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Whiskey

Kim Maltman
From:   Softened Violence. Quadrant Editions 1985 and Quarry Press 1988.


Behind the bar the whiskey bottles line the wall.
Sturdy wide-necked bottles, three deep, each distinct, the
whiskey in them glowing with that
deep amber color that marks
the essence of the harvest, labor carefully distilled and
handed down, a fine rich texture like the seasoned grain of hardwoods.
Even at night, when the air of such rooms is heavy with smoke
and there are a few bodies slumped over tables,
or staggering home, or sick, the color of whiskey remains
pure and warm, like the hot harvest sun
beating down, warming the shoulders of men who have
worked hard, season after season, through all the uncertainty,
no rain for a month or more and dust in the air,
and then, at last, this sign of providence,
a good harvest, long days, enough to bring the crop in.
This is why whiskey does not die.
There is a strength there, ready to be tapped.
In the 30's farmers too poor to afford such luxuries
would distill a harsh liquor from whatever grain was left
after the harvest. This was in a time when the spirt of
temperance was still strong, when there were those who saw
misery and hardship as god's road to salvation,
the test of humility, those who would watch for hidden stills
and speak of them as signs of weakness in a neighbor.
But they could not kill whiskey.
Canadian distillers flourished feeding liquor to a
cocky new America, one that
filled the cities and clamored for spirits of any kind,
whiskey among them. It was a time of promise for some,
the promise of great opportunity and riches for all,
of a careless euphoria and poverty and distress as well.
What harm was there in a little whiskey?
Whiskey to warm the throat and fuel the blood.
Whiskey is old. There are no reliable records of its
origins. It is known that the Celts brewed a
primitive whiskey throughout the history of their contact
with the military powers that surged
back and forth across Europe.
As those who have been the chattels of history know,
escape is not necessarily capitulation in the face
of oppression when oppression involves insurmountable odds.
This is our one true lesson from history,
what we are capable of, on both sides. As for whiskey:
for over two centuries the Gaelic language was effectively outlawed,
although the word 'whiskey' itself comes from the Gaelic.
It means, I think, obliquely, freedom,
literally 'the water of life'.



Kim Maltman's works copyright © to the author.


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