Monday, February 6, 2012

All I Could Drink

By his own admission, Raymond Carver more or less gave up writing at one point and took to full-time drinking. Working different jobs, rearing children, and trying to write, he was drinking heavily by the age of thirty. Five years later, while an instructor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Carver recalled that it was less teaching than drinking and almost no writing. Leaving Iowa, the drinking continued for another three years. It was serious enough in 1977 for the writer to be hospitalized four different times for acute alcoholism. On June 2, 1977 with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous he stopped drinking and began a second life. That same year he received a National Book Award nomination for Will You Please Be Quiet, Please. He later said he would have died of alcoholism at the age of forty if he hadn’t found a way to stop drinking, often talking as if his second birthday were June 2, 1977. He conquered alcohol but died of lung cancer at the age of fifty.

Carver examined a great many themes in his poems and stories, but the grind of poverty, the collapse of love and the ruin of alcohol were prominent among them. The alcohol especially, and we get a glimpse of how early it began in his autobiographical poem “Luck.” The poem’s first appearance was in a 1979 issue of the literary magazine Kayak 50. It is included in Carver’s posthumous book, All of Us: The Collected Poems.

A boy wakes to an empty house and the leftovers of his parents’ party…


I was nine years old.

I had been around liquor

all my life. My friends

drank too, but they could handle it.

We’d take cigarettes, beer,

a couple of girls

and go out to the fort.

We’d act silly.

Sometimes you’d pretend

to pass out so the girls

could examine you.

They’d put their hands

down your pants while

you lay there trying

not to laugh, or else

they would lean back,

close their eyes, and

let you feel them all over.

Once at a party my dad

came to the back porch

to take a leak.

We could hear voices

over the record player

see people standing around

laughing and drinking.

When my dad finished

he zipped up, stared a while

at the starry sky—it was

always starry then

on summer nights—

and went back inside.

The girls had to go home.

I slept all night in the fort

with my best friend.

We kissed on the lips

and touched each other.

I saw the stars fade

toward morning.

I saw a woman sleeping

on our lawn.

I looked up her dress,

then I had a beer

and a cigarette.

Friends, I though this

was living.

Indoors, someone

had put out a cigarette

in a jar of mustard.

I had a straight shot

from the bottle, then

a drink of warm collins mix,

then another whisky.

And though I went from room

to room, no one was home.

What luck, I thought.

Years later,

I still wanted to give up

friends, love, starry skies,

for a house where no one

was home, no one coming back,

and all I could drink.


  1. Have read this before but still is as powerful as the first time. And speaks to so many of us when we were that age, friends and myself stealing beers from parents and drinking them quickly then running in a circle so we could feel what it was like to be high, to feel what the grownups must feel.

  2. I got my first electronic cigarette kit on VaporFi, and I recommend getting it from them.

  3. If you've been there you know he sums it up so well and so simply.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America