By John Popielaski


To get enough to eat was regarded as an
achievement. To get drunk was a victory.
–Brendan Behan (1923-1964)


A freight train, arrogant in its assertion

of a certain right of way, derailed

one afternoon in Pennsylvania, woods

on either side betraying neither

sympathy nor satisfaction, saying nothing

of the pride that hoots before the fall.

The fermentation of the spilled corn started,

and within a month or two, had you approached,

you would have thought that someone hankering

for homemade whiskey had envisioned

independence out here and declared

to no one, “I will build a still,” and done so.

That reek, the sour turning of a staple crop

to booze, drew black bears trackside

where they reveled in the alteration

of the mind that bound them normally

to such pedestrian pursuits as haunting

campgrounds when the berry picking wasn’t good,

reminding me of what the Irish

writer Brendan Behan liked to say

about intoxication being so much more

like lifeblood than nutrition.


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