The Comedown

He used to build starships.
If you hand him a few credit chips, he tells you
That part of his story: the calluses
Still rough on the pads of his fingers,
The squint of his faded-denim
Gaze burned in by solar flares. I learned from my dad,
He says, hands twitching on the decking.
The trade, yeah, and distant worlds
And he taught me about the demon, too.

You glance over your shoulder
Where wormhole traffic rushes and blurts
Beyond sight, lights flickering,
And you wonder if he means the poison
He injects, or something else,
Something crueler yet. He laughs
At a joke you don’t hear, and pockets
The credits you slipped him, a vanishing
Gleam like the cruiser disappearing
Beyond the station’s artificial horizon.
Maybe it’s curiosity, or guilt, that nudges
The next words out of your mouth:
That’s a strange thing for a father
To give his child.
You remember
Your dad’s sudden rages, thunderstorms
Sharp and bright and fearsome, fading
Just as sudden, and tamp down
On the same electric fire rising in your chest.
He tried his best, the junkie says,
And forgiveness of a sort glows
In his clouded eyes. It’s a hard life,
Full of pain.
You nod. It’s only true,
And only now you understand.
The high always brings the comedown
In its wake, the slow detonation
Unpeeling the hero like a rotting fruit
And leaving destruction behind,
A hypodermic pinch settling in cankered flesh.

—Jennifer Crow