In Their Own Words

sam sax on “Relapse”

sam sax author photo


shiver thin the winter's thievery. give that feeling a name. pray at it.

on the porch you can just make out the corpses of trees waving
their dark fingers as you turn the flame up to make smoke rise
unmetered from the glass.

old ritual you've returned to now you're deconstituted. desperate
little diagram trying to make sense of a man's absence & the hormones
quarreling in the skull.

now there's just a pit in the midst of you & the only thing you can
think to fill it with is dogs but of course you haven't got any left

instead make yourself a blazon scatter of limb & image
& isn't this what you're scared of most to be seen in pieces
to matter then martyr then disappear completely.

& aren't you too old to have a drug problem anyway & aren't
those dogs too pretty & leashed to be stray

the painkillers you brought from california are barking in the cabinet
they sound good together & not so faint as they once did when
all your clothing was folded & sorted by color & maybe this man
really did break your heart & you didn't just use the pit he left
as an onramp back toward oblivion.

driving home you feel the liquor guide your hands through the blood
greedy streets. you feel the pressure in your feet make the car leap
forward as if you owned something. invite any man over
no matter how much he's had to drink

                                                             you have a pretty mouth & hair
                                                                      & eyes & mouth & mouth

whatever happens next
you deserve it

From Madness (Penguin Books, 2017). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

On "Relapse"

I was sober for three years between my overdose in The Bay Area and having my heart obliterated by an awful relationship in Texas. I found out the person I'd been seeing for half a year had another boyfriend… whom he lived with… & I started drinking. This poem grapples with some of the wreckage that followed, tries to order it—how I became dangerous by making my body do dangerous things.

I never cared much for programs. Living in the identity of a sober person comes with its fare share of rhetoric & language that you must negotiate, decide to opt into or out of. What's the difference between having addiction issues, and being an addict? What happens when you take the language of addiction into your body and use it to define yourself & later when I started drinking again, how was I to re-negotiate my identity as a sober person?

The term relapse is what I'm told I did. It fit like an itchy coat, but it fit. The term blazon fit better. Blazon is french for "coat-of-arms" and is also a poetry that consists of taxonomical lists of the body, most often the body of the beloved, oft a woman's body (e.g. my lover's forehead is a piece of stained glass, my lover's eyes are two shallow pools of gas). To become a blazon is to become scattered, to become fragments, is to be named by another person, & also to experience that same internal experience of disarticulation.

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