Of course I couldn’t keep up with Anatoli
but that didn’t keep him from refilling my shot glass.
In between the endless shots of vodka
I swallowed too many pieces of salted Black Sea fish.

In the depths of my gut vodka and fish converged.
Next morning I couldn’t distinguish the two
in my nausea. Prostrate before the toilet
neither could I forget the previous night’s feast.

Other memories soon came up as well: the verb paradigms
learned in Hebrew school, long since forgotten,
the grade-school math and grammar lessons,
a game of hopscotch on a public school playground.

A pool of warm embryonic fluid surrounded me
in the silence of midday sleep, a silence that stretched for years
only to be broken by the whistle of a steam engine
on its virgin run on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Back again in a previous life: a railroad engineer
with a Jewish surname, I raised my glass as Czar Nicholas II
made a toast. The snow-capped Urals, meanwhile,
flashed by outside the window. Then the vodka took hold

and I fell like excrement through the train car floor
into the dining hall of Catherine the Great. She was raising
her goblet to sexual gratification in all of its forms over
a table with laden with meat-plates and crystal wine-flasks.

A moment later a curtain embroidered with equine motifs
came down over the queen and her retinue. It came up again
over a rougher crowd of men clad in fur-skin and naked
women dancing around the great one, Genghis Khan.

The meat on the table was either raw or burnt
but that didn’t deter the appetites of the warriors
with gristle-crusted beards. The conqueror
himself raised his iron flask in honor of rape and pillage

and I drank too lest I be branded a sissy by Genghis
and his henchmen. Again I was outmatched. I passed out
instead and awoke on the edge of a forest lake. My reflection
and a mastodon’s—one and the same—stared back at me.

I was lapping up water when a Siberian tiger let forth
a roar. The tiger jumped out of the ferns a nanosecond later
and sank her teeth into my neck. My vision
went red, and then black. I came back one last time

as plankton in the Cambrian ocean, basking in the sunlight
that pierced the blue. This moment of bliss
ended abruptly as the progenitor of all Black Sea fish
opened his jaws around me. I might have gone back

further in time to the source from which we spring,
reaffirming evolutionary theory through the tidal
recurrence of conscious form, but I woke up
instead to the evening sun coming through the shutters,

the sun that will one day die and provide in its death
new elements for future civilizations. I rubbed
my aching head, stunned that a shit-faced bender
could bring me so close to the secrets of the universe.

 

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Dan Grossman is a freelance writer covering the arts scene in Indianapolis for NUVO Newsweekly and author of Rogue Elephants: a Novel of the Peace Corps, available as a pdf ebook for free on LULU.com.

 

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Image by Bartalomeo3 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,, Wikimedia Commons