Bootleggers

First, we were both bootleggers,
scalping fancy labels from old bottles,
trading home-made insults at twice
the going rate. Behind hired barns
we set up illicit stills and hawked
hooch to the hillbillies. The nights
sang by, stray ricochets.

We were competitors then.
By dawn we had exhausted small talk,
wrung the final drops of bombast
from the small change of our rackets:
over embers we raked conversation
like tired croupiers.

We rustled, hustled. The top whack
was to claim the most desperate deals,
pretending a dearth of custom. We
clapped each other on crooked backs,
throating oaths, departing.

This lasted for five long years,
a ritual of camaraderie, tempered
always by threats of discovery,
and the certain knowledge we'd sell
our friendships for dollar bribes.

One night, on a crazy impulse,
you drew me in confidence to you
and offered your moonshine to my lips.
It sluiced through my wakened veins:
I pressed the neck of my own bottle
helplessly to your teeth. We sank
our fortunes in disbelief.

Staggered, we fell dead drunk
to the floor of the stolen outhouse,
wrestling, brawling the implications,
the fresh taste of our strange whisky
burning palates, heads; our lungs
fumbled in shock of it.


Our customers notice no difference;
the indians reel in, skulking their
warm dimes for the sure promise
of our separate brands of oblivion.
Prospectors stumble backwards, downing
our individual klondike.

But the still is singular. We drink
the dreaming clean away with slow slugs
from one jug of redeye. We pass
wild into candid abandon, sharing
bootleggers' secrets. This whisky
is the real medicine, combustible,
puts fire into clinker of belly:

in a slow sun-up, we sprawl
light-headed in long throes of laughter,
generous, rolling the black hills, our
mouths spilling their forbidden liquor.

From the book Love Poems