Broken Scotch

A poem for lovers (and haters) of single malts – by Anthony Tao


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 is editor of the blog Beijing Cream, and you can follow him on Twitter @anthonytao

This story is from the Anthill-Cuju Writers and Rum night