At daylight, he surrendered to the gutters’
thick cirrhosis, his trajectory

half awake, half anvil from the glass to the killing floor
I was raised in, each thin thread tethered

from the root of a nicotined tooth
to the rusted bars of the slammer.  I couldn't tell you why

Felix the Cat came to mind, totally inebriated,
two Xs, bubbles popping, his gait

a saint carried in a procession—Cherry Pink
& Apple Blossom White, 1955—

except that my grandfather died
with a bottle in his pocket, his Robert Mitchum

chin & pompadour distilled
from a banana republic in fire, a slow, steady

drinker, perfect fulfillment to drown out
his manhood. There's a certain kind of fix

that falters precariously,
a benediction when they allege

one more drunk for the hood. He didn't matter
to the dispenser nor the riffraff crowd.

Nothing about him capsized, except his compound
of cologne & corrosion.  All those rotguts.

All those bums. They didn't matter
to the nation, though they were the nation.


Copyright © 2018 by William Archila. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Back in the days of my MFA in Oregon, I wrote a couple of lines about picturing Felix the Cat totally drunk when I'd hear Perez Prado’s version of ‘Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White.’ I didn’t know what to do with that image, so I shelved it away. I brought it back because I found myself thinking about my grandfather, and the fact that he was a drunk, all those drunks from my childhood asleep on the ground, on the grass or sidewalk, under a tree, in the gutter, some related to me, some not. They were not dangerous, but sad clowns. In retrospect, I’m thinking that they were symbolic of my native country of El Salvador, ridiculously somber, deteriorating while the ugliness of the civil war raged around them.”
—William Archila