POETRY March 5, 2021

Discarding the Ashtrays

Everybody did it: Gary Cooper,
Annette Funicello, even Granny
Ida drawing rasp and cough off filtered
Salems like sips from a toxic spigot.
All gone now: 
the neighbors who swathed our deck
in nubs of ash; great-aunt dragons choking
white plumes over brides and caskets
as though minting a new pope,
                 or surrendering.

Smoke everywhere: in the cedar cigarillo
boxes where we stored our crayons,
         and the grade school stockroom
where defiant Mr. Katz puffed Viceroys  
crosswind to fumes of acetone and ester.

My dad preferred a pipe: four-square billiard
style like Einstein. Nothing fancy. He kept
loose tobacco pouched in his long white coat,
capping the chamber with a penny—forgot
once near a patient’s tank and nearly blew
Johns Hopkins to the Mayo.  
And every school day morning
I chased him down the flagstones to the curb
(loyal as that retriever pup
we never managed to adopt)
cradling his “forgotten” pipe. Our private charade.
More real than the growth they found in his neck.

Only ashtrays linger: on vintage dashboards,
chiseled into armrests of old jets, soldered
shut beneath elevator consoles.
                            And in our parlor.
Like relics of a lost religious species
or empty urns. Do we dare discard them?
Fill them with sweets?
         Or must we carry them—everywhere,
as our parents did matchbooks
        and chrome-plated cases—
            until memories of ash turn to ash?

Jacob M. Appel is a physician in New York City. He is the author of the poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis. More at: http://www.jacobmappel.com