Cheryl A. Rice: “Ashtray”


Paper and foil, relic from a time when 
hospitality meant accommodating smokers, 
waited for us in Pennsylvania, Mom and Pop diner
that serves pierogis like other places
dish up hash browns or white toast. 

You were still a smoker then, rolled your own, 
pure tobacco from pale blue cans, 
Indian silhouette on the front 
reassuring us of its sincerity. 
I would wake to the sound of your little machine
sliding back and forth, ka-thuk, ka-thuk, 
assembling your supply for the day.

It was already illegal to smoke in New York
unless you were fifty feet from anywhere. 
Even restaurants lousy with smoke eaters were forbidden. 
But here in Scranton, the place your people put down roots, 
you could sit back, tap your homemade ash 
into the proper receptacle, or your empty coffee cup, 
but that’s bad manners, as we recalled. 

Despite second-hand warnings, 
I inhaled the smoke, 
romantic intoxicant, nostalgic pollutant, 
Marlboro mornings, Lemon Pledge afternoons,
childhood nights around the color console, 
hair and teeth and t-shirts next day 
reeking like the butts in that dish, 
emptied infrequently as all the good miners
have gone to seed.

About the Author: Cheryl A. Rice’s poems have appeared in Home Planet News, Misfit Magazine, and Trailer Park Quarterly, among others. Recent books include Love’s Compass (Kung Fu Treachery Press), and Until the Words Came (Post Traumatic Press), coauthored with Guy Reed. Her blog is at: Rice lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Image Credit: Louis Fleckenstein “Portrait of a Man Smoking Cigarette” Digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program.

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