Did you ever try to think of the drinks you drank as like words? What, for example, would a shot of whisky be in words? Perhaps a poem. A poem that is sort of the same, sort of different every time.
One time it's an adrenaline rush and the mug, still moist, from your friend's lips; virginity; vaguely, the scent of your friend's mum's perfume from a wardrobe, the feeling that warmth is everywhere, right down to your fingertips.
Another time it starts with the warmth that is even in your fingertips, it dances across an illuminated bridge in the centre of town, laughing hysterically, and turns into nausea as the interlocking flowers in your dad's carpet become dizzy and blossom suddenly into a shiny puddle of vomit.
It seems to become a tedious poem for a while; when you hear it your head begins to ache in sympathy with your past self. At a pub people drink to the litany of, well, what else is there to do? I'm so bored I feel ill, let's make ourselves feel better by making ourselves ill. Where haven't we been sick yet? Why aren't we sick of being sick yet?
Then a transformation. You visit Italy for the first time, and you're old enough to be legally young enough not to know better. You want to drink Italy from the first moment you see it.
The first poem is alchemical. A bright Campari racing red. Poisonous pomegranate purple bubbling in your prosecco. Fruits pissedly pickled in two euro cocktails, you pass out still swaying your hips with your friends' hips, your lips brushing the ear of a girl with hair as bright as the bitters... Warm somnambulism. A throat as dry as wood.
The second poem is wine, it is musty, it makes a bridge between the roof of your mouth and your nose that you did not know existed. It is fruit and the death of fruit, from the picture of the vineyard you glimpse at the ends of narrow streets and upon farmsteads to the crude design of a vine printed on the front of the one euro carton which you pass around your friend's apartment.
Your jubilation begins to spin a bit too fast, like a record at the wrong speed: the pitch is too high, voices start to become confused. You have a vision, again, of your dad's flower-pattern carpet, vine-like tendrils rising up out of it to pull you earthwards, spinning, spinning. You wake up wet with the smell of your own sick. Someone is trying to force the bathroom door, and the blue lights in the crack indicate that the police have been called.
The poems have started to become muddled. You want to sit there and appreciate the beauty of the poem. It should be ideal:
You walk into a grand hotel. A butler in black removes your coat from your back and you thank him, telling him that he can leave the girl on your arm. He laughs politely as you proceed him into an emerald ballroom, where a jazz quartet is just striking up. As you take your seat, a few canapes appear as if by magic on a table that floats before you; the girl puts her hand upon your lap, and the butler returns with a silver tray. A black russian. One sip. Vodka. Coffee! Coffee! Vodka. And that is it. Poem and drink unified in a single moment.
But this ideal can no longer be realised. Could it ever have been? You take your confusion back home with you and you share it with your friends. You are not particularly bothered what you drink most of the time, as long as you are drinking.
Sometimes, you need to create a special moment. You go to the good whisky shop, the one in the posh neighbourhood, and you walk in as if wearing a mask. I come here all the time, the mask says. I choose a choice bottle of the finest single malt to take home and enjoy moderately with a chosen friend. We talk about its aroma, and compare it to beeswax and old leather and apricots and stuff.
And you are full of this intention, oh yes, full of it. You intend to take the bottle to your father. You will each sit and sip one glass, and that will be the poem of this sixteen year old malt whisky. The poem of you and your father. But on the train there your friend texts you and tells you about the Party. Tossing up between father and Party can only have one result, of course. A poem or an orgy of sound and vision, a modest ode or the possibility of an epic?
The single malt is opened, for a little taster. With a friend who knows his whisky. Oh, I know my whisky, he says to you. Yes, I know my whisky well. Really?, you say, three hours later, tilting the empty bottle so it drips onto the carpet. You know, you say, proud that you can still stand up straight and not slur much, I think perhaps I know my whisky even better.
And, once again, like the Terminator, dad's carpet. The putrid blossoming of flowers. Sick and forgetfulness.
Now the dark times come. There is nothing beautiful about it. You sense that you are like a dragon in your cave during the dark times. But only the dragon does see any mystique in itself. It has been too long in the dark: its scales are beginning to fall, its eyes are bloodshot, its belly is distended and an ill shade of off-white. It wriggles on its patch of gold, the gold that is killing it, killing it hard.
There is nothing beautiful about drinking all day, every day, about the panic you feel as you grab the last of the cheap cider and count pennies to the server who, you tell yourself, knows all of your secrets, because you are clutching all of your secrets in your hands and they are called Value Cider.
But there is something pathetic about it, about the disgust that you cause everyone, most of all yourself. There is something touching about the dishevelled, smelly, ugly potato peeling of a person that you have become. Because, when it comes down to it, every can, every sip, every sick noise your stomach makes, every headache that fights its way through your bloodshot eyes like a wasp with its own headache, every heart tremor you are convinced is the end of you, you do it all for the poetry.
You feel, in spite of your experience, that somehow, one of the drinks you have one of these days will be a poem again. That the cheap vodka you swig while crying and watching couples pass by your window will somehow be the window onto a new world, that the next drink will be a poem again. What scares you most is not the disease itself, it's the knowledge that even if your skin was yellow and your organs had begun to fail, there would still be a part of you believing that, somewhere at the bottom of the glass, there might one day still be a poem for you.
And the dark times will last too long, and your desperate hunt for poetry will become ever more fruitless. At your worst, you will be utterly without words, without the desire any more to do anything, to voice anything. You will be almost, almost but not quite, gone.
Finally something will rise up in you, out of the ashes, new and beautiful, because out of nothing there must, finally, come something. It is a poem. The first poem of your new life. It is so simple, and its music is like the egg of an insect, it has no aroma at all, no colour, no memories.
I am a poet, it says. I am a poet, and I am done drinking.