By Sean Thomas Dougherty

Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 15 books including The Second O of Sorrow and All You Ask for is Longing: Poems 1994-2014 both published by BOA Editions. His awards include a Fulbright lectureship to the Balkans and two PA Council for the Arts Fellowships. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, North American Review, and The New York Times. He lives in Erie, Pennsylvania with the poet Lisa Akus and their two daughters.

“The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.”
Theodore Roethke

Before I started drinking whiskey it all felt like practice—like playing the guitar for years and then somebody puts on Jimmy Hendrix, or Howling Wolf. I spent all my wayward years drinking vodka, rum, or beer. When I was a teenager out in the back woods at the edge of the small city of Manchester, New Hampshire, we’d get a case of Labatt’s Blue, the preferred working-class beer, and drive out to the quarry or the Merrimack river. We sat all night in the shadow of the red brick textile mills, now closed, toasting with the ghosts of child laborers. We scored the beer from Market Street corner store where the old man never I.D’d nobody. What did he care? Old man Carey was like a hundred years old. He took our crumpled dollars and out we went. What did the police care either? Better to have us drunk on some back lot or by the river than robbing liquor stores. Or sitting in a dug out downing Pounders, the other choice of New England teens back then in the 1980s, when all the factories we’re closing. Tim Quinn and I would drive out to the edge of town and drink. Or down by the river. How many nights did we drink by the river, in the darkness of the closed down factory, by the brick wall of that dirty town.

Dirty Old Town by the Pogues on the radio. And the whiskey toothless breath of Shane McGowan singing where he met his love


He never touched a drop of whiskey until he was well into adulthood. She drank it down until her eyes were half lidded. The whiskey of her man’s hands. What is a father but the whiskey on his breathe as he whirled you off to bed.

Whiskey lullabies.

She was bad as bourbon, and smooth as whiskey.

Bourbon bad news written on the whiskey rain.


In fact, an Egyptian woman who lived in the 2nd or 3rd century, Maria Hebrea, is credited with devising an early version of a still, a piece of machinery that likely paved the way for the development of modern-day stills used to produce distilled spirits.



Now that I have written many words, 
and let out so many loves, for so many,
and been altogether what I always was—
a woman of excess, of zeal and greed, 

Ann Sexton



There is a long something associated with Bad Ass and whiskey: a cultural connotation of danger, a cutting, an anger, an outlaw, a warning shot fired with each downed shot. Every gun fighter and cowboy drinks whiskey. They don’t walk into a bar and order Chablis.   Blood more whiskey than blood. Perhaps because it is an alcohol that prides itself on the burn. Particularly Bourbon. It is not effete. Ordering a round you expect it to be the start of something dumb or dangerous, like in David Bottom’s poem “Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump”:

Loaded on beer and whiskey, we ride
to the dump in carloads
to turn our headlights across the wasted field,
freeze the startled eyes of rats against mounds of rubbish.

And though whiskey can cost one a week’s pay, it is often not too expensive, can be found in any working-class bar. It is both made for kings—Crown Royal! And made by Presidents. George Washington was a distiller of whiskey. A fine gentlemen’s drink, and the drink of ditch diggers. Like most hard alcohols it is tinged with notions of masculinity. But I knew women who drank whiskey. And as Megan O’Dae has written, “Whiskeys age as women do, into something truly beautiful.” In Manchester, New Hampshire at the west side social clubs all the tough beautiful old women, moving back in forth fluently between English and Canuck, who were once workers in the shoe mills and textile mills, drank Canadian Clubs and Cokes like water. They drank and talked and sang, and flirted with the younger men. How many grandmothers, drunk and laughing did I waltz a slow pirouette to the jukebox, before kissing a cheek and heading back to the bar for another round?

A woman who drinks whiskey is seen as a tough girl, a kick ass girl, red neck, hillbilly, or ghettofine rough. One who can hang with the boys, whether that means to watch a hockey game or after a Board meeting. How many pool playing women I’ve known, kicking back Jim Beam on ice, or Seagram’s and Coke. Then running the table.

Or high-class. Hip hop and pop. Popular females stars are pushing a 21st century resurgence in drinking whiskey. A 2014 segment on National Public radio tells us:

Lady Gaga, according to the Irish Mirror, has described Jameson whiskey as a love interest. Rihanna sings about the spirit. Actress Christina Hendricks is featured in an ad for Johnnie Walker Black Label…Whether neat or on ice. Or tragic. Stiletto sharp: “The history of whiskey — with its connections to both power and temptation — seems to have whetted our appetite for it, too. Whiskey has always been a part of the wheeling and dealing of power brokers.”

Whether that power is in a board room, in popular culture or on the streets.

In Gwendolyn Brooks phenomenal poem of gangs “The Blackstone Rangers” she narrates the lives of gang members and there in the middle of this long poem is this small portrait, beyond haiku brief in its two enjambed lines:

Mary is

a rose in a whiskey glass.

How better to capture someone Brooks is making mythic by combining images of petal soft and burn. Only whiskey could create that contrast, and one perhaps between love and losing as later on in the poem Brooks narrates “love’s departure.”


Whiskey-light running from the broken faucet of the moon. Along the long muddy river. In the bars of two fisted men. Their eyes leaking the light of whiskey and torn lottery tickets.


If Whiskey is my witness, how many nightshifts we worked to walk out into the dawn light, with nowhere to go where whiskey waited.


Worked 40 years at what factory? Factory of watches, factory of boots and broken laces. Shoe Factory gaze working the pedal. Factory of glass. The roaring furnace that could melt diamonds.   The glass he made at the factory gleamed. So after work he told the bartender to pour the whiskey on top of two cubes of ice, and drank it down like dark diamonds.


Caught out in the whiskey rain.


The borderless sleep of bourbon.


A whiskey sort of Saturday soaked.


Not the ruin of whiskey, but the luck and rage of having to live

with or without it.



When I was in my late 20s I left my job at a newspaper plant in Manchester to live with the woman who would become my ex-wife, who was in graduate school in Syracuse. We rented a flat a few blocks from this old railroad car that had been turned into a Jazz Club. Our flat was on the first floor of a beat down tenement where we were robbed twice and where the sad cracked out girls who walked the city park would ask me for money so they could “buy diapers for my baby, please for my baby.” I’d hand them a couple dollars and try not to notice the sad quiver of their trembling hands.

I trudged up and down Lodi Street. I worked temp for many months, laying sod, running boards in a sawdust factory, before I found a steady job working the nightshift as a security guard at a United Parcel Service plant. Part of my job was to check the ID’s of the workers who arrived to load trucks. But mostly I was outside where I manned the entrance booth to the plant. My job was to cut the bolts on tractor trailers as they arrived, so when they got to the dock they could be opened fast and checked against the manifest. We’d be out there in the snow, a handful of guards, the tractor trailers lined up and rumbling, a long row of cargo. It was a terrible job. We froze our asses off. Our shift ended just after the bars were closed. We’d all head over to Tom’s house, or Danny or whoever had a bottle waiting. I drank my alcohol straight, then drove slowly home to that apartment where love did not live.

Sometimes I’d scrawl a few words that wanted to become something more on a piece of paper. I sat on the toilet as the water dripped from the broken pipe our fuck of a landlord never fixed. Our neighbors might be fighting, that poor white family with the small boy. I’d hear that man, drunk out of his mind on the Four Roses whiskey bottles I’d find in the trash. Once I couldn’t take it. After one bad night when I heard him yell at his boy and hit him and heard the screams, I caught my neighbor leaving for his job doing whatever shit this world gave him, and I pinned him against the wall of the shared garage and took the box cutter out I carried then for work, then I stuck it in his face and said the next time I heard him hit that boy, I’ll cut your throat and dump you in the quarry.   Then I stuck the box cutter in anyways, just enough into his cheek to make him bleed. He made a little sound, a little oh. I shoved him into his rusted Pontiac and watched him pull away.

They moved out soon after that and the silence haunted me for months.


On my nights off from loading trucks I would go to these readings the graduate school sponsored. I had met the poet Christopher Kennedy, whose work I had read in journals, and he invited me. They had them at the jazz bar.   I would sit and listen to the students read. I remember seeing a beautiful dark-haired woman, who had just taken a teaching job there, got up and read her poem “Sad Rites” about having an abortion because “she has a tendency to take herself apart.” And afterwards, “And then I find a bar/a man who’ll stack my empties.”

That woman was a young Mary Karr.

This bar was located in an old box car along the tracks on old Route 5 that ran along the map of the Erie Canal, long paved over for cars and trucks. The building looked like any of the boxcar diners you might find across upstate New York, with a small wooden addition built on to the back. Inside it was dark and clean. You walked through the glass doors to find to your left a short red countered bar top that ended at a stage big enough for a quartet. A few rows of small candle-lit round top tables cwere filled with young faces: students from the writing program, some people from the community. But overall these readings were a closed affair. One night the great poet Hayden Curruth showed up. He did not read but he sat and told us stories and I asked him about Ray Carver who had just died. Carruth has just published his first book in years, one that would turn out to be his last. I love the title poem that begins,

Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren’t we fine tonight? 

We talked about Wendell Berry and James Wright. We talked about jazz. Or should I say he talked to his friends and I listened. I said so little. I too often said so much and somehow knew here to shut up. He drank his whiskey straight. By that time, I was told, he wasn’t supposed to drink but I suspect you get old enough you stop caring what the doctors say. The more he drank the louder he got.

I saw Curruth again, a few months later, this time at a jazz show at the same club. When legendary James Moody, a superb saxophone and flutist came to perform. Carruth was sitting with some older men I did not know at the bar. One black, one white. He was obviously drunk and holding court. Moody was just starting his set when I walked in and took a seat by myself at a back table. I ordered a double bourbon and kicked back. Moody began with his signature “In the Mood,” blowing softly into his flute, moving the expected arpeggios. But there was nothing emotional to him or the band, he was obviously half-stepping it, perhaps not wanting or willing to go anywhere for this small gig in a small club in a small city. He was saving his more ambitious chords for Chicago’s Green Mill, where he was headed next.

I was bored and gazed around the room and that was when Carruth stood up, barely, teetering on whiskey legs and screamed in his deep and slurry resonant voice, “You think we’ve come here for this half-assed shit. You think we don’t know this is half-assed shit!” And everybody turned and the owner, a tall black man dressed impeccably in a silver vest, rushed over and with the old gents who accompanied Carruth, got him to quiet down. Moody, who tried to shrug it off, couldn’t shrug off the crowd’s restless chatter, and apologized “for the disturbance,” even though perhaps he was apologizing as much for his “half-assed” performance.

Moody then started to play one of the greatest renditions of “Rainy Days” I’d ever heard, turning his flute into some kind of willow, some light-leavened-reed, as the rain came and love came down low, and wafted through the room to arrive as soon as it was leaving.   There was something so elegiac to the performance. I turned to look at Carruth in the smoky light, his eyes half-lidded, and Moody turning the room into some sort of goodbye letter to the 20th Century: for here was one of her best musicians and poets late in life, late in the millennium. And I thought of my father who had taught me to hear jazz, as one hears the breath of one’s own skin. Moody’s flute blew a breath of notes across my skin as Carruth finally closed his eyes.

One fist around his amber glass of melted ice.


The great early 20th century African-American poet Sterling Brown grew up on Whiskey Bottom road.


His father buried with a bottle of good bourbon.


His mother only drank good bourbon.


He was born in the county that bourbon was born.


I don’t remember the first time I tasted whiskey. I was trying to remember. I don’t even remember the first time I drank. Or what it was? Probably something like Mad Dog 20/20, some cheap and utterly irreprehensible petroleum wine?   So much we lose along the road of aging, perhaps our memories melt like ice into the glass of light, shadows along the bathroom stall?

The poet Matthew Rohrer wrote in the Wall Street Journal of his first whiskey as an exchange student to Ireland, when “I ordered a pint of Guinness and a glass of Paddy. And because I had never had whiskey before, it burned through my throat and down into my gullet like a flaming fist.”


To wear the golden thread he wove of whiskey when he poured.

We drink the whiskey down, until the amnesia fills our heads.

And then they look up and we have left. This aperitif before the flight.

You and I are paper airplanes. We swoop and then we dive.

This fear we have of falling, or is it every failure? What hurts us most

We hide, we swallow it down hard just to feel the burn.


Some of us drink to remember, most of us drink to forget. The lucky ones of us drink to sing.


An amber aria.


Drunk on wind chimes. Drunk on night shifts and broken glasses. Drunk on dirty rivers, dirty towns, empty pill bottles left on bed stands in a small tenement apartment above the bus station in downtown Manchester. Kelly punched time out from her shift as a hostess at the bar on Elm. Kelly with her cropped black hair. Kelly we named Crazy Kelly when she was sixteen, who would do anything on a dare, who would drive with George and Steve and me out to the trestle to drink. We tossed our bottles a hundred feet down to the river, just to hear the shatter. Kelly liked to drink Southern Comfort or Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. She’d take off her shirt and dance along the trestle. How many times she wrapped her name around my neck and kissed? But no one could contain her, she would take you for a few days and then grow bored. That was her way. We didn’t care. We watched her back and she ran as she ran. But a few years after high school Kelly really developed schizophrenia. I was working then at the newspaper plant and taking classes. George and Steve were gone off to war. I talked to Kelly as she tried to make sense of her medication. Then the hospitals, the long calls late at night. Then she was gone for a while. I keep going to school. Steve and George disappeared after the war was over. Garry was dead. Tim moved to New York. Manchester was somewhere near to nowhere so you got out if you could. And then Kelly was out of Concord State. One night I walked in to a bar-restaurant off the main drag and there she was— the smiling hostess, standing in her black pants and white and black ruffled shirt at the wood podium.

A few weeks after her release, I walked her home to her small apartment above the bus station, a seven-story brick building that was a kind of half-way house.   We walked slow, holding hands, not saying much. Kelly had seemed so normal at the bar. But when she opened the door to her apartment and turned on the one lamp I saw there were bags of garbage everywhere. Fast food bags, unwashed plates. Take out containers covered every flat surface. She asked if I wanted a drink and I said yes, pour me one but let me pick up for you. She said why what’s wrong. I wanted to take out the trash. I wanted to do the dishes. I wanted to take care of her, but I knew suddenly if I did that she would know something was wrong and where that would lead I did not know. This was a girl who I had twice visited in the hospital after she cut her wrists. The long way, long and deep. The kind of cut that says you mean it. She had made it out of Concord. She was taking her meds. Perhaps that was enough? She took down the bottle of Jack Daniels and poured it into two red plastic cups. I drank my first sip long and deep. We sat there in her apartment drinking. We weren’t drinking whiskey. We were drinking down the night. We were drinking this town of red brick mills, of driving up and down the boulevard toward nowhere, of long shifts at factories and bars, we were drinking the clouds that swirl in the bartender’s cloth as he wipes up at close. We were drinking our dead. We were drinking wind mixed with rain water. We were eating garbage. We were trying to find a few words to say we live. We want to live.   She has been released from the mental hospital months before. Kelly who we always knew was a little crazy. She would drink whiskey like water. She would drink the rain. She would drink so much she became a river, a river she drowned herself in. To be a river of one. One whiskey river.   And what is there to wonder, we do this to ourselves too. After our shift ends we walk up a flight of stairs to our beat down flat. We drink until the noise ends. We drink to end the noise.


And sometimes we drink neither to die, or to live, but a little bit of both.



My father was not a bourbon drinker. He drank rum and cokes. He’d sat nursing his drink every evening after 12 hour days of driving, selling things. He drove miles selling things. He mostly worked his life selling stuff for restaurants, cleaners they use in the kitchens. He could talk to cooks, waiters, managers, owners. He could code shift.  He kept his hair close cropped to his head those years, not like the giant afro he wore when he was younger. He would come home from work and one of us would cook, he or me or my mother, and afterwards he would sit in his chair and drank till be was half lidded. My father was a good slow drinker. I never learned to drink like him, to let the alcohol nurse me on towards sleep.

I do not grudge my father anything for that. My father talked when he drank. He talked and talked until we stopped listening, and then he was snoring. He didn’t drink at bars. Unlike so many of my friends. My friend Christopher whose father lifted him out of the house his entire childhood, telling his mother, we are going shopping, or we are going to a game, and then drove to his bar and left Chris out in the station wagon to wait while he drank. Once though Chris writes in a poem, his father came back out to put his own coat over Chris to keep him warm. For that Chris writes he can almost forgive him, he can almost forgive him everything.


I lied. I did drink whiskey once before I was an adult. The first time I drank whiskey I was 17 years old. I did not want to tell you. My friend Garry and I stole a quart of Canadian Club whiskey. We stole it from the social club that was on the corner of Canal Street, the one right beside Garry’s and his family’s tenement flat, the club where my friend Steve’s drunken mother Sandy would go with her Saudi boyfriend and they’d drink the place to close. Ahmed owned that bar some said, and he was the entertainment for the crowd with his nonstop jokes and banter and at some point in the evening, Sandy told us, he would balance a glass of Crown Royal on his head and then proceed to spin and dance around the bar, pulling all the women up to dance, spinning them once or twice before letting them go, never spilling a drop.  Then when the song ended, he took it off his head and downed it in one gulp. And the club went bat-shit crazy.

They must have been delivering the liquor at the back when we took the bottle. We actually grabbed a whole box and ran. The box was white with gold letters. It only had one bottle inside. It was not raining that night. It was late spring. It was a Saturday. We took that jug of whiskey and sat there on the step of an abandoned red brick tenement and drank. And as we drank the choice of old French-Canadian women I’d learn years later, their long nights of sipping C&C and Cokes, we drank away the wind and the heat, we drank the river to the bottom. We drank the green steel of the Queen city bridge and the asphalt courts of balling all summer. We drank away our first dead—Slumpie who had hung himself, Stacey who went made on drugs. We drank all those elegies. We drank the red bricks of our tenements and the mythical third rail, we drank the freight cars carrying coal. We drank the girls who drank and went with other boys. We drank to the other boys and their bravado. We drank to Haiti where Garry was from. We drank to his father who raised chickens in the basement, the floor bloody from cutting their necks. We drank to disco and to disco balls. We drank to the disco ball of the late summer moon. Moonlight like knives. Moonlight like straight whiskey drank from the jar. We drank for the newspaper plant, the dust and machines, where we worked part-time, loading trucks. We drank to cutting class. We drank diesel and we drank to the gay boys would walk to the Press Club, the gay club where we could go in and drink and no one asked us for ID. We’d sit at the bar and let the harmless old queens chat us up. What did we care? Who could hurt us? We feared nothing. Rock solid and muscled, we ran the tracks. We were walking blades. We were witnesses to anything that we could be, and all we knew we never could.


We didn’t finish the bottle. We drank until we stumbled and threw the rest across the tracks.


What whiskey is waiting across the rails? The ones we run on, the lights of the oncoming freight train rolling towards us in the distance.



An uninflected whiskey, simple as the wind bowing the wheat to pray.


Bucketfuls of bourbon at the wake.



Instead of roses he brought her a bottle of bourbon.



The mercy of whiskey.


How many of us turn to whiskey to lessen the pain? To neuter the sorrow.




Three bullets in Frank Stanford’s heart. Only one glass of whiskey.



The poet Chris Kennedy turned me on to Frank Stanford when I lived in Syracuse in the 1990s. We had some original copies of his 500 page poem The Battlefield Tells the Moon I Love You in the Syrcacuse University Library. I took that book to bars and drank while reading it, carrying it through the snow and slush. If you go to the library this day you’ll probably find the stains of my whiskey fingerprints on that dog eared old original copy with its thin hard cardboard cover and type that looked like mimeograph from a typewriter. Jimmy Cajoleas writes of reading Frank Stanford and what happens to someone who finds him: “You can always tell when you meet a Frank Stanford fan. Probably because, after about two whiskey drinks, a Frank Stanford fan will talk to you for hours about nothing but Frank Stanford. Where they first heard of him, their favorite apocryphal Stanford anecdotes, speculations on the women and men he might have loved. Most likely they’ll even quote you a poem or two, or seven.” I do not know much about Frank Stanford personally. I know he lived in Arkansas, I know he lived with crib death and the river. I know he was lover to the poet C.D Wright and the painter Ginny Stanford and I know at the age of 29 he shot himself twice in the heart. I know he was a poet of whiskey and death. Our American Lorca.


Some bad whiskey
I drink by myself
just like you
when this wind
blows as it does
in the delta

Over and over again in his poems Stanford shows us there is such a mythos around whiskey, the edge of violence. The hook. The fish, the bait, the gun powder.

His poems “are set in honky-tonks and juke-joints and backwoods pool halls laden with whiskey, gambling, sex, and violence. Stanford was influenced by country and blues music.” Stanford is a poet who fuses European surrealism with the blues—there has been no American poet like him. His poems are cut with moonshine and trimmed with switchblades and razors. He captures that rare thing the south has over the north: the south is haunted ground. It is bloody ground, with its millions murdered from the Middle Passage, the Civil War, the Trail of Tears, the long and lost communities burned to the ground in the Reconstruction: the South with its forests of lynching trees. It’s myths. Its whiskey shacks. Its haints.

The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You is a poem born of whiskey. The critic Ben Erenriech tells us Standford’s old roommate Bill Willett believes Stanford wrote large parts of the manuscript beginning in the fall of 1966, when the two shared a room at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. “He would go three and five days straight,” Willett recalled, “essentially living off coffee and whiskey and writing, writing, writing.”


Whiskey-eyed-woman. Ghost-whiskey. The after drank burning river of a downed whiskey. We toast our dead with how many whiskeys? Turn the glass counter down after and stand to walk out into the dark. What histories await you?



Who is the sound of elegy itself? How many elegies for our dead? How many toasts to make for

our lost friends, to pit the pint of whiskey and pour it to the ground? Not long after we drank that

stolen quart of Canadian Club, my teenage friend Garry died in a drowning accident at the city

quarry. We were all swimming in the summer sun. We were not drinking whiskey. Perhaps if we

were he would still be alive. We would not have gone swimming. We would have been telling

stories on the ledge, or driving out to the trestle. We were drinking Pepsi. The paramedics told us

the carbonation gave him cramps that sent him straight down. I spent the next years getting lost,

and when I became a man lost more years drunk in bars and social clubs. I was looking for his

ghost, or running from it, his green pale face, black dead eyed stare as he lay on the concrete of the



I raise this glass of whiskey to his honor, the way at his wake his old man drank it down and wept.



Because sometimes that bottle of bourbon is full of stars.  It is a light that leaks into the woman or the man who lifts the bottle and pours. There is a ship that sails away from doubt and terror. There is the rising of the glass. And then the easing of the body’s anger, and the burn.


We drink those liquid stars down. The true saints are tainted.   Which is how we know the saints they walk among us.



It is summer still early in the new century. I live in a small working-class town along lake Erie. I work in a pool hall. I drink whiskey and run tables. I write poems, I’ve even had a few published. Maybe you’ve even read a few? I’m walking down the block carrying my pool cue on the way to a league game at the Knights of Saint George Social Club, one of those old-school social clubs founded when the city was segmented ethically. You have your Italian social club, your Polish social club, your Hungarian social club, and this one on 26th street so assimilated no one can remember what it was, so we all claim it—the Irish, Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, the drunk and the sober, but mostly the drunk. It’s your classic neighborhood dive, where the drinks are cheap and the jukebox loud. It is early summer.   Cottonwood floats through the air, covers parked cars, gathers into spider-web like piles in the gutters and corners of alleys. It is nearly twilight. The traffic moves slowly down the four lanes. A few tall white teenage boys across the street in too-long shorts, their underwear showing, are playing some game where they take turns trying to smack each other in the face. They are jabbing and stutter stepping back and forth and they laughing. It is summer and there are a few crows watching guard on the telephone line and the starling’s murmurations making brush strokes across the sky. I am headed to play some pool, I am nearly at the windowless club door nestled speak-easy style, nearly unnoticeable, between two white brick walls—when his sun-burnt white man comes rushing out holding his tiny son in the air. The man is wearing blue jeans and a black tank top and is obviously drunk and the music from the jukebox is following him outside. Allison Krause slurring a Whiskey Lullaby of all songs. Not exactly a song to liven up the joint. And he is waltzing now on the sidewalk and singing, or should I say sputtering it to his son. And I can’t help but think of the Roethke poem, you beat time on my head/ with a palm caked by dirt. I can’t help but worry he is going to drop his child, he is nearly stumbling so, and singing with full throated emotion, such a dark and disturbing song:

We found him with his face down in the pillow
With a note that said I’ll love her till I die
And when we buried him beneath the willow

The angels sang a whiskey lullaby

Lalalalalalala ing as loud as he can. He is a big man, in his thirties, not clean-shaven with that slight dishevelment of someone who hasn’t worked in a while: a bit dirty, a bit stressed, a look common in this town, a look I’ve worn, and just when I am about to test myself and step in to touch his shoulder and maybe get him a bit calm, stumbling as he is with this small boy in blue shorts, who looks meticulously dressed, his eyes wide and now crying, just then this is when this enormous woman comes running out of the Knights of Saint George yelling, what the fuck, what the fuck, really what the fuck? And reaches for the boy, but the man won’t hand the boy to her as he sings She finally drank away his memory, when the woman stops chasing him and he walks to her and he walks singing the song drifting out now like a whisper from the closed doors, and she puts her arms on his broad shoulders, this woman in tight sweatpants and a shirt that says “I Taught Your Boyfriend That Thing You Like,” and she says hand me hand him over, hand me him Luther— the man’s name is Luther! And the man does, and then hugs this woman who I am now sure must be his wife or at least the mother of that boy, as he passes him into her thick arms.

Now there is a whiskey in the night, a waltz of it as they walk and stumble, stumble and walk, laughing down the block away from me, leaving me to stand in the failing light, the sky amber and crimson above all the bars and tenements of this town, and the three of them, these two drunken strangers, carrying their child home, drawn to a perspective I can barely see, as they walk away toward another story, just beginning to be told.


Aubrey, Allison “Not Just a Man’s Drink, Ladies Lead the Whiskey Revolution”

Cajoleas, Jimmy “Magic Against Death: Resurrecting Frank Stanford”

Curruth, Hayden “Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey,” Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey: Poems 1991-1995 (Copper Canyon Press, 1996)

Ehrenreich, Ben “The Long Goodbye,”

Israel, David K “What’s the Difference Between Scotch, Whiskey and Bourbon?”

Megan O’Dea “How I Became a Whiskey Woman”

Osburne, Christopher “What Exactly is the Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey?” Men’s Journal

Paisley, Brad and Allison Krause, “Whiskey Lullaby”

Ann Sexton, “Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women”

Stanford, Frank “Cotton You Lose in the Fields”

“The Cellist’s Lament” by Annie Fletcher

Annie Fletcher received her BFA in drawing from the University of Tennessee. She is an award-winning illustrator and currently works as a freelance artist in Memphis and Knoxville. Some of her accolades include Outstanding Graduate in Studio Art, Drawing, and the Mary Lynn Glustoff Scholarship for watercolor.