by t. zoEy benally

Anger always heats up my optic nerve
--When a person buys into the drunken Indian myth
I imagine the nerve fibers turn red hot
--Authoritatively telling me that it’s a well known fact
Like an inoculation loop thrust and held in a Bunsen burner flame
--That Indians metabolize alcohol differently
Metal glowing magma red-orange-yellow
--Shame and blame righteously doled out like potato salad
That Indians are genetically predisposed to becoming alcoholics
--So where is your published peer reviewed article?

Several years after his death, Charlie was on local television
Filmed by a church group proselytizing and saving Indians,
In the parking lot of the Turquoise Bar, a dirt floor establishment
Constructed to resemble two kachina heads, two hogans, two cells almost done dividing
Placed conveniently on the road leading into our dry reservation,
By a non-native businessman “just trying to make an honest living.”

I imagine the day the film was shot, Charlie’s glucose,
albumin, and globulin were low, but his serum liver enzymes were normal,
Last remaining soldiers surrounded by fibrous tissue wastelands
Normal landscape disrupted and distorted by chronic warzone activities
Going through the motions, maybe sometimes not having enough resources
Or sometimes overwhelmed, and serum levels drop equivalent to a cockroach sigh.

Charlie spoke incoherently, blinking his already low eyelids at reptilian speed
Pendulum sway, non-plumb-bob at the end of some unseen pivot
Ammonia slipping past the liver into systemic circulation, making its way
Up, to the blood brain barrier, and bursting through
Unruly mob of women shopping at 5AM on Black Friday

Bile acid shots circulating in his blood--disregarded,
A mixed drink of conjugated and unconjugated bilirubin flowing in his blood--disregarded
By his fibrous shrunken liver, lumpy with numerous attempts at regeneration
Fresh starts, resolutions—with the standard half-life of the New Years variety,
Many years passed since acute toxic hepatocyte injury and initial enzyme leak

No one knows what the day was like when Charlie’s hepatocytes
were first damaged by cheap, fortified, swill packaged in bulk quantities
Maybe it was a fall afternoon bite, into a tree ripened apple—bright, cold, sweet and crisp
Alternating sunny and cloudy, ravens and magpies squawking quarter note triplets
Brisk winds roaring through obsequious dry leaves while hepatic necrosis ensued

Gradually Charlie’s blood flow ebbed to a slumberous pace as scars and attempts
at regenerative growth anastomosed and compressed sinusoids and central veins
Charlie’s belly, gibbous with ascites and most likely spenomegaly
Hindered his attempts at stealing fire for humans,
Prevented him from being hailed a champion
Yet Charlie was STILL chained to the Hogback, liver eaten out for eternity by Turquoise bar
And Hercules came too late for this would be Prometheus
Charlie died of hepatic insufficiency in 1985
The same year that the Turquoise Bar closed