twelve steps, then off a chair

The basement sported the requisite folding metal chairs,

Each of indeterminate age and reliability,

One wall featuring a poster of a standard-issue Jesus,

Implacably serene, surrounded by a flock of equally generic and cherubic children.

An ancient coffee table, suitably gouged and graffitied, sat to one side,

Strewn with ashtrays, styrofoam cups of varying degrees of emptiness,

And the remains of a bundt cake (store-bought,

The evening’s dessert designee not up to the challenge of having her baking skills

Being yet one more thing held up to the light for judgment.)

The tales were standard issue bottle-done-me-wrong-song fare:

Jobs lost, marriages torn asunder, children estranged,

Plaintive tunes sung by the usual suspects

(The weak-chinned with haunted faces, the closeted gays,

The intense silent types still in the full bloom of denial.)

There was, this particular evening, an extra folding chair

Sitting unused off to the right,

Normally occupied by a compact, muscular sort

Who, when not furiously scribbling notations

In an ancient stenographer’s notebook,

(This habit earned several looks-that-would kill

From some of the long-term habitués of these meetings,

Who felt he was making some speakers a bit reticent,

Considerably reducing the sessions’ entertainment value)

Observed the proceedings intensely with facial expressions

Alternating between schoolboy grins and bailiff-stern frowns.

 

Some weeks prior to leaving the group, his demeanor changed;

The notebook left at home, the sine waves of emotional extremes

Exchanged for an easygoing, almost beatific smile,

He’d sit with hands behind head, leaning backward in his chair

(The rubber tips of the chair legs making a soft tap, tap, tap

As they lifted and settled back onto the floor),

Letting the weekly affairs roll on as if they didn’t concern him in the least.

His sponsor had been, understandably, somewhat taken aback

By this sudden sea-change in attitude,

And was further nonplussed by the response

To the polite inquiry as to this change in heart.

I’ve discovered to the secret, the sponsor was informed,

All of it, every last damn thing that’s said every damn week

All due to sadness–and I know that all I need to do

Is not to cause it for anyone else, and not feel it myself.

I’ll never need to drink again,

He said with a smile

That would not have been out of place among the angels,

And he turned and walked away,

Never to attend a meeting again.

 

He may have been right (for whom among us

Could say for sure he was wrong?), but, as it turned out,

Sadness was not the type of adversary

Which was not of a mind to come out and fight like a man;

It lurked in dark corners, and was apt to come at you

From all directions and at all hours,

Nor was it averse to enlisting loved ones and total strangers

In the furthering of its cause.

He’d parried and thrust at these shadowy antagonists

(Though his exertions and exhortations were,

Often as not, directed at nothing more than thin air)

With increasing frustration and diminishing certainty as to his beliefs,

And at some point he supposed that his effective weaponry

Was reduced to a sturdy chair, strong rope, and solid roof beam

(The landlady found him just a bit too late,

His toes rhythmically drumming against the apartment door.)

 

The long evening of sighs and serenity came to a close,

Goodbyes and small talk wrapping up in short order,

And the participants walked up the stairs from the basement

(One or two members nodding to the picture of the Son

On their way out), and a few of them made mention

As to how much darker the evenings seemed

Now that fall was slipping away toward winter,

And how nice it would be if the parking lot was better lit.

 

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4 thoughts on “twelve steps, then off a chair

  1. “Each of indeterminate age and reliability,
    One wall featuring a poster of a standard-issue Jesus” … My, my. In two lines, you perfectly recreated the room for me. I’ve got quite a visual already.

    “(The weak-chinned with haunted faces, the closeted gays,
    The intense silent types still in the full bloom of denial.)” … Whew, nice.

    “It lurked in dark corners, and was apt to come at you
    From all directions and at all hours,
    Nor was it averse to enlisting loved ones and total strangers
    In the furthering of its cause.” … You are quite right.

    This is my favorite line: “He’d parried and thrust at these shadowy antagonists”

    What a fantastic ending: “As to how much darker the evenings seemed
    Now that fall was slipping away toward winter,
    And how nice it would be if the parking lot was better lit”

    “The long evening of sighs and serenity” … I suppose they weren’t very helpful, other than allowing people to vent (those who were willing). Those who were not were kind of left hanging.

  2. Wow. This is certainly one of your finest yet. You strip away the debris of writing that others get stuck in, and reveal the morally ambiguous universe we’re left with.
    In other words, very cool.
    Bill

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