Cigarettes & Incense

Some time from this day,
after unnumbered moons have risen
and, likewise, suns have set;
when the kids are off to college,
and your days and nights contract
like the leather lung of a sighing bellows;
on a balmy summertime Sunday morning,
you sit on your front porch,
slurping steam from the meniscus
that climbs the rim of your
mug, brimming with
hot coffee and cream.

You mull what you might
make for dinner tonight,
as your husband composes
a metal-on-metal parade of
pounding from the garage,
where he endeavors to sweat out
a lingering hangover
with the purposeful animus
of brute force.

And in this core of peaceful regularity,
another sharp metal clank rings through your head,
like one from a well-aimed ballpeen hammer—
a memory of the “good talker” boy,
who wore, like a badge,
the moniker you stitched to his chest.


You can’t glean his features from
the cloud of your memory,
nor the color of his eyes, nor
the calming timbre of his voice;
but you recollect his smell—
a scent that wafts at you like breaking waves,
whose swells began near the shore of
a distant coast, linked to the Now
by a long and always-swaying
suspension bridge, built from
the bones of dusty years.

You recall the softness and
indelibility of his love for you—
in the empty studio of the imagined,
you cobble together a
sculpture of an alternate past,
detailed in rich relief
with scenes of tandem adventures
that were never undertaken,
beautiful and pure dreams
that lay stunted, never to burst
from their cocoons—
a joined existence that remained
a damp and unmade lump of clay.

You wonder what kind of
man he might have shaped himself,
and the visions he might have
birthed into creation, and what
individual realities might have
been made a bit lighter
by only his touch—
had he never met you.


You witness the last
words he scrawled for you,
unwrapping on yellowed paper—
parchment conjured from the
library of Long Ago;
you know that he loved you ever,
because his brand of loving
is a binary “one,” stamped upon the
shifting tableau of infinite being.

He kept his pen in his pocket—
with enough ink for plagues of words to come;
he left the bolt on the
front door unfixed, and laid out
another setting at his kitchen table—
with an extra spoon or two,
should you ever return.


He knew, in the end,
that all the damage you had done him—
all the wounds inflicted, and the
seeming recklessness with which
you handled his heart flesh—
was indeed calculated.
Your intent was transparent,
as motionless ice.

From his small, bobbing
iceberg, floating in open water,
he saw what you had done,
but your motivations forever
remained submerged, deep
under the skin
of this black ocean.

And he forgave you,
even while shivering from the
chill of that knowledge,
having been frozen until
emotionally brittle,
and eventually snapped in two.


That smell—
cigarettes and incense—
wraps itself like life-warm arms
around your shoulders and whispers,
“I was here. I lived. I am.
And everything will be all right, love.”

Though the whole of himself—
his love, his voice,
his animation of body
and centrifugal spirit—
is housed, now only in a
wisp of steam
and a sound of dull,
ringing metal.

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