Green Hills Literary Lantern




A Halo of Smoke



My father is dying but he cannot stop smoking.

He sits at the kitchen table in his mobile home,

the silver bullet oxygen tank resting at his feet

like a loyal dog, its tubes running up to his face

and reaching around his ears and into his nostrils

like a plastic mustache.  Still, my father smokes,

though it says right on the tank not to use flame

around pure oxygen because it might explode.

A halo of smoke rings his head and he gags up

something unmentionable into a tissue, folds it,

and sets the tissue next to his coffee and ashtray.

I’ve given up trying to get him to quit cigarettes.

It’s enough he gave up the booze, and it’s enough

he no longer takes mistresses, leaving my mother

alone and staring at her own thoughts for hours.

He’s been dead two times on the table already,

and he’s convinced death can’t really catch him,

just nip at his heels, and so my father smokes

four packs a day.  The doctors say his lungs

are like asphalt, the lungs of a 90 year old.

In the evenings he takes breathing treatments,

turning on a machine and sticking a large tube

in his mouth, like smoking a transparent blue cigar,

but this is morning and he’s sitting at the table,

the halo of smoke making him look like an angel

who just went twenty rounds with the devil in hell.

After him, I’m the first one awake, and he says,

“Ah, my boy, good morning,” like he does, then

shakes a cigarette from the pack and offers it to me.

I take it, look down a moment at the oxygen tank,

shrug a little, and flick Dad’s lighter and inhale,

my smoke mixing with his in the still trailer air.

Dad stabs his stub out and lights up another one.

In the back room, I hear my mother coughing.



James Valvis has poems or short stories forthcoming in Chiron Review, Confrontation, Hurricane Review, Minotaur, New Laurel Review, New York Quarterly, Nimrod, Pearl, Rattle, Slipstream, Southern Indiana Review, Timber Creek Review, and others.  He lives in Washington state with his wife and daughter.