Friday, March 24, 2006

No Smoking

Here in wintry Scotland smoking in public places is banned from Monday. That's pubs, bars, places of work etc. I'm not sure the American poet John Ahearn would necessarily agree that's entirely a good thing.

Here's his witty take on the subject of the evil weed:

A Pack of Camels

A camel is a stupid beast
to walk a mile for, foul of breath,
tempered like the Middle East,
but at least he’s able to smile at death.

Not much else to grin at there
on the package where he stands;
a flat and far horizon stares
at lethal sky and lethal sand.

Our humped necropolite surveys
a very icon of decease,
where pharaoh’s emptied ashtrays
rest in pyramidal peace.

Behind him, like an ancient cough,
Kufu’s ostentatious grave;
Khafra’s crumbles further off,
past date palms sweet with slaves.

But other wonders have his eye:
beyond the surgeon general’s glyph,
in domed and minareted sky,
obverse, generic Giza drifts.

Welcome to Hotel Osiris.
Nothing stirs, not air, not gin;
the waiters stand with blank papyrus
in their grayed, untidy linen.

Business looks a rank disaster:
at the desk an owl preens
behind a tray of loose piasters
for the cigarette machines.

The ceiling fans have long ago
surrendered to the yellow air,
hang disconsolate in rows
above the pestilential chairs.

The service is a trifle lax
for such a fine establishment,
except for complimentary packs
provided by the management

in the desiccated dark oasis
of the famous salon bar,
where a plush, pervading stasis
covers the canopic jars.

On the wall a yellowed card
with a disembodied pointing hand
directs us to the camel yard
or three thousand miles of sand,

it’s difficult to say which:
but there in yellow sky we read
an ancient blue demotic pitch
for Winston-Salem’s blended weed:

“Don’t look for premiums
or coupons, as the cost of our
tobaccos prohibits the use of them,
as if any creature of an hour

fool enough to smoke this stuff
had any reason to expect
to walk with Isis long enough
to cash the tickets they’d collect.

But the fellahin may rest assured
that our endeavors will not cease;
we’ll be their sickness and their cure
until the last survivors rest in peace.”

The best statistics tell us clearly
that everyone who ever lived
is dead already, very nearly.
Life leaks like a sieve.

It appears to be a trend,
if not a tendency: research
suggests that there’s a common end
toward which we wooly creatures lurch

with all the poundage we can pack
of grief and gall and rotten luck
until the last one breaks our back
and frankly--well, that’s the crux,

isn’t it? How we choose to view it?
Life’s like smoking cigarettes:
we know it kills and yet we do it.
No one’s beat Osiris yet.

It’s one thing or another, like
my granny told me all the time,
before she died of Lucky Strikes,
a broken woman, ninety-nine.

As for me, on the recommendation of my friend Story Blook, I've just downloaded an Emmylou Harris track from i-Tunes. The song is, apparently, best appreciated when you're pissed so I'm off to see if that's true.

Enjoy your weekend.


  1. They will seek us out everywhere eventually. Glad I live in Cornwall, we're about twenty years behind the rest of the British Isles so I'm safe for now. Also off down the pub tonight where I shall still be enjoying a cigarette without fear of the nicotine police!

  2. As long as they don't make us give up alcohol...

  3. That's next. Then coffee. Welcome to Nanny World.

  4. I'm enjoying these poems you're putting up. Is this guy published? I also sympathise with what you say about Sunday writing. Happy tapping.

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  6. Oh dear someone's got hiccups. Where are you Pundy, I'm missing my fix, have you got bird flu?

  7. Hi Shameless

    I'm glad you've enjoyed John's poems. I'll post another one soon.
    I don't know too much about his publishing career but he reads this blog so maybe he'll let you know more about himself.

  8. According to Kipling
    "A woman is only a woman,but a good cigar is a smoke..."