This long-lined poem is an eloquent and angry diatribe directed toward the god who wasn't there, a god who, if he had been present to them, would have saved the poet's father and his family from another god who DID appear in their lives, the god of amphetamine.

The god of amphetamine is "the god of wrecked / lives, and it's only he who can explain how my doctor father, / with a gift of healing strangers and patients alike, left so many / intimate dead in his wake." He is the god of diet pills, of the "rampant mind," and of "tiny, manic orderings in the midst of chaos." He is also the god of terrible and destructive scenes in the poet's family, because, in fact, the poet's father was the high priest of this god, "preaching its gospel, lifting it like a host and / intoning . . . Put out your tongue and receive it." [37 lines]


Gregory Orr experienced a very difficult childhood. At the age of 12, he accidentally shot and killed his older brother while they were deer hunting with their father. Shortly after that, his mother died of cancer. And in the current poem, Orr reveals that his father, who was a physician, must have been addicted to amphetamines and perhaps prescribed them indiscriminately. This led to "subtle carnage," such as his "long monologues by moonlight" and the manic lists he inflicted on his family, but it also led to major trauma, such as the time he jumped out of bed and started running around the house, shooting his .38 at a mouse, while his terrified family stood by.

Orr calls upon the god of amphetamine to answer for all the reckless behavior that he induces. But there is no answer: "He eats the heart to / juice the brain and mocks the havoc he makes, laughing at all / who stumble."

Primary Source

The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems


Copper Canyon

Place Published

Port Townsend, Wash.