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Marlboro Men

Instead of sorries, offers of ice cream
swirl between our barely open doors.

Poetry | Poetry Tuesday, poetry
April 19, 2022

Joint at the hip by my mother’s death, dad and I 
fight like cats in heat. To become more mother, 

I nag him about his smoking. I can still smell 
the hospital’s bleach where his jittering hand steadied 

her feeding tube, except I was barely there. I’ll never 
question if he employed all his money and mind 

to save her. He’ll never ask why I couldn’t leave 
college for her bedside. Like an expletive withheld, 

a cigarette stays pressed between his lips 
and on his mind, confidence that we are now one marriage 

each away from happiness. I populate shaadi profiles to find a man 
least like him and for him to land a wife most like mother. 

We lock horns hunting for midnight nibbles and he’s certain 
I’ve been sleeping around. I have been sleeping a lot 

under the shroud of mum’s silk dupatta. Tonight he’s a widower 
with xxx in his web cache. Tonight I am a too-short skirt 

numbed by sloppy missionary. To become more mother, 
he buys me hot breakfast. How he pirouettes his breath 

to balance the sambar packet, flimsy as a house of cards. 
Not a drop spills. We never spill a drop of liquid 

grief except on the Sunday he yelled, You never loved her
and I yelled back, Fuck. Go fuck yourself, my virginal F word 

to him like a punch made of freedom and the spirit 
that is perhaps still derailing my mum’s soul 

from reaching heaven. Instead of sorries, offers of ice cream 
swirl between our barely open doors. Instead, he smokes double. 

Instead her maiden name, two syllables that could mean 
she who ran or a rebel, I got them inked on my ankle. 

That night slouched in figure four on the pot, I nursed 
my open-wound with saline and excavated from my bra, 

my first ever cigarette. Sweaty, limp, coping stick 
stolen from his drawer. I inhaled a long inhale, 

believing the longer I held it in, the more it would free me. 
But my throat gave in. I coughed out a big cloud, 

and the girl she once was, was at once 
covered in our one smoke.