Now that the pressure’s gone, I wake up,
reach for my phone and push pause
before my eyes open.
Can’t be sure what time or day it is.
I’m in between worlds.
Vaguely, there is a sense of somewhere to go
but not urgently.
I fall back in the wispy strands of the dream:
You and Carmen and Rick stood in a circle
at the end of the street
breathing in the thick of the night.
The air around you was smoke
dotted with tiny red flares,
a mixture of fog and tobacco fumes.
I thought you quit years ago.
I remember the sound of the scraped butt
smashed to the ground
under your cowboy booted heels,
sizzle to a stop.
“I’m finished,” you said.
And then it was as if you had never smoked
those last fifteen years.
I never could keep a forever mind like that.
Everything is conditional and environmental
like a chameleon, something I called you.
But when Carmen, who smoked a pack a day then,
stole your glances and eventually your heart,
you never resumed the habit.
And there you were standing with them
at the corner of my block.
Maybe you weren’t smoking.
It was hard to tell in the nighttime mist.
I wanted to say something to you,
Something about how it has been
since you left,
not a complaint,
just to make you understand something,
a notion about passing time
and diminished threats.
But the block was too long
and it kept getting longer
each step bringing me farther from the circle,
closed circle you made in a ring of fire.
They came in the middle of the night as they do
crumpled in a catatonic somnambulant stupor,
stone cold molded to mrsa laced cell benches,
floors with black mold splotches scattered and
mad banging blasts of batons and bitches’ yells
through bullet proof windows looking out and into
the overcrowded bodies shivering and fetalized
in various states of dress, undress, partial dress.
Picked up without warning, no warning but panic
and running from parties, trips to the supermarket,
dance halls, bedrooms, hangouts on the streets,
of pink, purple, green, magenta or ray blue ratted
hair, tattooed arms, legs, faces, and necks, pierced
faces and breasts, rotten and missing toothed,
blotchy skin pimpled, bruised, track armed, skinny,
bloated S/he’s from teens to terminal, mid to low.
And they slept for days, awakening only to the yell
for meds, health checks, court, chow, count or call
but barely scraping their hides from their sheets
for the shouts, curses and kicks of their cell mates
to get up and out or get t.v. rights and room taken
causing everyone around them to suffer more while
the days on end of motionless moaning sleeping
keeps on blacking them out from the painful blame.
It’s just like those left behind, on the streets, and
in the car–their kids, their dogs, and their wo/men,
their mothers they abused, their fathers who left
their sisters and brothers they don’t even know of–
some of them learning how to get high at 9 years
when dad or mom showed them how to burn even
and how to smoke it until it made it all smooth cool
and smell like the chemical resin burning off wood.
Those around them suffer while they sleep and
awaken to too much lost time and commotion
until they emerge day after day after day then on
to a slowly formed former human participant–
mother, daughter, sister, wife, partner and mate–
who smiles, cares about others and herself to
protect those she loves and comforts strangers
in a sisterhood of sorority chat, slights and H/er.
And just when their skins clear, their hopes appear
they will go back–to the streets, to the madness
to pimps and scams and stealing and ever to H/er
their mistress, the one they all know and sell for
their soul, their children’s, mothers’, fathers’ and
partners’ and mates’, all for H/er–what no one else
can give, the thrill that only their mistress gives
then takes and takes and takes and takes and takes…
Fumes of the extinguished fire lingers filling the room with scents of wax and burnt wick.
The smoke, though invisible to me in the dark, reminds me of your thin figure, your fire.
Your sweet aroma of earth and leaf, tobacco leaves damp and smoldering, beckons me
and recalls your soothing sedimented richness through my blood, surging in my veins.
I had my first taste on the elementary school playground seduced by smoldering cool
you were when introduced to me by a school mate, someone you just met days before.
She wanted me to know you better, so we met by chance secreted on the very edges
near the woods and the hill, closest to the shady space of the field for the most privacy.
Since then, we have been friends, sometimes lovers, often thought bedfellows for life.
There were times when I had to let you go poison and pleasure someone else’s bed.
Many years went by when I merely longed for you, craved your touch, your taste…smell.
When I had my kids I didn’t want you around, denied that I ever knew you, needed you.
But my desire for you never left completely, and when I would see you around, I knew.
I would always love you, always wish you were back in my life, so comforting and calm.
Though, you come and go, drifting into my days after I have begged you to come back
then begged you to leave, give me my healthy peace, my independence, oh my mistress.
I cannot be who I yearn to be, full breath me, flexing into the wind and the drawing in air
not with you in my mind, my heart, my veins, my throat, my mouth, your scent reeking,
making my clothes, my fingers and my breath smell like you always wafting in before me.
You’re no good for me and I will never be free of longing for you, controlling you always.
Mistress C, I cannot commit to you, even with what you supply, stress release and repose,
and commit to the other side of me too, the one united with the rest of the respiring world.
For you are no good, kill me with your alluring touch of my fingers, mouth, face, and hair,
my mistress addiction who constricts me like a boa, my lungs, blood flow running freely.
Disease me not, be gone and beguile some other unsuspecting foolish follower of the flame!