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My father (didn’t everybody’s?) drank—

the Dread Disease, plague of his generation—

and we were patient, swallowed down his spite,

and understood him as he thrashed and sank,

and all forgave (oh, life means brief duration!)

and all refrained from saying wrong or right.

We knew, in dry, bright Oklahoma City,

the only cure for drink was love and pity.

We knew the flesh was frail, with delicate breath,

and so indulged each other into death.


But when he dared me—cursing me, demanding—

and shuffling scrawnily down halls of my mind,

sagging his jaw, speaking with tongue gone blind,

should I have answered him with understanding?

He cannot help the things he does, we said.

(He grinned and snitched a ten and drove off, weaving.)

His heart, we said, is spotless—but his head

disturbed. (Late I would hear him, racketing, heaving.)


Years after he was gone I think I saw

how we insulted him, drove him along:

His spirit we called nerves, said nerves were raw,

denied his holy sanction to be wrong.

The sonofabitch (God bless him) drank and died

because we understood away his pride.


Judson Jerome



From The Village: New and Selected Poems,
Dolphin-Moon Press, (c) 1987.

Background by
Karen S. Nicholas

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