It wasn’t a drink for kids, no, I would drink root beer
or orange Nehi—orange tonic in the local dialect.
With you in the variety store, which was dark and cool when the summer
air was hot, and yellow from the factories, while you joked
with the owners and passersby, charming them with stories,
the cool drinks with sugar pacified my precocious
nervousness; sometimes you gave me a sip of Moxie—
a relic, a tonic of strange herbs like tobacco or weeds,
making me burp and think I might throw up—proving
I couldn’t like the grown-up drink I begged to taste.
No one answers my questions, why you courted a child
and married her finally; why she married someone she never
respected, and kept you a child; why your talents, as you worked
for the father you hated, turned to schemes that no one trusted;
why you swallowed the hatred spat at you;
who would confess changing you, handsome young man
at the drugstore corner, turning ugly and sick and friendless?
When I finally hit you, at 17, I saw how easily
I could kill you. I thought that life is shame and defeat,
bitter as taunting by bullies in the street, bitter as Moxie.
Now my own son cries because I am not there.
“Daddy, hold me. Daddy, I don’t want to die
because no one will play with me then.” Hold me, the night
is filled with your brutality. Hold me, my legs are not
enough to stand. Hold me, it is cold these nights. Hold me.
They tried to keep it alive with a new formula, sweet
and lighter, like other soft drinks. Mad Magazine took up
the word. I’ve found it only once in my travels; it’s gone
like the Shmoo, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, and all
the undervalued wreckage of the past.