Poetry: A Cigarette is Always a Prop

I have a soft spot for poems that feature objects. Maybe this marks my enduring attraction to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons or maybe it speaks to my professional interests as an archaeologist. This week, I’ll indulge my soft spot and feature a poem by David Starkey called “A Cigarette is Always a Prop” which appeared in NDQ 87.3/4.

I also have an ulterior motive for highlighting this poem. This week, the author let me know that it would be appearing in his collection due later this year and titled Cutting It Loose. David graciously offered me a review copy and told me: “Cutting It Loose is my attempt to find light in the darkness of poverty, death, climate change, political turmoil and the general confusion of the age. There’s humor there, too, often finding its way into the unlikeliest of settings.” Keep an eye on David’s website for more details on when this book will appear.

As you likely know, these days are particularly challenging for many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines. So even if NDQ doesn’t float your boat, If you can, consider buying a book from a small presssubscribing to a literary journal, or otherwise supporting the arts. I heartily recommend grabbing a copy of the new issue of Hotel Amerika which is celebrating its 20th anniversary by publishing an anthology of some its most creative, provocative, and stimulating work. Grab a copy here.  

A Cigarette Is Always A Prop

Even when it’s dangling between the fingers
of a ninety-year-old woman on her deathbed,

ash drifting to the floor like plucked feathers.
She takes a drag with her withered lips

then holds it in for half a minute
before expelling a long plume of smoke

and gesturing with the lit end like Garbo
in Anna Christie or Marlene Dietrich

in Morocco—the cigarette as philosopher’s
stone, or double dare, or vow.

Mom, I say, those things are going to kill you.
Honey, she rasps, do I look alive to you now?


David Starkey served as Santa Barbara’s 2009-2011 Poet Laureate and is Director of the Creative Writing Program at Santa Barbara City College. He is Co-editor and Publisher of Gunpowder Press, as well as the author of seven full-length poetry collections.


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