Smoke

By Catherine French

Frank Gorshen – now he could smoke. 
He would inhale the universe, 
transfer it from thin air into his upper body
and let it sear through.				
Then he’d return it, transformed 
the way other people take photographs,
paint, sing.
And, sure, it killed him
eventually. In the meantime
he pilfered from fire 
becoming a bit dependent on the burn 
listing through his hard geometries, 
one of its last best mediums.

It baffles the realist, 
that blur of color and mind,
the compulsive force forward.
A train rushing through the station
minus the train. 
A strain of consciousness 
fugitive, aggressive,
Mocking in its power and ability
to bring us to the edge of the track
just as a locomotive steamrolls by.

Like a good criminal, 
the mind runs when cornered
and once on the lamb 
develops a taste for the chaos,
and sheer thrill of it.
But also bears witness
to its own lyrical progressions
much the way that clouds roll into 
and out of shapes that we have named,
photograph and post online. 
They are our own fugitive mind. 
Grand anvils rising and ultimately
dissipating to mere red frill 
lipping through a hem of gathered mist
which then falls out of formation,
and off the visible plane.

The art is obscure, possibly divined, 
as with water dowsers or a chef
who infuses foam with the incense
of burning pine needles, the way
a hard liquor will sear through the chest, 
enforced sensation 
on the body’s trusting clay. Truth 
requires a humility and patience
that might fall out of the range 
of human, but we hear it humming		
and tilt our heads to listen 
to what we can’t hear.
One note rises, curls,
refusing any one definition. 
It has no face or shape or language or name. 
A train without the station. 
Color, or the lack thereof, 
hangs threaded and pulsing in air. 

Sometimes I wake like this, 
not knowing my name or what I dreamt of
or where I am.
Only aware that smoke 
has burned through me again.
I think I am the medium it found 
to express its fugue in the theater
of my skull’s bony proscenium.
I look at it cast there, or sense it
(blindfolded as I am, smoking
my last cigarette)
a throbbing difficulty, light and trick
and authentic pain, center stage.
A beautiful haunt of cloud.	
I want to take a picture, post it. 		

“Oh, no. 
It’s not just passing illusion.” says Frank.
“That’s love 
                 in all its glory,” 				
and he flicks his cigarette, a small 
orange wheel of burn, 
into the full dark off stage. 

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About Catherine French

Catherine French’s first collection of poems is Sideshow, from the University of Nevada Press. She received the James D. Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation, and her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Nation, The Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, Zyzzyva, Poet Lore and other journals. She teaches writing at community colleges throughout the San Joaquin Valley in California.

One Comment

  1. Michael Lundell
    Posted May 2017 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    First line of “smoke,” do you mean “how” instead of now? Good poem, though.

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