The Cure

When I wrote the poem “The Cure” I did not have the world of Eugene O’Neill in the front or back of my mind. When asked to contribute to this folio about him, and his great plays, “The Cure” did stand out as a poem that he would have, I think, related to. No doubt it is cliché-ing him and his world, the author submerged in alcohol and the world of his father. But there is truth in cliché sometimes, and hopefully there is dignity in this poem in the way that he dignified his father and the world he came from in his plays. There is also the sense of the ambiguity of identity, especially with regard to oneself and one’s parents, which is very much part of his plays and his own life. My father’s compositor/printing world is as much a background, and has as much of an effect on me, as his father’s actor world, and the alcohol, well, O :

               The Cure
               for my father

               I drop into the printers and graft
               to you with my hangover on hearing
               the tall drinking tales of your craft
               from an apprentice of yours, latching

               on to the old typesetter days like myself.
               He swore he could write a book.
               I thought of how you were partial yourself
               to a jorum or two, but you would look

               down on my pint-swaggering and remind me
               you kept your drinking to Saturday night,
               barring births, weddings, deaths and maybe
               the odd quick one if the company was right.

               And for the most part I keep to that too,
               but last night was a night I broke
               and went on the rantan from bar to
               bar, jawing with whatever bloke,

               solving the world’s problems drink by drink
               and cigarette by cigarette, swigging
               and puffing away the whole lousy stink.
               You nagged away in my head about smoking

               and how the butts did away with you.
               But I swear the way I stood there
               and yakkety-yakked, slagged and blew
               smoke in the smoke-shrouded air,

               coughing your smoker’s cough,
               I thought that you had turned into me
               or I into you. I laughed your laugh
               and then, knowing how you loved company,

               I refused to quit the bar and leave you alone
               or leave myself alone or whoever we were.
               I raised my glass to your surprise return.
               And now I hear you guffaw once more

               as your apprentice continues to recount
               printers’ drink lore and asks if I know
               comps at Signature O got a complimentary pint.
               I joust our way out the door repeating O O O.

[From Collected Poems, 1986-2006, Oxford Poets Series, Carcanet Press]