Timothy Gager (the co-founder of The Somerville News Writers Festival) sent an essay to us about a new collection of poetry of his that has been released and the life experience that influenced it.
-How major life experiences influenced the poetry of “The Shutting Door”
By Timothy Gager
Timothy Gager is the author of ten books of short fiction and poetry. His latest, The Shutting Door (Ibbetson Street Press) is his first full-length book of poetry in nine years. He has hosted the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts every month for the past twelve years and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival.
“The Shutting Door” is a book of poems drawn from my longer history to the new hope I’ve found. The Shutting Door goes through my journey and the poems included represent new strength, recovery and hope. The Shutting Door is poetry about shutting the door of my past and moving on.
“A Seven Year Old Takes a First Drink”
My first encounter with alcohol wasn’t what you’d expect. It wasn’t a drink passing through my lips and suddenly I felt warm and wonderful. My first encounter was from television and I was seven years old.
It was 1969, and the Mets who never finished higher than ninth place in a ten team were in their first pennant race. When the Mets did the impossible and became World Champions (a lofty title I totally bought into as a seven year old) the chaos of a locker room champagne celebration was a powerful image. It was the kind of joy that I wanted.
Almost immediately, I imagined drinking with as much gusto as my heroes. The Ginger Ale in a bottle, in the refrigerator could be shaken pretty easily but the mess would get me in trouble.. Even as a seven year old, I knew exactly what alcohol was and I wanted it.
It was during one of my Ginger Ale trips to the refrigerator, I noticed the word alcohol on a bottle of Durkee’s Pure Vanilla Extract in a secretive little bottle. I loved vanilla icing and combined with seeing that alluring word on the label made it an easy decision. I decided to have a sip, anticipating pure deliciousness but instead, I found it disgusting. The brown liquid hit my throat with fire and it felt like my air supply was being blocked from the fumes. It didn’t taste like sweet icing, which I expected but something more like a punishment than a dessert.
Yet, I wasn’t through with obsessing about alcohol. Seven years later, as a fourteen year old, I thought I had hit the lottery when I found a poorly hidden six-pack of Budweiser stashed in the woods on my way home from school. It was lazily covered with some leaves and I was excited the cans were completely intact. I knew that the person whom had stashed it was up to wrong doings because of the leafy cover up. I had no problem re-hiding the cache s and having a few drinks for the next few days. A few weeks later I was cutting classes to drink with friends during school and return for my later classes. One time I vomited on the way out of classroom at the end of the school day.
Still, I marched forwardIn fact, six years later, after daily drinking with some serious drug use, I was desperate enough to make my first call to a substance abuse/alcohol hot line. When no one picked up, I left a message which wasn’t returned immediately, so impatiently, I ran out to have a drink at a local bar and returned home, totally smashed to a roommate who said that my call had been returned from the hot line. Flustered and embarrassed, I sharply told him, it must have been a wrong number.
Twenty-six years later, I found myself on my hands and knees again. I had lost nearly everyone in my life, and had grown tired of the lack of control I had over alcohol. I had begun to black out while driving back from bars and clubs. I was ready to do whatever it took to stop and to change before I killed myself or someone else. It wasn’t easy at first, but it got easier each day I could get through. I began to look at drinking as neither a champagne celebration to avoid my life or a black hole to encompass it. I learned it was neither a punishment nor a dessert and I didn’t need to use it as either. All I had to do now was learn the simple task of how to live life.
The Shutting Door
We are solid oak doors that shut
on our past, close on dead mothers,
sons, daughters. These doors swell
often, won’t open. One midnight
we walked towards woods, the moss
cold under our toes, as we were,
caught in the light for a moment;
a glimpse of half full. We are dim
lights on dark nights, sending out calls
to the wolves howling at the sun
because the moon hanging there,
yet never seems to hear them.
If I should need to step back to see
how you glow in this light,
illumination, I can be at one with that,
us, growing like violets in the dark
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