Real Drinkers

There was party drinking, holiday drinking,
marriage drinking, funeral drinking,
card-playing drinking, been working too hard drinking,
bad weather ruining the crops drinking, and
let’s have a drink drinking.

Voices and laughter filled the house as the bottles drained,
a small Manhattan skyline on the counter,
Dad at the bar, or me as a teen, having mastered
the mixology portion of his universe.
The shot glass rested unused on the shelf.
Real drinkers, Dad said,
never added pop or anything sweet.

We were not alcoholics.  We were Catholics.
We had a religion to uphold in the face of
Bible Christians and Mormons sobering the West.
Dad’s gospel:  Never take yourself too seriously.

Straight, it burned like a foretaste of hell.
On the rocks, it jingled.  Each sip
poured amber waves of grain alcohol over the brain
until it floated, edges melting.  Whiskey,
the great smoother-overer and sociablizer
produced states called snockered and soused,
one S-sound after another sliding toward
sex and sleep.  Maybe sin or cirrhosis.
But never stumbling or shitfaced.
Real drinkers held their liquor.

The real drinker’s etiquette:
Offer refills quickly. Nudge, but never insist.
Look the other in the eye when you toast,
let life distill to two people meeting,
poised on the rim of oblivion.

With a flat clink of the glass,
the straight shot of his eyes meeting yours,
my father would say
Here’s looking at ya.

                        --Margie, Fall 2009