Prison AA
Joseph Bathanti

A retired guy from Charlotte
ramrods the meetings, every Monday
straps his Harley with coffee and doughnuts,
burns up 77 to Huntersville –
9 sharp in the Ed trailer
on the lip of the quarry.
“Hi. I’m Bill and I’m an alcoholic,”
he convenes each session.
“Hi, Bill,” the convicts chorus,
whip out their laminated serenity prayers.

Bill’s beat to hell from boozing.
You can see he didn’t hold back.
But he has that second chance halo
hovering over his scruffy head.
He got sober just in time,
he confesses in his drunkalogue:
“sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Laid out on the sofa in his underwear,
he couldn’t even hold a glass.
“One drink was too many
and a thousand not enough.”
His wife fed him vodka with an eyedropper
to get him on his feet
so he could check into Black Mountain.
Now his whole life is the Program,
as many as three meetings a day.
He holds up seven years of chips
and the Big Blue Book.
“Doesn’t matter what your higher power is,”
he testifies. “It can be a rock.”

The guys light cigarette after cigarette,
smoke slashing between their teeth.
There’s not much they don’t know about getting wasted:
shoe polish, turpentine, Acqua Velva, deodorant.
Most of them were fucked up
the first time they went down –
then every other fucking time after.
Bill explains a drunk is always a drunk,
always recovering. Unrequited thirst,
yet to quench it is forbidden.

It’s still early. Silver light
blooms in the concertina swaying
over the camp. Beyond it,
the free world walks a straight line.
There’s a shared acknowledgment among the convicts,
pinched in little school desks,
that something’s got to give or they’ll die.
They can’t live another day like this:
grown men in prison greens,
shuffling up once the meeting’s over
to the coffee and doughnuts.
Week after week, they concurwith everything
Bill says. A man’s got to want to change.

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