My Mother, the Smoker

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She actually hates the taste, so she keeps
a sweating Coke at the ready. She likes
for her hands to stay busy, she says.
It’s a nervous habit, it’s just something I do.

Learning to smoke was her last school lesson:
unwrap the plastic case, flick the Bic
to flame, flare—take a drag.
What color comes after a pink lung turns?

I don’t like the way the smoke
smothers me while we sit together
on the couch, in the kitchen, or in the car,
but she holds it with all the grace

of a childhood dancer: clipped between fingers
in an unmistakable port de bras,
too many inhales, too many releases fading
like bad wishes blown on birthday candles,

like quiet mistakes. It could be worse,
it could be crack, she reasons—a logic
always met by my closed mouth. This
is the breath I never learned to take;

here is my exhale that’s almost clean.
After the smoke clears and the open palm
of the dirty ash tray is a small graveyard
of her Virginia Slims, I’m still sitting,

hearing the hissing of the aerosol can
of air freshener, the fading carbonated ticks
against the sides of the soda can, the ash
silent, finally quitting its urge to burn.

My Mother, the Smoker

Photo Flick your Bic by Jans used under Creative Commons License (BY-SA-ND-2.0)

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About Author

Paige Sullivan has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University. Her poems have appeared in Qu, Terminus, American Literary Review, and others.

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