First Cigarette

Sheila Black
Sheila Black

I knew it was mine, the smoke pulled
in—the color like nylons without legs.
My parents on the beach at Imbituba,
drawing circles of fire under the sky
Einstein used to prove that time and
space are parts of the same house.
Roman candles against dense jungle, and
on the road down the mountain,
the restaurant where the owner
slit his throat with a machete,
and the throats of his wife and children.
Often I played with his daughter
in the waterfall that cut a crooked path
down the rock face behind their house.
Plate-sized flowers grew there, each with
a cool spot of water in its red-and-white cup.
We stripped a Barbie doll naked
and held its pale pink plastic body
under the curtain of water as though
it could feel. I was not supposed to know
she was dead, but even when the
restaurant reopened for the tourists from
Sao Paulo, the new owner setting out
tables canopied in the colors of the flag—
green, yellow, Ordem, Progreso, we never stopped.
And later when my parents vanished up the
beach (sound of waves cast through
dimming air), and I stopped to take a
first taste from my father’s discarded
butt, I grasped that it was not smoke only,
but a space inside me, a vacuum that
hungered to be filled. Knew I would choose
that slow falling, carving away of breath to
feed that death inside me which glittered at times
like the sluice of water across the mountain-
side, the red-wood of the jacaranda, the heavy gloss
of the leaves, such astounding blossoms–birds-
of- paradise, red-tongued and speared,
(The girl and I picked them in armfuls)
and the man who once said to my mother
that where they lived was the garden
of Eden.


  1. Alluring cascade of images. Visceral, haunting–inevitably resonant. Brilliant, brilliant, lovely, love, and congrats on this poetic achievement.

  2. Lovely. A difficult subject dealt with alacrity and beauty.

  3. What is it about smokers, that we all feel this pull of romance towards the burn in the back of the throat and the stains on the fingers? It’s something that you can’t explain to those who have never been enraptured by nicotine’s seduction, not truly. Gorgeous work.

  4. Quite an introduction to your work. I will follow-up with “Beauty is a Verb.”

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