Cigarettes by Patricia Clark


Sometimes my students, knowing the long list
of dangers, would ask me, “Why would anyone
smoke?” I would look at them lounging in plastic
portable chairs that had a bowl beneath each
of them for bookbags or books. “Have you ever tried
it?” I said. I could see myself twenty years ago,
smoking and drinking coffee as I read Virginia Woolf
for the first time, To The Lighthouse. How I was
transported to Cornwall or the Isle of Skye, the shore
of Scotland, the gardens, the rackety house with windows open
curtains blowing in, sea-salt air. Or I watched
my father walking the riverbank of the Snoqualmie
or Chehalis, a wreath of smoke circling his head
while he reeled in a steelhead. Years later everyone
quit, and he quit, too, when the doctors
told him, but until his last days he remembered
the feel of the pack in his chest pocket, the good
crinkle of cellophane when he opened a new pack,
the thump against his hand to knock the first one
free, the snap of the lighter, blaze of flame, whoosh
of ignition before the delicious pull of smoke,
Chesterfields, into his lungs, first smoke of the day.


Patricia Clark is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars (Terrapin, 2020) & the author of three chapbooks. New work appears in Plume, Tar River Poetry, Paterson Literary Review, Westchester Review, I-70 Review, Atticus Review, Midwest Quarterly and elsewhere. She is professor emerita of Writing at Grand Valley State University.

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