First Coca-Cola

By Rodney Jones b. 1950 Rodney Jones
Maybe a sin, indecent for sure—dope,   
The storekeeper called it. Everyone agreed   
That Manuel Lawrence, who drank   
Through the side of his mouth, squinting   
And chortling with pleasure, was hooked;   
Furthermore, Aunt Brenda,
Who was so religious that she made
Her daughters bathe with their panties on,   
Had dubbed it “toy likker, fool thing,”
And so might I be, holding the bottle   
Out to the light, watching it bristle.   
Watching the slow spume of bubbles
Die, I asked myself, could it be alive?

When they electrocuted Edwin Dockery,   
He sat there like a steaming, breathing   
Bolt, the green muscles in his arms   
Strained at the chair’s black straps,
The little finger of his right hand leapt up,   
But the charge rose, the four minutes
And twenty-five hundred volts of his death,   
Which in another month will be   
Thirty-five years old. So the drink fizzed   
With the promise of mixtures to come.

There it was. If the hard-shell
Baptists of Alabama are good and content   
That the monster has died, so am I.   
I swallowed. Sweet darkness, one thing   
Led to another, the usual life, waking   
Sometimes lost, dried blood in the ear,   
Police gabbling in a strange language.   
How else would I ever gauge
How pleasure might end, walking   
Past midnight in the vague direction   
Of music. I am never satisfied.

Rodney Jones, “First Coca-Cola” from Things That Happen Once. Copyright © 1997 by Rodney Jones. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Things That Happen Once (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996)

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Poet Rodney Jones b. 1950

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Activities, Youth, Eating & Drinking, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Rodney  Jones


Rodney Jones was born in 1950 in rural Alabama. He has described his childhood and youth as “very much like being a part of another age. Our community still did not have electricity until I was 5 or 6 years old.” His poetry frequently celebrates the relationships and events of the small, agrarian community he was born into, as well as preserves the kinds of vernacular speech he grew up hearing. Jones has noted of his youth in . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Youth, Eating & Drinking, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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