The Cigarette and The Actress
from Falling Past Love by Tobin James Mueller
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the cigarette...

your hands work as if on stage
a sudden graft of someone else’s elegance
elbows relaxed and eyebrows arched
within the practiced context of props
and their finely scripted securities

patterns change, of speech and gesture
as eyes squint through curling smoke
someone else’s eyes
and the deftly lit cigarette fills your mouth
someone else’s mouth

cool words vent with the mouth’s exhaust
no longer the oracle that sang to me like a kiss
cool words and heated smoke screening
your face, and I wonder
how many people there are inside you burning

like a sparkler flashing on the fourth of july
the end of your smoldering hand traces
the space, the growing space that encircles you,
smoke defining in the busy night air
the conversation’s end

looking offstage as if for a prompt
you try to say what is already in one eye
and take a drag, tasting the sound

then finally the words, arrogant as a thrower’s knives
“I can’t handle this yet, you know? Not yet. Not me.”
and it all seems so reasonable
as you nod, agreeing with yourself

and each promise made is lanced like a balloon
and each sweet vow is swallowed
as the scrolls of our moments,
poems all (i had believed),
are rolled and stuffed and turned to ash
then casually flicked into the oncoming traffic
in the time it takes for another match to flare

text © 2004 Tobin James Mueller