Clove Cigarettes, draft 2

This went through pretty major revisions, so I want to keep both around. Let me know what you think!

Clove Cigarettes

The day my mom sat my younger sister

and me down to tell us that she smoked,

the windows were shoved wide open

to let in the summertime. I was eighteen

and laughing. I found the whole affair comical –

from Mom’s seriousness to the look of surprise

on my little sister’s stunned face –

because one of my close friends, a smoker

himself, had ratted Mom out months ago

after she asked him for a light. He’d said

he just couldn’t keep a secret from me

and so I knew, had been surprised, but then

the novelty had worn off and I’d forgotten.

We sat at the kitchen table and listened

as our mom said she’d been smoking off and on

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

She’d always espoused a firm belief

in the evils of nicotine and tobacco

yet here she was, telling us she lit up

to smoke away stress after long days at work,

as if this reasoning redeemed the act.

Her smoking was the perfect example

of the Do what I say, not what I do mindset

that ruled our house, repeated about speeding

tickets, curse words, and now, smoking.

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

we were old enough to know the truth.

I laughed, marveling at how quickly I’d forgotten

what once seemed so earth-shattering, so unlike

the woman who was my mother,

and also a person. Mom cackled too,

when I explained why I was laughing.

But the look on my younger sister’s face

was one of shock, as if the world had lurched

beneath her feet. She watched as we shared this

mutual amusement without her, which she found

too upsetting to be funny. 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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