Limbo: Altered States

No sooner does the plane angle up
than I cork off to dream a bomb blast:
A fireball roiling through the cabin in slo-mo,   
seat blown loose from its bolts,
I hang weightless a nanosecond
         in blue space

then jerk awake to ordered rows.
And there’s the silver liquor cart jangling   
its thousand bells, the perfect doses   
of juniper gin and oak-flavored scotch
         held by a rose-nailed hand.

I don’t miss drinking, don’t miss
driving into shit with more molecular density   
than myself, nor the Mission Impossible
reruns I sat before, nor the dead
space inside only alcohol could fill and then   
         not even. But I miss

the aftermath, the pure simplicity:
mouth parched, head hissing static.
How little I asked of myself then—to suck   
the next breath, suffer the next heave, live   
till cocktail hour when I could mix
         the next sickness.

I locked the bathroom door, sat   
on the closed commode, shirtless,
in filmy underpants telling myself that death   
could fit my grasp and be staved off   
while in the smeary shaving glass,   
I practiced the stillness of a soul
         awaiting birth.

For the real that swarmed beyond the door
I was pure scorn, dead center of my stone and starless   
universe, orbited by no one. Novitiate obliterate, Saint   
Absence, Duchess of Naught . . .
A stinging ether folded me in mist.

Sometimes landing the head's pressure’s enormous.   
When my plane tilts down, houses grow large, streets
lose their clear geometry. The leafy earth soon fills my portal,   
and in the gray graveyard of cars, a stick figure
becomes my son in royal blue cap flapping his arms   
as if to rise. Thank god for our place
in this forest of forms, for the gravitas
that draws me back to him, and for how lightly
         lightly I touch down.

Mary Karr, “Limbo: Altered States” from Viper Rum. Copyright © 1998 by Mary Karr. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: Viper Rum (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1998)
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