Second-hand Smoke

All it takes for a gust of wind to howl
Is a voice box and a lung.

The future hauls like a freight train,
A whistle against an unravelling sky

Too intent on spinning storms
Even after the smoke chokes in its urn.

I stomp and stamp out a cigarette
Incensing the air with nicotine.

How many lives in that fleeting tendril?
Perhaps one-thousandth of the despondent man

And one-hundredth of his frumpy wife,
Choking on ash and chiding him

Not to ignite yet another pack
And hiding his lighter under the mattress,

Chunks of foam already torn by
Clawed-out cataclysms on angry nights.

But he would use his wooded hands,
Enough friction in them for a small spark

To pass on to the rolling paper
As if at a candlelight vigil.

The smoke snakes upwards
Like a palm raised towards the sky,

Fingers stretching for the yellow sun.
And in the smoke I can see things –

Trees, umbrellas, unopened flowers,
Whatever I want to see.

A fraction of that man,
A segment of his face,

The yellow strip of a tooth
Or a wisp of his ashen hair,

And watch them intertwine like
A double helix or interlocked fingers

As they disappear over the city skyline
And dangle, waiting for something to latch onto,

Even a molecule of nascent sadness
Or a moment of stationary bliss,

When the day would stop
Unwinding and spilling out like guts

Or when the string that keeps being pulled
From the fabric of the universe

Would remain rolled up in its cocoon
Before its inevitable snip,

A kite falling silently onto the railroad tracks.

Steven Chung is a high school student in the Bay Area.

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One Response to Second-hand Smoke

  1. Carol Alexander says:

    A wonderful poem! Hard to believe that Steven is in high school– so much sophistication in the writing.

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