Jefferson Water

I’m goin’ down, drinkin’ that Jefferson Water again,
straight out the bottle, no twist or tie to bind it,
no splash, no garnish, no East Saint Tonic on it,
black as the soul of coal, poured brimstone smooth,
Old Mister Jefferson’s formula seven fifty two,
brewed out of a Packard chassis in Upper Crawford,
slow molasses drip under a tipped up crescent moon,
well and soon, still distilled illicit ills, spills and thrills,
thunder bubbled, green mash flashed and flasked fast,
as Jefferson’s first born boy loads up the ox cart,
his blind daddy whippin’ the rotten air with a cane,
rollin’ down carriage lanes through Porterstown
and Bisco City, Eastern Hellebore, Locust, Clyde,
rollin’ on down that dead rail line, bringin’ me mine,
black as the tar in my belly, black as sin’s own ass,
pure as poison an’ dark as yon Estabella River’s water,
rotten roots and rat’s hair, no bottom in sight, nowhere,
so thick an’ strong that light itself dies whimperin’,
makin’ all the noises I make whenever I fall in again.

More from the archives. If asked, I would probably cite “Jefferson Water” as the best poem I’ve ever written, and I used it as the title piece for one of my chapbooks. (Text copy here). Of course, as I have noted before, poets tend to be terrible judges of their own work, so I suspect that many would disagree with me in that assessment.

I wrote “Jefferson Water” deep into the 2004 Poem-a-Day project. Here are the explanatory notes I shared when I posted it for the first time:

I was dreaming when the alarm went off this morning. All I remember of the dream is the final image: I was in a meeting that was evidently in my home (although it wasn’t my real home), and as the meeting broke up, one of the other participants turned to me with a crazed and needy look on his face and said “We’ll do the next meeting at my house . . . but you have to bring the Jefferson Water.” To the best of my knowledge, there’s no such thing as Jefferson Water, but I figured it musta been some nasty, spooky stuff based on the way that guy asked for it in the dream. I envisioned some hallucinogenic brew that looked like a combination of molasses and something fished out of a classic Southern blackwater creek: a dark, viscous stew. The poem’s set in some alternate Carolina, I guess, home, but not quite. Most of the place, thing and people names are made up, although there really are a Bisco and a Locust in North Carolina, and there’s probably a Clyde down there, too. Although I haven’t been there.


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