Victor Whiskey by Emily Ward

His mother laughed during labor,
hair plastered to her slick forehead,
and blessed his father
for the cowl.

He grew up in hand-me-down boots.
One glance from him was like a gust of wind,
knocking you off-balance
and blowing your parka
wide open.

Seven saw him carrying mushrooms, tomatoes, and bread for his mother,
stumbling on the street corner
but not dropping anything.
They ate well, garlic spicy on their tongues.
His mother sang him to sleep with all the names of the stars.

In school he was “that boy,”
dirt rubbed into the knees of his trousers,
shoelaces in a bird’s nest of knots.
His grin was sloppy, all loose teeth
and lips stained red from cheap lollipops.

By thirteen, one of his left molars was solid gold,
scraped together from pawn shop rings;
he swore to his mother he could taste their crusty polish
whenever he started to chew, saying to her,
“What d’you think of that, then?”

Sixteen saw him king of the drive-in,
reigning over popcorn buckets
and puddles of Coca Cola,
smirking at poodle skirts
and wiping down the counter.

He was always meant for the city,
skyscrapers in his eyes
and subway lines in his feet.
He got on the train with his mind’s eye on their porch,
his mother leaning in the empty glow of the back door.

His bed was the skeleton of a couch
that belonged to a friend-of-a-friend.
He was up to his elbows in the dishwater
of Tony’s Place,
scraping dimes and singles into his pockets.

Twenty saw his first silver hair,
a fine, glistening thread dangling from his widow’s peak.
He took to singing in Tony’s kitchen as he mopped the floors;
a jaded talent scout looked up from his plate of lasagna
and smiled.

Twenty and a half, his feet were blistering from tap shoes,
damp October heat clinging to the dance studio mirrors.

Twenty-one, his director was buying him dinner and calling him “Scotch,”
handing him a cigar and clapping him on the shoulder.

Twenty-two, he was stepping into a wall of applause,
accepting a golden statue and grinning around his thanks.

The next morning stretched and saw an old taxi
halt in front of his childhood home.
He put down his suitcase and knocked,
smiling as his mother opened the door and stared in surprise.
“What d’you think of that, then?”



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