Smoking with the Dead
Kim Peter Kovac
It’s possible that smoking might still be cool
where the dead live. I believe in ghosts,
yet find them cold and abstract; the dead
are more alive, loving nicotine-rituals,
(difficult to imagine if you did not run
in packs with de rigeur cigarette packs).
Though I quit years ago (heart disease,
six or eight stents), I still crave cigarettes –
for both the drug-hit and the social ritual.
More than with my few friends still
addicted, I long to smoke with the gone –
not random dead, but two in particular.
My pal Colleen and I smoked and snarked
for years at performance festivals in Utrecht,
Adelaide, Cleveland, and more – bad-kids
bonding in bars and outside the back doors
of theaters. She died too young (lung
cancer), and I long to bum one of her beloved
mentholated things and recall our final
phone call where I got a loud and full
deep-gut laugh out of her despite failing
lungs; now we’d share a great guffaw
while plotting some cool-ass live stage
production spiced by the ironies of dying.
Way more, I’d love to smoke with my father,
a channeling challenge since he was whacked
suddenly by a heart attack fifty years ago
when I was thirteen. On this occasion, we’d
fish out Kent cigarettes, (two packs a day)
and the flip-up lidded silver Zippo lighter,
as much a part of a soldier’s kit as a canteen.
Smoking with Stan would cause familial
condemnation – they hated my embrace
of his habit. Yet I’d risk their negativity
(if they were even present in this dreamy ghosty
dead world) so I could ask a few questions.
First: what about his time as a fighter-plane
mechanic in the South Pacific during the war,
though the only story I recall was about stolen
grapefruit juice, prized as a mixer with medical
alcohol to allow a quick numb drunkeness?
Why was that all I remember him recounting?
The second would be to ask if he missed us
as much as we missed (and miss) him,
though in different and mostly unspoken
ways. Surely, since he was (is?) of the family,
he would dance away from emotional things
of such depth, as we the living did (and do).
The third and most important: how fluid
is the border between these places?
Several times my sister, a rabid non-smoker,
has smelled cigarette smoke in her house
and each time felt our father was there
with her, for love or support, a gently
wafting presence. Lighting one last cig off his,
I would deeply inhale, blow some smoke rings
and ask “were you there for Lisa? Was that you?”
What I would be afraid to ask is “did you ever
come to me when I needed you? And if you did
was I just not paying proper attention?”
I suspect there would be no answer, nor a repeat
of the question, only tossing the cigarette butts
onto the heavenly sidewalk and twisting shoes
to fully extinguish the coals. Since no clocks
exist in this place, neither of us are certain
how much more time we will have together.
Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences with an emphasis on new play development and networking. He tells stories on stages as producer of new plays, and tells stories in writing with lineated poems, prose poems, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, haiku, haibun, and microfiction, with work appearing or forthcoming in print and on-line in journals from Australia, India, Ireland, Dubai (UAE), England, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA, including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Red Paint Hill, Elsewhere, Frogpond, Mudlark, and Counterexample Poetics. He is fond of avant-garde jazz, murder mysteries, contemporary poetry, and travel, and lives in Alexandria, VA, with his bride, a Maine Coon cat named Frankie Malone, and a Tibetan Terrier named Mick. @kimpeterkovac – kimpeterkovac.tumblr.com.