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Dan Speers

Citizen Poet
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U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry reports smoking may be hazardous [to your health]. U.S. report "Smoking and Health" connects smoking to lung cancer. c1964.


The Last Cigarette


Who are you, mister?

So tattered, ragged and unshaven; so alone

            in this cold, deserted city of night, yet

            so proud a vagabond with that last cigarette.

You hungry, mister?

Your quest never ends. Days come and squandered

            in unnamed cities and spider highways where semi’s

            crawled past your outstretched thumb, hiking nowhere.

Remember, mister?

The small boys secretly puffing forbidden “fags”

            sly and slick, then sick, yet somehow

            so much bigger, and growing


            ducktails, turned-up collars, tight dungarees,

            “Gee, Dad,” and a cigarette. And bigger: lipstick-tipped

            filters drowned in ninety-cents-a-glass champagne,

            Babydoll’s ginger ale suckered from a once-a-week juker.


Look around, mister.

City streets are strange at night, lost in the stillness

            of forgetting shadowy ghosts discarded and

            lost in forgotten corners of a long-gone yesterday.

See the glow, mister?

There, in the youthful, cherry-red faces on Christmas,

            the night at the fair, the first date, the late nights

            studying and playing cards and drinking and dancing.

Did you know, mister?




Did you know you were dying when you donned

            the uniform and stood to post, “Smoke

            if you got ‘em?” Did you know you were


            even as the silk of her wedding gown rustled down the aisle

            and you smelled the orange perfume in her hair

            even as the babies came, one after the other, and there

            were nights that grew still and beer that turned stale?


Are those tears, mister?

You are old and clever and callous, and hardened

            by the cynical ashes of a smoldering life betrayed

            by the very flames that brought you pleasure.

Another day, mister?

Another day to see the sun rise, to breathe the morning air

            to run along wooded trails, to suck in the cold, damp

            fog of morning dew, to become again all you have lost?


It’s a little shorter, mister.

A little shorter after each hesitant, hedonist glow passes

            in a puff of smoke. Taunting, haunting, growing


            and shorter still as the night descends, alone

            as tears that are too dry to fall burn down your cheeks.

            Cast the crumpled, singed butt to the ground. It’s only

            the life of man, mister. Crush the butt beneath your heel.


--Dan Speers, A Century Half Full