SHIP IN A BOTTLE
At the bottom of the bathtub is just
a silver ring, four claws on tile, & if
the stopper seems to jimmy on its own,
it’s only vaguely related to that poor
sot on Islay working the genealogy
like a pump. When I drink in the shade
of my father, I drink to forget I’m small,
never mind the voices in my veins, the glass
ship’s silhouette sinking on the wall.
If I could take my uncle D. by the hand
back to the tub where he mixed meth,
slip into those chemical waters, part
the ceramic like a certain & emerge in
the bombed flat where my grandfather
downed gin in waves of rationed light,
I’d hold a candle to the bottle & project
a ship. I’d sail the shadow to America
& walk the Carolinas past Tonawanda,
cross the falls to the stone church in Eton,
send the lilies into the earth like miners to
recover the names they hid, then replaced.
I’d call from the bars, the rivers, the spirit
bearing flask-concealers & stow them back
in the hold of the ship that bore them here
in the first place. Where would I take them.
On Islay there is a small stone farmhouse.
Together we could search the unmystic fog
swilling around the distilleries, find that first
Campbell, wrest the bottle from his hands
& introduce him, name-by-name, to every fault
he sailed across the ocean. But what could we
whisper about love to replace the liquor that
we, to ourselves haven’t already whispered.
Against the garden wall
wind flattens the ivy trellis,
rattling outside the window
like bone exposed from skin.
But my pillows are here and snug
and I won’t let it in.
On the rooftop, shingles
are lifting where they sit
smacking like a hundred lips
vying for a breath.
But my tea is nearly ready,
and I won’t let them in.
Under the escape ladder,
gusts are firing the lids—
bangs come through the curtains
like bullets trapped in tin.
But my heart is beating even,
and I won’t let them in.
This love’s been a long time
dying—I haven’t said a word.
The memories that held us,
divide like water by fin,
and what I held outside
comes, it comes right in.
An act of dislocation, those first stricken weeks.
Some I remember. The Irish man, Tom, pistoning
the thick muscle of his arms in the air after one
old friend or another mocked his recovery, his exile
from the bars, his little room in his mother’s house.
Weeks are a wash of introductions: drugs of choice,
dates since the last use. This is a room of the earliest
recovery, days so young not even the traitorous
dreams have come for you yet, when the craving
mind concocts its own visions of using & you wake
in sheets of sweat, gums numb, teeth set. Deprived
of ecstasy, a crushed filament, the air there is sore,
the time of day aches as light shuddering in
the trees comes concussed & I don’t remember
many of them there with me, a few stories, the sense
everywhere of families pressing, praying. & I’m sure
they don’t remember me. Just another set of hands,
shifting feet, a twitch of involuntary muscle. &
when a newcomer breaks the rule of description
speaks the drug too plainly, too vividly, the phrases
shine like a flashlight at a tree line, a moment all your
eyes flare: wolf: there you are, we think, there you are.
A finalist for the 2013 Malahat Long Poem Prize, Chad Campbell’s poetry has appeared in Maisonneuve and Arc, among other magazines. His first collection, Laws & Locks, is forthcoming with Signal Editions in 2015. Originally from Toronto, he is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives and teaches in Iowa.