The smokers gaze beyond our world and dream
of somewhere distant from the marble stairs
in winter's cold. An exile tribe that shares
the fire in huddled clans, the smokers seem
awaiting some deliverance from the flights
of steps. Inhaling stokes a flame to send
out signals of distress that quickly spend
their heat and dwindle down to votive lights,
while smokers offer scorched and ruined breath
in desperate sacrifice. Their exhales merge
like choir notes. Though packs they carry test
their faith by threatening damaged heirs or death,
the many scattered acolytes converge
in some communion which the ash has blessed.
I can't make out my shaky writing
from just last year. It's little better
than jagged lines that show I'm fighting
to blurt out words. A grasping letter
attempts to rise but fails, then sinks
below and hangs. A fractured T
with cross unhinged and broken links
to others makes a dying tree.
At palsied stops again I feel
my breathing catch, my heart beat climb,
and scanning pages makes it real
once more for me, that awful time.
It's not important now to gauge
the words to understand the scrawl:
it scratches out along the page,
a trail of wounded creature's crawl.
Both poems are excerpted from The Bell, forthcoming from Seven Towers, 2009.
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