Elegy on the Anniversary of My Brother’s Death

by | Dec 15, 2022 | Poetry

Elegy on the Anniversary of My Brother's Death by Jeanne Wagner

I saw addiction, then, the way the unaddicted do,
as affectation, as the need for a prop.
Cigarette as fingertip bonfire, as smolder,
as flair. As a flare.
But I ask myself now, what is an organism
but a contained burn?
The cosmos a dying fire? Love a captive flame?
In my brother’s favorite film, Now Voyager,
Henreid holds two cigarettes in his mouth
with the ritual devotion of an acolyte
tending the altar candles.
Afterward the lovers inhale in sync,
watching each other’s breath slowly pulse
inside the only lit points in the room.
Shall we? my brother asked his wife
the night after the diagnosis,
a mock conspiratorial tone to his voice,
a pack of his contraband cigs
hidden in the pocket of the pool table.
People loved him.
We shall she said. We shall.

Photo by Denis Defreyne, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author


Jeanne Wagner is the winner of several national awards: most recently the Arts & Letters Award, The Sow’s Ear Chapbook Prize and the Sow’s Ear prize for an individual poem. Her poems have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, North American Review, Southern Review and Hayden’s Ferry. She has four chapbooks and two full-length collections: The Zen Piano-mover, winner of the Stevens Manuscript Prize, and In the Body of Our Lives, published by Sixteen Rivers in 2011.