Charlie Smith

I left a message for my publisher to send copies of the contracts
to my new agent,
and then I read a passage about how no one talks
about heroin anymore, and got nicked by it;
it was early yet, I hadn’t used heroin for years,
I was one of the few rural junkies in the nation,
one of the few who tended cattle, there I was
nodding on a rock as the cows, stiff with unendurable shyness,
stumbled up to me. My wife and I would eat mashed potatoes
from the pot and lie out on the porch smoking reefer
until it got too dark to see. I bought the drugs
from my friend at the railroad repair depot
just off the main line from Norfolk, Indochinese material,
Long Bin—to Guam—to Fort Ord—to VA—then by Mr. Fixit train to me,
traveling in a nylon medic’s bag. I never trusted
the supply—like love—it could dwindle,
or simply give way,
the flexed utensil, like one of those measuring sticks
you unfold and lay across a map; anybody could step on it.
I loved the graciousness of heroin, the way everything externalized
and obvious in the daylight opened its shirt and revealed its soft pale breasts.
The world slept curled in its own foolhardiness.
And my wife came carefully over the blankets to me and seemed
not to mind who I was. We inserted words
into spaces in the rain. For years I remembered the words
and whispered them to myself, half thinking I might
conjure her back into the world. They never caught us.
We missed them on the way to Mexico, to Puebla,
where eventually the line gave out. We slept on a bench outside a church.
It was two days before she died without regaining consciousness,
as I say in the memoir they are paying me so handsomely for.

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