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1st Place Fall Poetry Winner: Saint Clément’s Drug Unit, 1969 - Jonathan Callies

After Mary Ellen Mark

At the Alano Club, a child of seven, I remember

my mother sharing with a group of strangers

and family that the great thing about memory

is that it exists outside of time – no

beginning, no end – and that this was the kind

of miracle she loved to chase, to exist

and not exist on that thin line of oblivion.

You can trace the paths she’d take to discover

and rediscover this liminal space; prayers

far from her chapped lips; her Kadesh tongue, dry

and cracked and bleeding; her solferino

arm hidden beneath bandages, a veiled playground

for the clumsy; her eyes – a beautifully vast

sky blue – swollen and glassy with obsession.

Her stint at Saint Clément’s Drug Unit – sober

life adjudicated shortly after my birth – for users

racing slowly to their finish lines, desperate for history

and its repetitions, who know the domino

will fall regardless of being pushed, who traded garland

for rope, spoon, needle, some cotton – was fast,

lasting one month until she properly marked the occasion.

At the Alano club, a child of seven, I remember

the furtive glances to the back room, strangers

handing off bindles, the tinfoil seared in my memory,

and how my mother held up her hand – no

she held up one finger – a signal to her family – her kind,

her chosen kin – that she would rather exist

not with me, but in Lethe, consigned forever to oblivion.


Jonathan Callies earned his Bachelor’s Degree in English literature from UCLA and his Master’s Degree in English literature from the University of Chicago. His poetry has appeared in ARDOR Literary Magazine, Josephine Quarterly, Snarl, and others. He currently works at Michigan State University.


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