The felons who speak regularly at twelve step meetings teach us to shove an arm into the mouth of a Rottweiler if attacked from the side. They teach us that if you’ve killed a man, you make amends by raising your grandchildren. That the kids will play in a small fenced yard. That you button the skinny child’s shirt until he can do it for himself. The felons who speak regularly at twelve step meetings teach us not to reach over a man’s plate for the salt shaker. We call the one with new white teeth Beaver. We call the felons who speak at twelve step meetings names like Peg Leg Steve and Bloodbath Bob. We are twenty year old girls sitting in a line on metal chairs. We are always lighting cigarettes. We are girls who have spent the summer pulling cold trays of French fries from the trash to eat. Girls who travel by Greyhound. We steal hair dye. You wouldn’t believe what has happened to us. At the twelve step meetings, the felons teach us to aim like we’re hunting wild javelina. They teach us how to instantly pull arrows from our quiver, that recovery is muscle memory, that relapse is a hoofed mammal chittering in the shadows. The felons say, “If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you’re gonna get a haircut.” The felons who speak regularly at twelve step meetings feast on salmon roe, octopus, daikon radish, kimchi, fennel spare ribs, beef bourguignon, tabbouleh, crab cakes, and chicken satay. They hammer together coops for rabbits and tortoises before their bodies begin to grow quiet. As the years pass, the felons who speak regularly at twelve step meetings learn to hold our new babies lightly. They teach us that even violent men eventually grow small in hospital beds. They ask for honey ice cream to be spooned onto their dry tongues. When we throw open their curtains and our thick heels click across the room, they ask us to “Slow down a little bit, will ya?” The felons who speak regularly at twelve step meetings teach us that the urges may never go away, and that there is no love without acceptance. Eventually, the felons lose hair and they lose children. They lose toolboxes and tax statements, 401Ks, and regular erections. The felons who speak regularly at twelve step meetings teach us that a man’s strength must move inward. That he will look off into the corner of the room. That he will surrender even his body. The felons who speak regularly at twelve step meetings die quietly while Foxes flickers on the TV. They teach us how the morphine dream pulls you by an umbilical cord through deep space. They speak their mother’s names, the felons do. A young Jodie Foster chases her life while the felons unzip themselves from this great longing.
Kim Young is the author of Night Radio, winner of the 2011 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize (The University of Utah Press) and finalist for the 2014 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and the chapbook Divided Highway (Dancing Girl Press, 2008). She is the founding editor of Chaparral and her poems and essays have appeared in Los Angeles Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Western Humanities Review,?POOL and elsewhere.