To clean up a bottle of good whisky
            you have to get your hands dirty.
                        Never mind how
seven hundred milliliters of Aberlour
            crashed onto my quarry-tile floor,
where it cried in the grief of shore widows
            an elegy for sea salt, shire boughs,
                                    and citrus notes.
Inspire with the nose of the finger
            saturated earth off the burn,
the spirit of the air in highland mist.
            Tactile perception is truest.
Press on it.
                        There, the resinous fragments
            of unsaid things and what was meant.
Plunge into the sherried mahogany
            and you might learn of modesty,
how our inceptions matured through seasons
                        can be requisitioned
                                    and turn treasonous
with curiosity, leaping off the rocks
            into secrets of the loch
that glance darkly into your reflection.
            There’s the monster you seek.

As the paper towels swelled,
so did my lament for evenings ahead
when the squall of desire
inside the heart’s dormer
requires a sweet-bodied source
to anchor us on course.
What am I talking about
but tantrum, wroth chemistry – malt.
The difference between angels and devils.
The difference between nimbus and lumbus:
the former undefiled, airless;
the latter carnal, touchable.
What would you give to grasp
what cannot be had?

                        An apology
            to the master distiller
on the lowing winds of the lea,
            conjunctiva and tear
                        on a weatherworn eye
            forming like a storm off Speyside,
and sheephooked words smoked with tannins
about freedom and regret’s long finish.

If I may. Let us stand today
            not for an exequy of the lost
            but a taste for the gained:
however flat these lines,
however bland –
                        not quite ageless,
not prescient as vermilion-gray scud
            or narrative like moss and mud,
not inflammatory as thatched colors
            on the tartan of MacGregors
or inscrutable as rock, magic as peat,
            hard as thistle, coy like a tide
                        as it paddles windspray
                                                at your face,
not amber as in spring’s auld expression
            or like surprise softening
                                    into apprehension,
for the pulse does not lie about the difference
            between love and admiration,
not vanilla, not marzipan,
                        not honey or cocoa,
            the restraint of sentiment untold,
a feint redistilled until it vanishes
            and achieves the lightness of wisps –
                        let us be witness,
at the bargain cost of forty-nine dollars,
            I have purchased this poem
            which I share with you now
            as if by a brick fireplace
on a bright winter night of our imagining
with six-ounce Glencairns in hand.


© ANTHONY TAO
First published in the Anthill (2014)