Tobacco, burnt, smells like rotting—
wise logs, nails stained. Teeth bluing at the gum line.
Many rings, many wives! The old pine bends and sloughs.
Oh, a fire here:
a bad year for bark-bound parasites. Lush and bursting
pillows which close over my boyish heart—
“How are your hearts?” a friend asked, as if I am an earthworm.
“I never cared for pink or yellow” I replied
In three days I realize while pissing at work that if I drink enough
coffee, I still smell like you—
one year later.
Amanda Gaye Smith
Review by Pamela O’Shaughnessy
Of course the first thing I do is Google the poet; no New Criticism for me. I’m not sure I find her. What I find is a young person of that name with some preoccupation with oysters, a liking for music, a light touch. But the poem I’m researching is strong, stoic, expressive, assured. There must be another person of that name. And yet I can eventually see how the two presences may meld, may be the same person.
In contrast to the academic style, the meaning of the poem is apparent by its end, though there has been considerable circling before then. In the first stanza, tobacco is a rotting sort of smell, like old logs, like, years later, the blue gums of the smoker.
In the second stanza, the associations flow almost underground, but strongly, beginning with the lively “Many rings, many wives!” The old pine log has been around, had many loves. Once there was a fire, “a bad year for bark-bound parasites.” The reader asks herself, who are these characters? Who is the log, who is the parasite?
Then, pillows, “lush and bursting”, which suffocate the vulnerable heart. There’s no attempt to incorporate this sudden change of metaphor from forest log to bed-pillow, but we as readers seem to know what’s up. We are speaking of ancient, rotting, affairs of the bed.
In the third stanza, a friend asks a peculiar question and receives a peculiar, disassociated answer. The narrator is distancing herself from the old harm.
Then, in that last stanza, another rather unsettling and original metaphor emerges, this time acknowledging the memory of loss and pain: “…I realize while pissing at work that if I drink enough/coffee, I still smell like you.”
This is a short, pointed, harsh, confident poem. I don’t worry that this narrator will be all right. I’d like to read more of this modern style, both hard and expressive. A mature poet with some real power is emerging here.
*”Tobacco” previously appeared in Arsenic Lobster in their Winter 2013 edition: http://arseniclobster.magere.com/1content.html