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Gin Analysis

Author: poem of Philip Levine Type: poem Views: 8

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The first time I drank gin

I thought it must be hair tonic.

My brother swiped the bottle

from a guy whose father owned

a drug store that sold booze

in those ancient, honorable days

when we acknowledged the stuff

was a drug. Three of us passed

the bottle around, each tasting

with disbelief. People paid

for this? People had to have

it, the way we had to have

the women we never got near.

(Actually they were girls, but

never mind, the important fact

was their impenetrability. )

Leo, the third foolish partner,

suggested my brother should have

swiped Canadian whiskey or brandy,

but Eddie defended his choice

on the grounds of the expressions

"gin house" and "gin lane," both

of which indicated the preeminence

of gin in the world of drinking,

a world we were entering without

understanding how difficult

exit might be. Maybe the bliss

that came with drinking came

only after a certain period

of apprenticeship. Eddie likened

it to the holy man's self-flagellation

to experience the fullness of faith.

(He was very well read for a kid

of fourteen in the public schools. )

So we dug in and passed the bottle

around a second time and then a third,

in the silence each of us expecting

some transformation. "You get used

to it," Leo said. "You don't

like it but you get used to it."

I know now that brain cells

were dying for no earthly purpose,

that three boys were becoming

increasingly despiritualized

even as they took into themselves

these spirits, but I thought then

I was at last sharing the world

with the movie stars, that before

long I would be shaving because

I needed to, that hair would

sprout across the flat prairie

of my chest and plunge even

to my groin, that first girls

and then women would be drawn

to my qualities. Amazingly, later

some of this took place, but

first the bottle had to be

emptied, and then the three boys

had to empty themselves of all

they had so painfully taken in

and by means even more painful

as they bowed by turns over

the eye of the toilet bowl

to discharge their shame. Ahead

lay cigarettes, the futility

of guaranteed programs of

exercise, the elaborate lies

of conquest no one believed,

forms of sexual torture and

rejection undreamed of. Ahead

lay our fifteenth birthdays,

acne, deodorants, crabs, salves,

butch haircuts, draft registration,

the military and political victories

of Dwight Eisenhower, who brought us

Richard Nixon with wife and dog.

Any wonder we tried gin.


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