For Gerald

I was 12 when my uncle first introduced me to cognac

        a glass poured with enough ice cubes

                to make it look like two fingers

my palate, at that age, already advanced

        told me it tasted of burn, fire, burning fire

                and a hint of honey

this is the same uncle who introduced me

        to the Alabama Theatre Book Stop, the first hit, the gateway

                to my bookstore addiction (the start of shelves & stacks & piles)

and that store is long gone, having succumbed

        to the ravages of the Big C (no, not that one,

                the other one, Capitalism)

but back to cognac (always the impetus for digression)

        in that cozy little living room in that tiny cottage

                just south of downtown

                        I took the first sips of becoming an adult

(not counting grandpas’ beer sips or mom’s margarita sips, too soft

        and too little for initiation)

and my uncle waxed on about brandy,

        cigars (no we didn’t smoke) and after dinner


and initiated I was

        to late night post-rehearsal palaver

                on all things poetry & people & cinema

                        & plays & women & whatever else idly entered

                                young drunk minds

        to first attempts at steak au poivre

                (to impress a young female friend of course)

                        to my beginning steps to understand spirit (in all ways)

and that uncle has, too, been gone some time

        the irresistibility of the big A cowered to the ravages

                of the big C (yeah, that one)

and here I am at, well, a lot older

still going to bookstores

        (I’ve got the shelves & boxes & stacks

                & piles to prove it)

and still drinking cognac but this time

        I have developed the palate

                the notes of nutmeg reminding me of

                        my nana’s carrot cake

and the almond, of those fundraising candy bars

        with the cloying milk chocolate (so unlike the dark

                variety I adore now)

and the vanilla, fond memories of my first

        attempts at spicing up coffee after dinner

                (for friends or a girlfriend I can’t recall which)

and lychee the echo of that bottle of Soho

        consumed in Paris in that apartment near

                Marcadet-Poissonniers in the 18th

the apricot reminding me of

        the tagine at that little Moroccan place in Avignon

 and preserves, confiture slathered on croissants

        (just on top of some butter, overkill to be sure, as the French would never)

there is still the heat

        that kept me warm (too warm) after

                girlfriends & wives & uncles &

                grandmothers & grandfathers left too soon

there is still the little burn in throat

        as if clearing it for utterance or prayer

                or the poem or interruption

I was 12 when my uncle first introduced me to cognac

        and I don’t remember

                        if I ever told him thank you.




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