Clove Cigarettes

The day my mom finally told my sister

and me that she was smoking, the windows

were wide open to let in the summertime.

I was eighteen. And it was funny

because one of my close friends, a smoker

himself, had ratted Mom out months ago

after she asked him for a light. He said

he couldn’t keep a secret from me

and so I knew, had been surprised, but then

the novelty wore off and I’d forgotten.


My mom said she’d been smoking off and on

for years; just cloves, she said, not real cigarettes.

She said that she couldn’t keep lying to us –

we were old enough to know the truth,

that she smoked away stress after long days

at work. I laughed – she was probably just tired

of sneaking out to “walk the dog” every

night, and told us to end her charade.


But the look on my younger sister’s face

was one of shock, as if the world had lurched

beneath her feet. She blinked and opened

her mouth wide like a goldfish. Or maybe

she looked exactly like a young bird, open

mouth waiting for food from its mother.

She was the kind of young bird that falls

out of a tree because it can’t quite fly

yet, and is completely flabbergasted

to find that its spindly feet just touched ground.


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