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Sandra McPherson: Drunkard’s Path

The blood-drops kept a wild berry hue

long in the wet air. These beads

were not a criminal’s until he drank his way

into our temperate women’s till. Or his fist did.

“How did you hurt your hand?” the officer asked.

Gin blamed a pane.  He’d passed his ragged grab

through our dormer on the night.

Below, the flagstones and the money bled.

We called it a woman’s pattern, Drunkard’s Path.


He spat an obscenity at the EMT.

During their struggle, I didn’t shake at all.

Someone had to wait there.

So I slouched reading a Chinese dictionary

in the library after police took him

away.  Page on page labored to translate

mankind.  “Unreasonable” was one slant; “sympathy”

another.  “In a crisis a man becomes wise.”  But also,

The man and his lute are both dead.”


The heavy reference had meant to edify, the lute

is a symbol for a friend, all of whose parts

may be seized at once and strung onto a gurney.

From the table I selected a Big Book:

“The more hopeless he feels, the better.”

Bill W. knew a man who grew to embrace his life — 

“Finally, out of his hope, their burst conviction.”


I have seen that bursting too — an organic form,

the prickly blood, spiked spheres, winter pods afloat in rain,

the pool of friends in a ring at meetings.

“How did you hurt your wrist?”  The cop suspecting me

of more than carpal nerves said late another battered

day closing down.  I mimed fending off a bag of angry

candy and a rubber crowbar from a paramour.

“Don’t hit yourself,” he said. “OK, by writing,”

I confessed.  I hoped he was afraid: “By writing lies.”

Published in Certain Uncollected Poems by Sandra McPherson. Ostrakon Press, 2012.

‘Drunkard’s Path’ is the name of a traditional American curved quilting pattern. As with most crafts practiced by women, the quilter’s name is usually unknown.

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