Higher Ground

by Maximilian Heinegg

Higher Ground
For J.A.

In high school, we’d smoke & sink into his moon chairs.
We’d learned the word ennui, & would declare joy-
eyed & canine, Ennui, I am stoned.

At a Kinderhook-ers party, in a farmer’s field
we choked down mushroom tea
& doffed our clothes to stand in mud
petting a cow that became a bull,
& retraced our steps to dress & trample in
to Maia’s, her father playing Blood on the Tracks.

We dropped acid in Portland & I made my peace
offering, jamming on his Stratocasters to “Fire
On the Mountain.” I hated The Dead,
but I stuck to the rhythm, so he could descend
the frets in Jerry’s mixolydian.
A decade passed.

He would message, threaten to visit
on his motorcycle, asking why buying drugs
had to involve violence. Couldn’t people just sell it
& be cool? In my thirties, sedate on legal ones,
I kept him at a distance, answering his emails late
while looking at my flowering yard. A twinge
when he arrived, glazed
over in Somerville in his cop sunglasses.

He showed me his time in Thailand, underwater
films, training Navy SEALs to scuba-dive.
His otherworldly life, his haywire mind,
his second wife who died in the tsunami,
while the animals, sensing it,
found higher ground.
Not up to me to intervene.

At the Glenville Queen, on anti-depressants,
he was a dimly lit McMurphy. The waitress
asked if he was alright, Jeff’s love fired indignant.

My mother said there was a photo of us
hugging by the service altar.  I never saw that,
but there is the Central Park Rose Garden
prom shot I keep in my work desk,
in a tuxedo for one of the two times in my life.
We’re laughing the way that always made me cough
& tear.  He was a black belt, but even drunk,
he’d never show me how to fight.
When I asked him, he said run away.

Trained to Kill by Michael Mau