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First Coca-Cola

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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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First Coca-Cola

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