By John Survivor Blake

It was three years before I ran away. My knees docked
at the altar, tight top-button and clip-on tie anchored
my neck, my arms outstretched as February branches;
shivering for new life, prayed blessings came in flocks.

It was four years before my first crack-pipe, prayed
as my shoulders burned like the Devil’s palms
rubbed me down, but I had family to save.
It was five years before my first overdose. I could smell
our pastor’s feet in the wine-toned carpet, chants
behind me, booze tinted breath of Saturday night
hovered between pews, but nothing
stopped me from begging the dream farmer for a meal.

I’ll keep my asthma if you stop Ma’s drinking,
I’ll take the beatings at school if you get Benny off heroin.
(I should have been more specific.)

It was six years before Mom went to prison,
six years before Benny rode a dope-flume into a lake of needles.
Six years before homelessness turned him into an ice sculpture,
before Ma tumbled down prison stairs with an unsteady gait
by bathtub-gin, before AIDS wore my father like a scarf,

I waited for a strange tongue to stretch my mouth,
for my hands to rise and sway involuntarily.
It was a decade before I graduated to spite the betting pool,
before the Army’s cutting board wore my meat.
It was fifteen years before my third overdose, thirteenth detox.
It was thirty years before I lost my teeth and buried them all.

33 years before you asked me to think back
to the time I was closest to God.

Category: Poetry