The Boy Who Ate Cigarettes
Some said he lived under the Mill Street Bridge,
burning cancelled checks and lotto tickets
to keep warm. Other said he stayed
behind the town’s tattoo parlor, pushing
old syringes up the banisters, just to hear
the noise they made when they rolled back down.
When we were kids, we only saw his reflection,
a corner of his smile in the deli’s dirty windows,
a chin in the potholes that cradled spring thaw.
With every glimpse of black teeth, singed lips
flipped cigarettes, he spit white ashes and soot.
The grownups blamed him for those mornings
when the fog never lifted, when the yellow haze
made us cough, hid the sharp edges of street corners
and stop signs. I saw him, finally, when I was 13.
Crouched on the pipe fence near the pool hall,
he blew smoke rings my way, reached out
to touch my hair. He caught a strand, tugged.
Donora, he whispered, as if murmuring
a lover’s name, as if I was someone he knew.
–By Karen J. Weyant
Karen Weyant teaches at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. I’ve really enjoyed her chapbook, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, which won the 2011 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest. It includes “The Boy Who Ate Cigarettes.”
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A Natural History of Cigarette Butts
—Devil’s Notch, Catskills
Deep in prickly briar wands unclawing leaves
for May lies an open pack of Parliaments,
revealing nibbled foil, cigarettes tightly packed
yet trimmed of every filter. Did a mouse
harvest cotton for its nest? If so, may we
call this hope? My mother smoked,
smoked and had a throat scar like a nipple.
As a child to shame her into quitting, I ate
her Parliaments in front of guests and choked
on filters. I coughed with terrifying dryness,
until a man bent me on his knees and pounded
on my back. She thought I was dying.
One by one I pick them from roadside gravel
or straw-like gully grass woven down by runoff:
cotton filters wrapped white or caramel.
All morning I’ve collected trash in this notch,
where larger garbage should fill my yellow bag.
My mother quit but I can’t seem to stop.
–By Will Nixon
The Catskill 3500 Club for peak baggers such as myself who climb all 35 peaks above 3500 feet has taken responsibility for picking up litter along several miles of the county highway that runs through the Devils Notch. One day I was the only club member to show up for this chore. At least I got this poem out of the experience. It appears in My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse.
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