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.