As a rule, you want to avoid poison, though it depends. There is a blood thinner called warfarin, often sold under the brand name Coumadin, that has kept many people alive. Before small doses of it were used to save lives, it was a rat poison (and still is).
With poisons it’s often a matter of degree, of how much you take. The Latin word for poison is “toxicum”, from which, of course, we get the word “toxic”. If someone tells me something is toxic, I’m going to wait for you to try it first. I’m cautious that way. But if instead of toxic it’s “intoxicating”, then I’ll have extra.
The realization that a poison can have benefits (other than killing people who irritate you) was realized long ago. According to my friend the Internet, “intoxicate” was first used to mean making someone drunk back in 1570. Alcohol is a poison, as most college students know from conducting experiments on the weekends. In modern English we still use that meaning of “intoxicate” for drunkenness, but we’ve also taken that first happy feeling when drinking and expanded by metaphor into any state of mental euphoria or exhilaration.
Such intoxicating usage occurs naturally in song lyrics: “Cause you, you make me feel like I’m intoxicated” (Intoxicated, contemporary pop song), “Thou fairest creature, you have enslaved me, I am intoxicated by Cupid’s clue” (Colleen Rue, old Irish song).
Below I’m posting a poem on these ideas. I wrote the poem a couple of years ago, but it still applies.
Why Aren’t We Born Intoxicated?
The body manufactures vitreous humor for the eye,
allowing us to watch the rain come down
on a Monday morning,
as we search for our hopelessly lost car keys,
already late for work.
It makes gastric acid
to swirl anxiously in the stomach
as we sit waiting in the doctor’s office,
when the doctor is taking longer than we expected.
And it produces the myelin sheath
so that our nerves can carry signals,
making possible the tense, jittery feeling
as we pick up the phone to call someone.
What the body doesn’t make is alcohol.
That comes in bottles.
You know that feeling
when you’ve first had a couple of drinks.
It’s not drunkenness you feel.
It’s as if you’ve simply realized
that actually things aren’t that bad.
Sure, there’s trouble in the world,
sure, you’ve got some of it,
but that shouldn’t stop you from feeling optimistic and cheerful.
At a moment like that,
when you feel that way,
if alcohol is the work of the Devil,
then he deserves a Christmas bonus.
But naturally there’s a catch,
and isn’t there always?
Somehow it’s just not possible to maintain that feeling that somehow we’ll find the money to buy new tires for the car, and maybe we’ll get that job we interviewed for, and that person who doesn’t love us, well, maybe they’ll change their mind.
No, instead we either wind up too drunk,
or just as bad,
You say what you like,
but here’s what I say:
there’s a philosophical problem
with my DNA.
This is my final posting from Washington, located in the District of fair and lovely Columbia. Tomorrow morning I am off to Georgia, to live in the part of the country where people know to say “yall” when linguistic precision is needed. So yall come back next week, and I will try to add a dab of Dixie to my discourse. In the meantime, bottoms up.