“Portrait of the Father as an Alcoholic” by Karan Kapoor

Karan Kapoor


The first thing I notice about him
is the expression on his face baring
his sobriety is a bubble one can pop
with a blow. He is a unicorn—a horse
of addiction with a horn of dedication
to quit. The days he chooses not to drink
flake off his shoulders like cracked paint.
By the time he was my age, he’d burned
alcohol into his skin. He’s not guilty
of all he’s accused, but still guilty
of so much else. Why should I draw
his portrait in third-person when I
can in second- which is to say why
should I paint you in blue when I can
in sky? For decades, you have smelled
like areca nut and slaked lime.
We have amassed wrinkles begging
you give up. Ma doubts you
will die a delighted man. As do I.
As do you. Diamond wounds
diamond, you say. Why does water
not wash away water? Poison remedies
poison, why does wind not blow away
wind? The despair of not raising a glass
to despair is an essential precondition
of despair which echoes higher
than cheer that comes by confessing
cheers. Long after you, we will boast
bruises on our chest to show you
were here. Now we bathe
stone in milk, bury a sitar
in a tree for the wind to strum,
praying the music will urge you
to seek help. You’re God,
you sing.

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Karan Kapoor: “This poem is the faux title-poem of the collection I’ve been working on for three years: Portrait of an Alcoholic as a Father. Writing about a troubled external subject is as much an excavation of their deepest flaws as it is a revelation of the writer’s biases. Leonard Cohen, at whose altar I worship, says ‘poetry is merely the evidence of life.’ I think this means that not only is a poem rooted in real life, but that much of real life is understood through a poem.” (web)

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