Matt Schumacher


Amidst amethyst mists silvered with slivers of moon, our astute wanderer of districts of dubious repute parades us down alleyways where we’ll be waylaid. To back rooms whose labyrinthine hookahs billow so copiously with smoke you can hear chambered within them chimneysweeps’ echoing shouts for help. De Quinceyeans under the influence, pleasantly or torturously indisposed, breathe smoke, thick as clothes, smoke both market and theatre. Swipe an opiumpipe. Suckle the world of its inhalations like irresistible tentacles. Play and be played by the night, its night-blooming bassoon improvising the derangements of the mind. Please proceed past the province of complete pipe dream, whose abandoned buildings house the machinery of dreaming. Chase after fledgling hallucinations in the hatcheries of far-fetched reveries. Brave avenues where the multitudes of evil spirits who follow De Quincey flee his disfigured guardian angel.


I guess you’re here for the opium, blurts the suspect. A farmhouse spills delicate, paper-thin crimson from a dead end road in the foothills. Yet come and see De Quincey, small and shimmering man/hologram, shoo away authorities with a small spectral hand, arresting the scene, bruising dusk blue like Psilocybe Cubensis in lieu of his innumerable absences. See the police extinguished like last rays of vanishing daylight. Eavesdrop on the most notorious opium-eater in literary history left there to supervise 500 million dollars worth of opium poppies growing hidden behind honeylocusts. What can he do, what will he do, with the vast span of all of this contraban? O, the expression on his face—what a wild coalsecence, a concession stand of delight, wonder, and fright—it is priceless! There’s no sphinx speaking here of the burden of the incommunicable. As if a homeless drifter inherited a shapeshifting estate from a complete stranger. For the first time, the English Opium-eater glides the palatial stairs, trods their hidden grandeur, and rising on their spiral, fingers careful not to disturb the zebra swallowtail butterflies resting on their handrails, lets these banisters lead him through vast rooms the hue of cumulus adrift in cerulean heights, meadowsized antechambers which are truly scarlet blooms…


De Quincey must play many roles in opium’s postmodern one-man show. Unlike a politician, he speaks firsthand to addicts on the street. Everyone I know is on heroin–he quotes an Ohioan, an addicted mother of three. A third of the U.S.—someone you know—gets destroyed daily on opiods, states his resulting article. And you really must see the English opium-eater as shakyhanded teen, codeine fiend with slurred speech beseeching drug dealers on the streets because he resembles your own child, at least what he’d look like were he homeless and missing. De Quincey as a paramedic injecting narcan into an 11-year-old girl who overdosed. De Quincey as a mule for an Ashtabula county pill mill. As an activist carrying a sign which says: NO MORE DRUG WAR! 36 billion a year and a pandemic! As a policeman paid off by the Taliban, protecting an Afghani opium field with an AK-47. De Quincey as a marketer for a drug campaign, making bank, coyly downplaying addiction in favor of relief from chronic pain. As a judge with no training at all in pharmaceuticals or recovery, prescribing Vivitrol. As an Insys executive who forsakes last stage cancer patients to rake in billions, laughing with another executive in a restroom, while the punchline echoes: fentanyl sells! De Quincey driving a hearse carrying away the bodies of the young from what once were their homes. As a bystander wondering what the fuck is wrong with this country this makes absolutely no sense. Thinking someone sure kicked the living shit out of that white picket fence.


Opium! dread agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain! I had heard of it as I had of manna or of Ambrosia, but no further: how unmeaning a sound was it at that time! what solemn chords does it now strike upon my heart! what heart-quaking vibrations of sad and happy remembrances!
–De Quincey, Confessions

De Quincey died in 1859. He never had his front door smithereened by a SWAT team. Never was tased or pepper-sprayed. Never was sentenced like a young black male facing an all-white jury, locked up for life in Oklahoma for trafficking three ounces of crack cocaine. Never watched the white judge recite his sentence, or heard the state really say, We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. De Quincey wasn’t sickened by prison’s fetid, stale air, the click of locking metal doors. The silence when a penitentiary replaces nights filled with stars. Despite his Orientalist nightmares, he was no scapegoat in Saydnaya. He never fled edicts to kill every drug addict. He never had to meet Philippine vigilantes. Men dismembering and indiscriminately killing children. The state’s greatest hope would be to execute the Opium-Eater without trial, pin on him an incriminating sign advertising his use or sale of drugs, and leave him for all to see, dying in the street. A bloodstained example of what not to be.


On a hot July day, De Quincey, high on bath salts, breaks in and decorates a random family home for Christmas. The police break in, too, and find fault, arresting the pale, emaciated poet just when he’s placing the star atop the tree. He’s frisked, booked, and charged with B and E. But wait, the police say… Look at these Christmas lights, this tinsel and these snowglobes! Let no one say this Mr. De Quincey lacks style! Somewhere that damned dandy, Lord Byron, somersaults in his grave, wishing he could be this extravagant, this wild. Then the police become wooden mannequins. They’re merely props that drop through a trapdoor. And Santa Claus—I mean the real Santa Claus—replaces them, ambling in, taking De Quincey’s hand. So saileth away De Quincey in the famed sleigh, into a summer night that drinks the reindeer trail, the galaxy of blinking lights that accompany the siren.

Matt Schumacher, managing editor of the New Fabulist journal, Phantom Drift, lives in Portland, Oregon. His recent poetry collections include Ghost Town Odes and a chapbook of fantastical drinking songs, favorite maritime drinking songs of the miraculous alcoholics.

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