What the surgeon general meant to say

Although I never hunted
the gutter banks of sun-baked
sewer culverts in old Rose City
hoping to find sliver-burned
Salem Light 100

butts kissed off
with lipstick prints on
filter tips, as if some
lady of the night
had lit up only to
take a tentative stutter-
puff right before
her mind,
there was this one time in a
crowded Amtrak club car when
I grandiosely bummed a Viceroy
from a one-lunged Walter
bingo barker with tracheotomy voice wand
that spat static-laced lottery lullabies through
nasty-robotic Stephen Hawking kitchen sink
Dispose All cough, until I looked askance and
begged off, thankfully
thumb-tapping the
coffin nail, and tucking it
away behind my ear,
to enjoy later at my leisure.


My first hit,
if you must know,
came on the morning Mount Saint
Helens began to blow its horizon-size
upturned-ashtray cloud all over eight
western states—naked and cross-
legged as I was on the post-sex
canopy bed in girlfriend’s
dormitory room; I took

one quarter of her Kool in a single
drag and promptly began to retch steamy
clumps of rainbow sushi puke all over this
sophomore doll’s beautiful peach pit nipples,
while she flipped and flapped her wrists
in a sort of fire dousing fit:

“What are you doing?” she kept
shrieking at me, “what are you DOING?”


My elder brother was a stellar
magician who could make a smoldering
Camel Straight leap-frog and limbo
like a combustible lug nut across
the weltish breadth of his
drumming knuckles,

before popping the thing
into his mouth, cherry-end first so that
ice-blue slipstreams like lactation milk mist
appeared to shoot from his wiggling ears
and eyelid slits as he spoke the
punch line with a tight-lipped
ventriloquist twitch:

“If you think this is a gas baby
brother I can smother a field issue
flame thrower with my tight rawhide ass
and come up grinning like every giddy
goddamned moment is surely
gonna be our last.”

For our Dad’s
foreseeable fifty-ish
funeral, my brother
blew stiff-lipped
smoke rings at the shuddering coffin crane
that bowed low and slow with its load like
mechanical impresario,
and I remember he even

whipped out a paisley
stage hankie later, from which I
imagined a string of polka dot
Easter eggs might appear--

popping forth in an eye-blink bit of
generous parlor room levity relief--
but all he did was dab at his ghostly
pale brow, and fist-ball the colored cloth
using the same ritual gesture I favored later
to crumple the hundreds of half-smoked Doral packs,
telling myself each time I’d kick at any
cost if it fucking killed me.


The thing is, if you
really must know,

I’m sitting here now in this very instant
at a picture window video
poker machine in a Las
Vegas Nevada 7-11,

chewing a cud
of mint-flavored
nicotine gum fat
and caustic enough
to burn myself a
spanking fresh

there’s a spectral rounder in red hooded
sweatshirt sitting next to me and losing
heavily--with a slow-burning Gauloise
locked in a stroke-choked lower left
lip corner, in fact it’s
really starting to creep me
out if you must know I would move
to another machine but they’re all
taken and everybody in here is
smoking up a storm anyway

it's just entirely too
quiet is the thing besides
the fact I can barely

get a breath,
and the only reason
I hang around at all

is that somebody is seriously due
to take down a huge jackpot any
second now,
I can pretty much
feel it in the air.

Dennis Mahagin's debut poetry collection,
entitled "Grand Mal", is forthcoming from
Suspect Thoughts Press. His work has appeared
in 3 A.M. Magazine, 42opus, Deep Cleveland,
FRiGG, Stirring, and Absinthe Literary
Review, among other publications. He lives
and works in Washington State.

© 2006 Underground Voices