“The View, the World, My Mother” by Laurie Junkins

Laurie Junkins


Driving up the New Jersey Turnpike, I glance
to the right, across the Hudson, at Manhattan
packed in smog as if cushioned for shipping, buildings
jutting from its milky haze in dark spikes,

and I wonder if this was how it looked after that fall day—
if for weeks a cloud of particles expanded along streets
like foam. I think of the smoke hanging at the ceiling
of my father’s house that night when, left alone,

age ten, I built a fire. I didn’t know about the damper,
ran across the street for help, coughing and crying
in blue-flowered pajamas, the smell like a campfire
but darker, this smoke reeking of houses burning down,

of fire eating not marshmallows but drapes
and beds and lives. Smoke like a monster’s fetid breath,
like the coal haze over China that burns eyes,
scrapes at the tissues of throats and lungs. Stacks exhaling

over gray cities, tailpipes coughing along ribbons of highways,
even the grease-coated belches of restaurant kitchens.
And my mother, too. Even her, pulling the smoke
of each Benson & Hedges into her body as if starving for it,

holding her cigarette in that yellowed valley
worn into her first and second fingers, the smoke
twining around her head in ethereal curls, clinging
to her hair, clothes, the rugs, the walls, the cat, clinging

to me, who grew cocooned within it, wrapped
always in a bunting of foul, whispering smoke.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010

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