I’ve always had an errant poet running around inside of me. The first things I ever wrote, if you don’t count the illustrated animal stories from grade school, were poems. Angst-ridden, rhyming, beyond awful junior high poems, but poems nonetheless. Since my teen years, when I realized my primary commitment and slightly more redeemable talent lay in fiction, my poems have been few and far between. However, since moving in with the esteemed poetess, Ms. Brandi Katherine Herrera, last May, I seem to have become a poet by association.


I’ve written more poems in these nine months than I have since my preteen days–meaning, nine, though three of them never got off the ground. That’s the trouble I have with poetry–if the little beasts don’t come to me more or less fully formed, I’ve no idea how to coax them to completion, so they sit in a folder on my desktop, verses poking out all askew, destined to remain unfinished in my unskilled hands.


But yesterday, near the end of my run, a poem began descending on me like stardust (and it does feel like that, I swear), and I held the first lines on my tongue until I got back to my house and typed them up, along with the rest of the verses. So now, I have a poem, and because I never know what to do with these strange gifts from the Poetry Fairies, I’m posting it here. If you don’t like it, blame Brandi, and tell her to stop emitting poetic airs in our house. If you do like it, thank Brandi. She is quite inspiring.


One Cigarette
By Jessica Lynne Henkle

You stepped outside for a cigarette, and with that flick
Of your thumb on the lighter, I felt how easily I, too, could slip
Across the threshold of the sliding door to where you
Stood, take the Marlboro from your lips to mine and draw
Ash into my lungs, and next, a kiss. Just one, but in that
One would bear the weight of a thousand transgressions.

That night was not how I thought it would be–you, on the grass,
The river at your back, I, perched on the couch, then at the door,
Dancing a two-step, in or out, as I talked, and you smiled and took
In all that smoke. I wanted to go to you but felt something restrain
Me, a hand with fingers webbed and poised on my back. There were
No words to that voice I heard speaking, but I knew what it said–

Not like the way my own tongue had lost its speech, that night of hours
Stunted by all I couldn’t name. Another cigarette for you,
And where was my reprieve? What dark addiction held its palm up for me
To eat from? You didn’t love me then, and I felt that knowledge pull
Me down, deep like the black and murky waters behind you, full of mud
And reeds and rocks and trash, hiding, going under and under again.