Apr/May 2004 Poetry

Two Poems

by Clay D. Matthews

Art by Janet L. Snell


The Marlboro Man and His Pot

Texas Hold-um and Marlboro waits for the flop—
but even before the cards are turned,
our hero knows what the big river will bring.
The three of spades, the suicide king.
Mothers against Marlboro on Saturdays with spray-paint,
following him like he's a billboard with skinny legs,
a slash of red across the white shirt, black spots
on that beautiful Stetson. What's a cowboy to do?
Laws on top of laws for the outlaw: have your cigarette
in the cold outdoors; you like it that way, you,
you sick son-of-a-bitch. Someday soon it will be illegal
to die. We're coughing now. And it's not funny,
but it is. Our hero. Our man in white. Lunger
with the Levis faded and the face going leather,
less grin, eyes always on the lookout.
It's like watching a movie where some poor schmuck
gets his lunch money taken, his pants pulled down,
his assed whupped like a dog in front of the entire world,
and you want to do something, you want to say something:
Leave 'em alone for Christ's sake. Let him be.
But the rains come, the river floods, and all we can do is wait.
The last card turns, and it's tarot, destiny, The Hanged Man.
Then the clink of a copper lighter, that first drag—
maybe the last drag—before it's time to throw in the chips.
Marlboro waits with that patience we love,
ashes his smoke, coughs once and goes all in.
We hope somewhere he has cards he's not showing,
maybe an ace in the hole or a heart hidden in that starched sleeve.


Marlboro at His Agent's

When the work got slow and the cigarette taxes went up,
Marlboro went to see his agent. Phillip Morris stopped sending
cartons when Marlboro started coughing in public
just after he'd lit up at a charity auction. The agent,
his hands up, standing above Marlboro on the leather couch,
made excuses: "It's a bad time to be a cowboy.
Or a smoker. You're the poster-child for emphesema."
Marlboro took a new pack out of his denim jacket,
packed it three times on his boot, opened the top,
smelled the aroma like a bag of coffee beans, pulled out
the first cigarette, turned it upside down and put it back,
pulled out the next, then whipped his lighter back and forth
across his leg, lit up, inhaled, held it, and ahhhh let it go.
Now that's a ritual. That's a promise. That's as cinematic
as John Wayne gritting his teeth. But the agent points to the wall,
where hidden between twenty variations of that stoic stare,
that dangling cigarette, the white Stetson, is a no-smoking sign.
And Marlboro says nothing, not a word, stands up,
above his agent now, and moves closer to shake his hand.
He puts the cigarette out on the tile floor, heads for the door,
stopping only to tip his hat and grab a handful of hard candy.


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