Nothing fills the body like tobacco gas
sating each bronchiole
until alveoli collapse,
punctured bubble wrap,
Yet it is not the health risk I address but slavery,
the false comfort of stuffing the God-shaped vacuum
with dark matter.
Inscrutable face of the known universe
know that without tobacco
my chest is an abandoned altar,
my lungs empty gloves.
by the grace of the unknowable
I will not smoke.
How can I wax oracular about a deadly habit? Shall I say, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by white voodoo missiles from the military industrial suicidal tobacco coven,
Red Man's revenge funded by oil-wealthy Oklahoma Indians,
saw the blue smoke climb the undefended caves of their nostrils like mutated kudzu planting a Manitou deep in their unsuspecting ribs
to one day metastasize and waste their brains for the prize of a green oxygen tank and a wheelchair!
O Cancer! O Emphysema! O Stroke! O Coronary!
O insidious degenerative enzymes from secret hybrid leaves developed for mass destruction!
O refreshing Salems in a waterfall among the green ferns!
O perfect models with khaki slacks and sweaters tied around their necks sailing off Martha's Vineyard, liberated by Newports!
O Marlboro man who never talks but rides by purple mountains and orange sunsets in his fleece-lined suede jacket!
O Virginia Slims who keep that weight off for a woman who is only a clothes rack for designers, X-Ray clavicles and Botox.
O be happy, go Lucky, Winston tastes good, the pause that refreshes, smooth, smooth, smooth as polished agate.
But I'm not starving hysterical naked only addicted to inhaled nicotine jolting the brain in seven seconds, instantaneous pleasure loop hydrogen jukebox!
Mornings are made worse
by smoking too much under the influence of alcohol
the night before, which temporarily dulled
the pain of inhalation. You wake up
feeling like a crematorium,
still, have to have that morning rush
while listening to the coffeemaker
hum with the refrigerator.
I can’t ignore the pleading quality of machines—
a whir, a whine, as if a wish for petting,
as if they sympathized somehow,
could understand the loss of choice.
It’s said "one of three" will die from smoking
but this is only pseudoscientific propaganda.
Easier to see the damage in finely furrowed faces,
gray with sunken cheeks
who purse their lips to make it easier to exhale
against the increased resistance:
The blue bloaters of emphysema.
Then there are the barrel-chested wheezers
who hyperventilate to compensate:
The pink puffers of chronic bronchitis.
Yet none of this so terrifies
as does the black crab.
Lung cancer patients stink.
No one wants to play with them
on the field or at the rink,
no one wants to stay with them.
Because cancer is possession by an alien—
cells gone native, cells too stupid to know
they destroy their host,
mole burrowed deep, tiny claws
scratch at the pulmonary tree
in the darkness of blood and bronchi.
Depression and loss look much the same
along life's hedgerow, still, differ
as hawthorn from holly, as grape from pear.
Loss is a coin tossed down a well
until you hear the plunk of water and weep;
in depression you never hear the coin
Nicotine, like benzedrine,
has antidepressant properties.
Deprived, the mind shudders
like an old engine.
Who will pull this train?
I think I can, I think I can,
desiring this man's art and that man's scope
the sea has jaws and a gray-green coat.
what hangs from the jaws is pulverized
to pebbles until the shingle rattles
before an otter floating in the caramel kelp.
The disconnection, stoppage, hesitation, grappling
for numbers, addresses, details, sans nicotine
I mourn the vanished power of the stimulated reign.
My parents smoked, it was not unpleasant.
It was present at Christmas with the holly wreath
and the brown couch with the little nubs
and the wrought iron legs from which my mother read
Hiawatha to us while smoking.
Mom smoked when I was a fetus.
Bad, bad mother.
Mom withheld her nipples from me.
Mean, mean mother.
She tried to nurse my older brother but failed.
Weak, weak mother.
At birth I knew what she knew:
There must be a substitute.
I saw the spirit of fire,
in her coronet of coals
dancing in a leaf skirt
of golden brown,
her incendiary thighs
burning burning burning.
Before her only God breathed fire.
Afterwards came dragons,
venomous snakes and toads.
Finally man's penis swelled
and woman's labia grew
bloody-purple, pink and wet.
I heard Tobaccohontas speak:
"I burn for you, Brave.
Do not forget your love.
Cleave me with your tomahawk,
undo the seam so lightly stitched by nature
or my own nails will ream it,
drive your spear into the ravenous slit
beneath the golden curls of my mons,
pound me as a bear ruts a sow
in a ditch littered with salmon bones and acorns.
My mouths have swallowed
the seed of many warriors, come.”
I once fingered your moist fragrance
in blue pouches of Drum tobacco.
Your scent still calls me
from the tent of the elders
puff by puff
but moderation is beyond me.
I must devour and be devoured.
My lava grows hard in your ocean.
Your undersea cleft shapes me.
My tip breaks off like a coal in your wet purse.
I shudder, deflate and die.
You are the siren of my death.
I stub you out in ashtrays
as if they were vampires’ coffins
through which to pound my stake.
Now I can only suck
the memory of your forbidden pleasure
and cast its usage toward some future
beyond obsession. Forgive me
Princess; you were the best.
Withdrawal still twists me on its spit.
I suck my toothbrush in a rage,
spit out toothpicks like a nail gun.
When then is there an end to it?
Was slavery worth the wage?
No—I must—can’t—think of it!
I’ll wash my inside windows today.
After the Windex and the suds
the accumulated slime runs
yellow and gray onto my rag,
phlegm of oncology.
the same sick mucous color you get
from washing an ashtray—
I was living in an ashtray—no;
I was a living ashtray.
Yet when the windows were done
I was at a loss at how to reward myself.
A glass of water? A walk in the park?
A swim at the gym?
A pitcher of warm spit?
Nothing beats a cigarette.
I must hold on hold out hold to
hold forth hold back hold sway—
Mommy, don’t let me die an ashtray.
There is an absence greater than absence of life
there is a hollow hollower than death
when the lights go off in the gunman's eyes
and every man becomes a purse.
There is a loss greater than loss of pleasure
when there is no breast or nipple
and the nurse removes your pacifier
and the wailing of your deprivation
goes unnoticed in the bassinet
and your infant body shakes
into the grief of sleep.
Or when standing at the railing of your crib
and there is no mother
and no substitute for mother
in the endless darkness—
“Why can’t you change yourself?”
After such abandonment you may spend your life
seeking a fix like the milk-dewed nipple
in the rhythm of the bliss of your sucking,
the warm pillow of breast pressed against your face
There is so little poetry left
I suffer its loss as much as cigarettes.
It may leave a bigger emptiness.
Love or addiction?
Sometimes I think addiction
especially when I am around poets
and feel the heat of their narcissism
rise like steam from a meatloaf,
the endless infantile hunger to be heard.
The problem is that poets can’t give themselves a fix,
they need an audience for praise.
Plato was right and wrong.
He never imagined the democratization of poetry,
fearing Aeschylus and Aristophanes
not Angelou and Bukowski.
You say I am writing prose now.
I say form must fit function
in this proliferation of venues and dilution of talent
on the Internet and in overpriced coffeehouses.
What do I really think?
Forget poetry, poetry sucks.
Poetry sucks donkey dicks in the dead of night.
Poetry sucks the butt holes of rabid bats
Poetry sucks the big Walla-Walla like a Staubsauger.
Poetry is a concentration camp for narcissists.
Poetry is eternal competition with every poet, living or dead.
Poetry causes stillborns, curdles milk and stains the altar with pig’s blood.
Poetry is bread in the mouth of a pigeon spreading Legionnaire's disease.
Poetry is the word flu.
When asked why she didn't quit,
Bette Davis replied, "Then how would I talk?"
gesturing with her cigarette holder.
And what if I become seriously depressed
when the faces of familiar cars look strange
and I am frightened by doorknobs and tea kettles,
when whatever spark of self I knew
flies up and out the chimney into the wailing dark?
Will I zero-sum suck again?
That is always one danger: when smoking
or not smoking appear equally pointless
in a universe without pity.
Ergo, “Who cares if I smoke?”
In that state, which always returns
I vow to pretend to care
against all evidence.
The other danger is similar—
on a very good day, say your daughter’s wedding
or grandson's baptism, when the joyful
conviction of invulnerability
whispers, “You’ve achieved control
and can have just one.”
I have decided
when I get the urge
to imagine a silver angel
with glacier-blue eyes and crystal hair
swooping down like Winged Victory
to pluck my desire in her gleaming hands
and throw it back to heaven as a spent coal.