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   s m o k e

--- D O R I A N N E   L A U X

Who would want to give it up, the coal a cat's eye in the dark room, no one there but you and your smoke, the window cracked to street sounds, the distant cries of living things. Alone, you are almost safe, smoke slipping out between the sill and the glass, sucked into the night you don't dare enter, its eyes drunk and swimming with stars. Somewhere a dumpster is racheted open by the claws of a black machine. All down the block something inside you opens and shuts, sinister creak and slam, screetch and wheeze, trash quivers in the chute: leftovers, empties. You don't flip on the TV or listen to the radio. They might muffle the sound of car engines backfiring, and in between, streetlights clicking from green to red, scoffing footsteps, the rasp of breath, your own, growing lighter and lighter as you inhale. There's no music for this scarf of smoke wrapped around your shoulders, curling like fingers along the pale stem of your neck, no song light enough, liquid enough, that climbs high enough then thins and disappears. Death scrapes its shovel along the sidewalk, critches across the man-made cracks, slides on grease into rain-filled gutters, digs its beveled nose into the ravaged leavees. You can hear him weaving his way down the street, drunk on the last breath he swirled past his teeth before swallowing: breath of the cat kicked to the curb, a woman's sharp gasp, sweet baby's breath of the shaken child. You can't put it out, can't stamp out the light and let the night enter you, let it burrow through your smaller passages. You listen and listen and smoke and ggive thanks, suck deep with the grace of the living, blowing nooses and halos and zeros and rings linked like chains above your bowed head. Then you take it in again, the vein-colored smoke and blow it up toward a ceiling; you can't see where it lingers like a sweetness you can neve hold, like the ghost the night will become.

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