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Photo: freestocks.org/Flickr
Photo: freestocks.org/Flickr

SMOKE

Mar 6, 2019

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By Elizabeth Carothers Herron

 

She holds the cigarette outside

the open window of the CR-V

pulled to the side of the road,

engine running as she answers

her cell. Fires burning

miles to the east

smudge the sun orange.

 

Her shopping wasn’t out of boredom

but the uneasy understanding

it’s all connected – the fire,

the fracking boom towns,

the money she spends, the child

dying a world away

because a war is going on,

because the river is salted

by a rising sea, because the hospital

has no antiviral, because the farm

is a desert now, because

she’s driving this SUV.

 

Another child in a dull gray building

behind a chain-link fence

remembers the murmur of prayers

in a different language, before

he lost his name and became

a number. He is here because

the gangs have told his mother if --

 

The authorities are surprised

by attention to these children,

these people whose lives

have nothing to do with Macy’s

or Amazon or Whole Foods,

nothing to do with people

who don’t count their change,

nothing to do with her.

 

She holds her cigarette outside

so the upholstery and her hair

won’t smell like smoke. She smokes

because she is scared

and because she can’t forget

the ones too weak to cry

she saw on the news.

 

Smoke blown from the fires

sticks in a haze of ash

to the windshield. She’s heard

it carries the dust of the dead

along with toxic particles

of plastic and melted metal –

carpeting, refrigerators, cars,

always cars now – the air

more dangerous

than her cigarettes.

 

From space the lines of fire appear

like the bright ragged hem

of an irregular coastline.

180 million years ago

the lights came on in the universe

with the fiery birth of stars.

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