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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 1: January 2020
Poem: 247 words
By Rick Mulkey

Concerning Whiskey

Potent, peaty, brine-filled dram 
like the salt-washed rocks of sheltered bays; 
like the turf fires beneath thatched roofs; like rain 
falling hard and soot blackening the stone hearth; 
like the venerable who curl into themselves 
and wait for spring, old women, grown diaphanous, 
who flutter like moths embalmed in their silver-haired cocoons, 
aged, at last, into their ghostlier selves; like their men 
no longer storming pastures as fierce scouring winds, 
but, lost in their suffering, now gnaw remorse 
and grasp at guilt as they once did pipe and pint. 

This is the alchemy of fire and air, the chemistry of creek and valley. 
The distillate of place and time. Distillate of memory. 
Soft, sugary, amber-clouded elixir like the lure 
of meadowsweet and chicory, like October smoke 
hanging over maple and oak; like the sophistry of sex 
on sunlit mornings in late December, 
cold hands along the flushed length of spine and breast, 
breath passing across the altar of tongue, frosting bedroom windows; 
like the dulcet notes of mandolin, the sorrowful soaring of fiddle; 
the primal groan of Cash’s Ring of Fire, 
or Elvis’s moaning call to Love Me Tender. 

This is the push and pull, the liquid mystery train 
of peril and possibility we can’t explain 
though it carries a little of everything: the bog, the raisin, 
the raison d’etre, the pie safe and gun safe, the morning promises 
and midnight faults, the scars forgotten and reclaimed, 
the ice, in expectation, clanging in a glass. 
Rick Mulkey
Issue 1, January 2020

is the author of five books and chapbooks, including most recently Ravenous: New & Selected Poems and Toward Any Darkness. Recent poems and essays have appeared in a variety of periodicals such as Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore, Poetry East, South Carolina Review, Southeast Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among others. He has received the Gearhart Poetry Prize, a Hawthornden Fellowship, and The Literary Review’s Charles Angoff Award, among others. Mulkey currently directs and teaches in the low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing at Converse College.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Everywhere Becomes Home, a review by William Wright of Mulkey’s book Ravenous in Flycatcher Journal

Beautiful and Terrible: An Interview with Barbara Hamby in The Southeast Review (2 December 2018), in which Hamby discusses her choice of Mulkey’s poem “Cured” as winner of the 2018 Gearhart Poetry Contest

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