Substance Abuse Trial

He mispronounces you,
the judge, rhyming your first
with your second name,
making you into something
ridiculous: Gillis Willis Mead.

But you stand as still
as they taught you in the army
when you were a young man trying hard
to keep secret what you knew
about how to kill with germs.
As quietly as we used to stand
on the front porch together at dusk
listening for the first cricket of the evening.

Now you stand accused
of wanting to die, of saying so
endlessly, with needles—and the speechless
track marks recording it all.

The evidence is
a red river, mounting.
It wants to carry you
away like an old chair
some fisherman forgot
to take home. And I want
to shout: listen

—this man
is my father.
I love him.

Is there a place
where all those things
that catch in the throat
gather and shape themselves
into something as soft
as the G in Giles
was meant to be pronounced?

Is that where you thought
you were going?

Jane Mead, “Substance Abuse Trial” from The Lord and the General Din of the World. Copyright © 1996 by Jane Mead. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

This poem was read in the Poetry Unbound episode “A Poem on the Importance of Names.”