‘drowning man sonnets’ by Aidan Chafe

drowning man in his liquid kingdom

he drops a match on his wound to set fire
to his blood. at a certain temperature even
the devil cools. any horror can drown in the fens
of a depressant. a ghost hums its dark dictionary,
its sharp symphony of terrible. monsters wake
to feast on the horses in his heart. his body
an inane language—glossolalia, gibberish.
he tramples hardwood, bruises wall paint.
thoughts clamber the stone well of neurons
sucking on fumes of chemical birds. knows his
mind unmoored, feet divine, dancing on a dead
sea in a porcelain tub. surrounded by sludge
in a chamber of billowing murk, he lights another
flame to channel the voices chanting his name.


drowning man during daily routine

mad max along suburban roadway
veering over medians, sharp-angling
commercial lots. tires breach every line.
to the liquor store as the crow flies.
employees brace for impact but he brakes
like burt reynolds, in time to jump out,
the car idling as if for a man from the law,
through the doors, past the beer display,
straight to the addiction. hastens towards
the cashier. mutters thanks. leaves drunk.
returns drunk. fills up every hour on the
hour. each time more staggered, less
coherent. mumbling and wobbling until
the floor sucker punches him to sleep.


drowning man discovers another dimension

he wades in the polluted basin of his own
making, summoning words from black matter.
his apartment is a landfill of tangents.
some nights he’s a sacrifice for the savages
in his head. on well-medicated ones an iridescence
of snowflakes. a field of luminous lanterns. opens
the night sky with electric intentions, swigs from
seductive liquors, pulling vermillion scarves
from his mouth. a city explodes into possibilities.
a glance becomes an invitation, becomes a touch,
becomes a dreamscape. his body enters another
and yearns to release. a rapturous blur. moments
unburdened by the cloak of self-consciousness.
a portal of escape from his own misadventures.


drowning man on the broken bicycle of recovery

instead of sipping the blood of jesus on sunday
he flocks the church of alcohol. holy grail =
old milwaukee = drowning man has a problem.
step one: therapy. stop drinking, see you in two
weeks. how did it go? stop drinking, see you
in two weeks. how did it go? stop drinking, see
you in two weeks. how did…the mind become
a wheel of unreason, a loathsome ministry of self-
medication. drowning man is a wounded sparrow
seeing a wolf therapist. step two: attends AA.
surrender to the will of god (capitulation to hope-
lessness). another lamb at the altar. step three: with his
trembling hands drowning man pours himself a drink.
mixes his mind and stirs. considers his next option.


drowning man is hiding something else

maybe more bottles under the sink.
maybe the chewing tobacco in the top
kitchen cabinet. maybe lies stuffed
into his pockets. maybe truth banging
on the locked door, his mouth clamped
by pride, too chicken shit to release.
maybe a ship of sadness. the fear
of the monster asleep. maybe an army
of locusts in his skin the strength
of a thousand itches. maybe a violence
of thought restless in the attic, collection
of madness in the dark. maybe the mind
unable to repair. maybe a body.
maybe his own. maybe. maybe not.


drowning man dreams of his own funeral

hovers over his body like a stubborn
rain cloud. studies the sorcery of
rigor mortis. skin—barren fields
of thaw and banishment. a corpse
appears beyond recognition, as if
inhabited by a stranger. recounts
grandma’s funeral, her body displayed
like a flower stripped of all its petals.
weeks before, a stroke made her face
fall, every tendon that kept muscle and
bone sinewed, let go in quiet relief.
he returns to his own physical history.
if the body is the last window into life,
his is an expression of self-loathing.


AIDAN CHAFE is the author of the poetry collection, Short Histories of Light (McGill-Queen’s University Press), as well as two chapbooks, Right Hand Hymns (Frog Hollow Press) and Sharpest Tooth (Anstruther Press). His work has appeared in journals including CV2The Capilano Review, EVENT, The Maynard, and PRISM international. He lives on the unceded territory of the Qayqayt First Nation (Burnaby).

Copyright © 2018 by Aidan Chafe. All rights reserved.