Why I started smoking
Tip of my Salem menthol, tiny beacon
in the summer night, windows rolled
down, all the sweetness of corn waves
drifting through the car. Tomorrow,
long shift on concrete: eight hours,
break, lunch. Farmer says it’s not so bad.
Easy. Reliable. I just sing Emmy Lou
all night: It’s alright, ‘cuz it’s midnight
& I’ve got one more bottle of wine.
Pampers in cardboard, arms, blades.
Whirring stale warehouse air ‘til dawn.
Stop at the Tombstone with the guys.
Shut sun away in the house.
Resolve, waking to purple
Pennsylvania twilight. Dad with his amber
glass & gardens, Mom in bed all day,
sisters scattered to the wind. I’ve never been
to LA where the ocean roars off the boulevard,
never seen a Great Lakes freighter watching
for the lighthouse just around the bend of shore.
The Maverick is lifting me over the swell of hills,
floating down in the hollows, cool and dark.
This glow of small light keeps me in its circle.
Still and steady. Flick of ash,
radio tuned, breathing deep, full, until
the end of the night, when I will resume.
The hitchhiker came for dinner,
deep summer. We celebrated
— new potatoes, end of the green
beans, first tomatoes ripening.
Mom was sick, one less at the table.
All the dogs were in heat.
It was the Sturgeon full moon.
There was a mess of fish
in the laundry sink.
The Rocket said a steady stream
of young people with long hair
& back packs were stranded
on Route 6. In the kitchen,
my sisters & I fried up the bass,
fingers dipped in egg & flour.
When the shaggy boy walked in,
dusty from the road, bell bottoms
covered with patches, American flags,
blue bandana holding back his hair,
he smiled — something raw & needy.
I felt a pulse striking, over & over,
the sledge hammer we used
for the garden rows.
All I could picture
were the dogs Dad had me separate.
How friction can be airborne & wet,
even without touch,
just the idea.
~ ~ ~
Ellen Stone teaches at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poetry collection, The Solid Living World, won the 2013 Michigan Writers Cooperative Press chapbook contest. Ellen’s poems have appeared recently in Blast Furnace, Dunes Review, Gravel, Melancholy Hyperbole, Neat, in the anthology, Uncommon Core, published by Red Beard Press, and are forthcoming in Passages North.