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.

Brain Tonic by Luke Stromberg

Brain Tonic
        for John Foy

Like my grandmother before me, I like to drink
A refreshing can of Coca Cola for breakfast
It’s part of my arrested development.
Sadly, I never developed a taste for coffee,
A classic marker of maturity,
Like when a girl gets her first training bra.
I do enjoy the occasional hot tea
(With too much sugar and milk), but I prefer
To keep it low class. Don’t misunderstand—
It’s not a political gesture, just my “truth.”
I find the initial sip of carbonated
Sweetness akin to the lost ritual
Of that first frosty-morning drag from a Camel,
Both pleasures sneered at by the professional class.
My uncle once compared smokers to Jews
In Nazi Germany! The comparison
Was, as the kids would say, “problematic,”
But health can be a form of tyranny,
I guess…What was I talking about again?

Ah, yes! Healthful, delicious Coca Cola!
“The Intellectual Drink,” “The Ideal Brain Tonic,”
Said to relieve exhaustion and calm the nerves,
To satisfy the thirsty and help the weary.
Like Trump, I drink several cans a day
And sometimes feel powerless with rage.
I’m sorry (sort of) for these affinities
But overwhelmed by social change and struggling
To gain purchase, I’ve turned to Coca Cola.
On an airplane one time, a woman asked
If I could try to be less animated.
I was relating a story to a friend,
You see, and am excitable by nature.
…Ah, I am exhausted, so exhausted…
Beat down by politics, divorce, and failure,
The past few months have been a son-of-a-bitch.
I’d like the world to buy me a Coke, for once,
And keep me company. It’s the real thing
That I want today, the real thing, the real thing.


Luke Stromberg’s poetry and criticism have appeared in Smartish Pace, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golidad Review, Think Journal, The Raintown Review, The Dark Horse, Cassandra Voices, and several other venues. He also serves as the Associate Poetry Editor of E-Verse Radio. Luke works as an adjunct professor at Eastern University and La Salle University and lives in Upper Darby, PA.