Life has never once taken a cigarette break.

My father used to smoke when he drank.

He drank when he wasn’t sure. His father did this, and his too.

Heredity sounds like a supervillain. I imagine

it rides around in a fast car, with big guns, spreading vice.

When I tell this to my therapist I like to think

there’s an audience clapping for me. The applause continues

when I empty my bottle in the toilet, instead of the fish bowl,

where I’ve placed my friends, until they float or find higher

expectations. Makes me thirsty. Even the sun

and black holes have to stop spinning at some point.

Will I know I’ve stopped, if I can’t tell the difference

between a curse and a gift? When I see someone

at a party with no one to talk to, it feels as painful

as the first time I met my reflection. Eventually you stop staring,

close your eyes and hope to not choke on the worm

someone hid inside your guts. Relief arrives in the form of more

people: more chances riding ponies, chasing rainbows.

Who is God this time? My blood or the shadow that grows more

certain with each birthday, dancing behind the cake’s candles;

a knife held in its palm. I used to wish for anyone else’s life.

I never told them. Then I wished for one dry breath.

One time when I was childish, I was given a coke

that tasted pure as gold; its green stain still

haunts my tongue. Jesus’ blood brings eternal life,

so I drink, soon I’m a ship captain sailing the river Styx.

“With regard to my recent behavior” is how I begin my reconciliations,

which is ironic when the only regard ever repaid me

was from corner store cashiers. Hostages might’ve said

the same for Olsson. I wonder if he wore a balaclava

like this gene of mine that’s been sticking me up since before we crossed

the Atlantic. Before we learned how to swim.

Before I found him behind my eyes, dragging me back to sea.

Joseph Buckley is a poet, educator and amateur tattooist living in New Orleans. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Birds Piled Loosely, Boog City, and Angel City Review.