Clarification Card: The Spiral (“The cigarette is pretext: smoke rises from within”)

After Marcella Kroll / After Claudia Rankine / After Yannis Ritsos

Unless you’re practiced as a lola’s wrinkles,
do not flip the lit side of the yosi in your mouth.
They developed this skill in war and carried it
into supervised work with no breaks to speak of.
My smoking is less like revolution, but it helps on the job:
there’s an extra few minutes of break-time for you
depending how slammed your co-workers are. Be generous,
ash trays and pavements don’t give quite back
nice as they took. The kisses taste
exquisite as ash. Nods in the rain, friendships
you find and forget. The trick to becoming
a proper smoker is some small grief
there is no relief from and you know it,
so you might as well light something on fire
on a regular basis, take it in and breathe it out
like it’s part of your everyday being. It’s okay
if the grief is large. It’s more important to find less
violent ways of spitting. The worst way is like a man
who has sized up another human being and is claiming to measure
their worth when he’s really measuring his own
disdain for himself. The worst way to smoke
is like you don’t want to. I’ve felt it so many times
from people like me: we ask for a yosi, claiming
we’ve quit, or—more honest but not less painful—
lamenting we can’t. Don’t get me wrong,
pulling singles when you’ve stopped managing
the pack is fully acceptable, I’m only warning
against wistfulness. The smoke knows,
holds on for fear of being abandoned tight
as you wish you were free. I would say I’m sorry
but I already told you smoke works like grief.
Don’t need yellow-stained fingers to know this,
you could just burn the oil in the soup pot
by walking away while heating it on maximum
and have to run it outside. Fingers scalding as you inhale
what’s promised. You could just be sad
without the smoke for company. You could
call your lola’s smoke voice the island
you’re from. Keep the light, I have another right here.

— Hari Alluri (from The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database)