The Boy Who Ate Cigarettes: A Blue Collar Fairy Tale

Posted on 03 November 2009

Some say he lived under the Mill Street Bridge,
burning cancelled checks and lotto tickets
to keep warm. Others said he stayed
behind the town’s tattoo parlor, pushing
old syringes up the banisters, just to hear
the noise they made when they rolled back down.
When we were kids, we only saw his reflection,
a corner of his smile in the deli’s dirty windows,
a chin in the potholes that cradled spring thaw.
With every glimpse of black teeth, singed lips
flipped cigarettes, he spit white ashes and soot.
The grownups blamed him for those mornings
when the fog never lifted, when the yellow haze
made us cough, hid the sharp edges of street corners
and stop signs. I saw him, finally, when I was 13.
Crouched on the pipe fence near the pool hall,
he blew smoke rings my way, reached out
to touch my hair. He caught a strand, tugged.
Donora, he whispered, as if murmuring
a lover’s name, as if I was someone he knew.

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