I have spent years of my career working with individuals suffering from addiction. In the beginning of a long career of learning about addiction, hearing stories, etc., someone was talking to me about a ‘thirteen stepper,” which is a term used in Alcoholics Anonymous to describe an individual who attends meetings simply to pick up up other participants. I have led so many groups on addiction and sat in therapy sessions with so many individuals struggling with the challenge(s) of addiction. I have watched the process in action from an outsider’s view primarily. Although in studying addiction, I have been to all the support groups as an identified observer because it’s important to know the programs and speak the language. I have always found AA meetings and addiction groups interesting, in that, at times I revel at the depths of honesty people go to in these groups. I often find myself thinking, “The level of honesty being brought forward here is amazing.” It’s something I wonder if I could ever do and it’s something I feel the world could use more of. I’ve often wondered what if we just had these type of groups for anyone to drop into regardless of if they were suffering from an addiction. I think the world could benefit from people talking about feelings more and not feeling like the only place you can do it is if you have addiction, in some church basement. Anyway, the day I heard someone use that term, I thought, “There’s a poem in there.” I’ve always kept the name as the title of the poem, but the poem is really about living with addiction. It’s a poem written years ago that I’ve read lots of times and is something that I feel like never comes out quite the same. Before I read it or present it, I hear something differently. I’m always changing words or line breaks. It almost feels like the poem itself sometimes is as restless as the narrator. It’s forever changing. It grows and expands and then doubts itself. Although there are specific references to AA or the culture of addiction, I think there’s a universality to it because we all have our addictions and our defenses and to them there are certainly universal truths. It’s almost hard to post this poem because I know it will change again; however, today this is where it stands.
The crickets thick,
smoking a cigarette in a dark summer room
another meeting, thirteen steppers,
black coffee, a basement with
missalettes and stored mistletoe.
Folding chairs holding unfolding lives. I am
An addict. Sanca sighs,
sin ever before me. I have lives
that feel like trade winds, my addiction
was just a wind chime trying to catch
the sound of love moving. Voices
made of wet plaster threatening to dry.
The hours tick, like wine they fear
leaving a stain. I am kerosene
and match in a wind, and anything
that comes near me must know of fire.
You give and give and give………
As if prayers are made of paper.
As if days are made of clay-
There are things you cannot shape,
Colors you must never name-
Their shades are too indistinguishable.
I am an occasional lover
whose smell can never be found
in permanence. I sleep intertwined
between you and a love
for something my own compulsions and gravity
cannot defy. Things shined golden
as wedding bands have been
melted before, have been lost
deep in sewers of excuses.
There is not hoop or ring
even a magician could use
to walk through this black magic.
I am strong enough to collapse
on top of you, and weak enough
to hold you just long enough
-til you feel like it is you collapsing.
You are beautiful full of literature, opera, and love.
I am full of pills, Slow Children at Play Signs,
and hymns behind your horizon lines.
I sit in the dark, smoke til the sun comes up
and the night stops breathing.
Too much haunting, not enough black coffee.
I expect you to forget the time, the date,
the hard years of reconstruction.
Move on to a second life where there are pines
on hills and katydids on the barn.
Where children sleep and land is new,
able to hold planted life. My mother
used to sharpen her knives
every weekend- saying there is nothing
more dangerous than a blunted knife.
In love, such is true.
The systole rhythm of my blood works
hard, beats through my open palms,
runs through the empty veins like a candle in a cave.
I try to breathe, but I am
an addict spilled everywhere.
Who wants you to leave my guts where they are
I have been fixed so many times…
Broken feels natural.
Healing feels like every Tuesday.
You feel like Orion in a night sky,
recognizable but still empty and chilled,
from the blood of the maple.