Thomas J. Erickson
I am an attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and often write or think about writing poems while I'm sitting in court. My chapbook, The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom, was published by Parallel Press (University of Wisconsin Libraries) in 2013. I am a member of the Hartford Avenue Poets in Milwaukee.
The Prison Visit
Because I’m an attorney and know where I’m going, I don’t
need an escort to walk to the social services building to see my guy
once I pass through security at the gatehouse.
A couple of inmates walk past dressed in dark green. Neither is one
of my old clients but you never know. We don’t make eye contact
but our shadows touch as we pass.
I am visiting Paul. He is paralyzed from the waist down and partially
blind from being shot by the cops. He has a little goatee which another
inmate has to shave. He’s been in for twenty years and he will die before
he makes parole. I don’t want to lie so I don’t bring it up.
He spends his days listening to music and lying in bed. He tells me
he’s lucky because his room in the infirmary has a window. He can’t
see much of anything but the light is different and sometimes in the
morning, the sun touches his face. He’s begun listening to classical
music and really likes Vivaldi.
On the walk back to the gatehouse, I realize I probably won’t see Paul
again. It’s kind of a relief because I can’t do anything for him anyway.
Plus, no one’s paying me anymore. He’ll die in his room someday.
His earphones will be in and no one else will hear the symphony.
I heard the empty pop can atop
his ajarred door hit the floor,
the tread of his bare feet running
down the hall, then the alarm bell
of the front door. Darren was off
to the races and so was I.
He was sprinting to the Seven Eleven
again, a charged vision of chugging
soda sparking in his head. I tackled him
and we fell hard on the frozen ground.
He was heavy—no longer a little boy.
I gripped his arm and we trudged back
to the treatment center in the cold moonlight.
Once inside, I noticed that the knee
of Darren’s sail-boated pajamas
was ripped and soaked with blood.
Hours later, in the emergency room,
we held him down while the doctor
stitched him up; Darren calmly following
the needle, in and out, in and out.
He uttered Mountain Dew, Mountain Dew,
over and over, like a Hindu mantra.
The peace which passeth all understanding.
At Christmas, when his parents visited
from New Jersey, Darren pulled out his stitches
his mouth gaping in a rictus of joy.
Tom and Frank in the City
It’s daylight savings again.
Spring forward fall back, I fell
back. It got up to 64. On Lake Drive,
a lithe coed running in her spandex
and lycra, her head held high
and her breasts jutting out like a pair
of MacArthur’s chins (not that you
would have noticed).
Daylight savings was the Saturday
night when we got an extra hour
of bar time. The dice rang like bells
and every extra drink was a gift from God.
Then, I walked you home
in the November gloom so nobody
would mug you or bash you.
At your door, you put your old
gnarled hand in mine and gave it
a good shake. Then you climbed
the stairs and got into bed. One more
day done. Your secret safe.
Of course, no one believes we hit 40 bars in one night.
But yes, children, we did, in an endless summer night
in the timeless burg known as Sheboygan, Wisconsin,
the Year of our Lord Ronald Reagan, 1981.
It was me and Greg and Dave and Al and Scott and
we started at 6 o’clock on a Friday night.
Dave was driving his dad’s car.
These were the last of the halcyon days of Sheboygan
bars when there was still a bar on every corner and
the drinking age was a blessed 18 and if you took
the “U” — Indiana to Eighth Street to Michigan,
there was a domino row of taverns, tippling one
into the other with a beautiful hazy momentum.
The rules were one tap beer (Pabst or Kingsbury or Miller)
(usually eight to twelve ounces) (if you do the math,
by the end of the night, that’s at least 400 ounces
of beer—the equivalent of 33 bottles of beer for each of us)
(which isn’t really all that much in eight hours for a kid
who was 20 years old in Sheboygan County where
and when beer ruled the world) (the taps were anywhere
from 25 cents to 40 cents so we spent about $15 each
(which wasn’t too bad because I was making $3.35 an hour
picking up garbage) (although the cheapest was 15 cents
at the 1136 Tap) and various other rules depending on
our whims per bar: slam; no one talks; pinky extended;
Andy’s Bar, Ziggy’s, Head East, The 1136 Tap,
Four of a Kind, Pool Tap, The Blue Room, The Tipo (where
one of the denizens uttered “The Mod Squad’s here” when
we rolled in), The 99 Club, Harbor Lights, the K and R Saloon,
Cecil’s Palace, Mr. Glen’s, Dick Suscha’s Coho Bar, Who’s Inn,
and so many more sunk these days by drunk driving laws
and/or the allure of drinking at home watching Netflix
or naughty things on the internet.
Later, we bragged of our exploits. If you knew us back
then you would have believed it because it was well
established that Al and I had drunk a quarter-barrel
by ourselves and the other guys were no weak-tits either.
And why not brag? At least we were good at something
We were all heroes that moment at bar time when
we were staggered and weak-kneed
and somehow still standing.
Before the marriages
and the kids
and the jobs.
Before we pressed on.
Before we had to be okay.
©2016 Thomas J. Erickson