion hasn’t been reached, so I’d like to offer a direct address:

My friend, if you’re reading this, I hope you take it to heart. Be rid of your vague “higher power…” that counterfeit G.O.D. just as easily substituted for “Group Of Drunks.” Don’t put your trust in some formless deity pushed on you by your sponsors in Narcotics Anonymous.

What you need is a more seasoned God. The kind that knows something about losing a Son.

And as for me, I’ll bastardize a Dylan Thomas line, and I’ll do it on purpose. After the first rebirth, there are others. There is life.

New life after new life after new life.

Veering

(by Daniel R. Jones)

I’ve grown fond of the front seat
where I’ve seen you sitting countless nights
ringing out raindrops from a Frogg Togg,
muttering obscenities about the cold.

You’ve sat in that same seat
flicking cherries off the end of your Newport,
singing along to Styx on the stereo
humming through the lines you don’t know.

It was only when the frequency cut out that I realized
just how off-key you were.
You always drove in a straight-line.
I never sensed you were veering.

Your friends warned me you were a fiend.
They said to stay away.
But still we cried together
when your rib disowned you.

She had a sneaking suspicion:
her hero in league with dealers of heroin.
You swore she was overreacting.
But as I watched you drive
I noticed you were veering.

When you lost custody of your son
the part-time prophets
came out of the woodwork.
Even amateur oracles prophesied your death:

He’s a junkie, they said.
He’s riding high on a horse’s back.
And behind the wheel,
I trembled at your veering.

But tonight’s the night
you’d crash the car.
You came through the driver’s side door
with a full arm and empty eyes.

Slurred words and blurred vision.
The smell of burnt rubber.
Passed out at the wheel,
you can’t hear me yelling.

When you come to,
you won’t even admit
you were veering.

The “Check Engine” is on.
You’re running on fumes,
the seatbelt hanging uselessly by your side.
Still, you insist on the driver’s seat.

I’m in the passenger seat
waiting
as always
to take the wheel for you.