William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

No Tobacco

I clench the pipe between my teeth. No tobacco. I think about a trip to the store, the fine aroma of a newly opened pouch. But I don’t get up. Instead, I light an imagined match with the flick of a nail, pretending it’s my thumb, and then I puff and inhale, puff… and… inhale.

The store is a little place on the corner in an undiscovered country. There’s a bell on the door. When it rings, the proprietor speaks ten languages. Like me, English is his worst. Our long friendship is based on one misunderstanding after another.

I love him dearly. He knows exactly why I’ve come — to show him my charred thumb. From behind the counter he hands me another, insists I try it on. It fits perfectly. I am pleased — so much so, I set my nose on fire.

I show him my empty wallet. He laughs, then unfolds a map that has no borders. We look at it for hours. Finally, we’re able to locate the exact spot on which we stand. We can even see ourselves on the map, smaller than the smallest ant. We are ants.

I skitter one way, he skitters another. “Hey,” he says, “you want tobacco?” I tell him no, that I’ll buy some next time. “Haircut, then? I have scissors.” But he’s only joking. He knows I don’t want a haircut. The last time, he cut off one of my antennae.

I will step on them, Mama. I don’t like ants. They bite. We fall silent — so silent that we never speak again. Good boy. And then, one… last… sting…. Ouch!… and with the flick of a nail, I puff and inhale, puff… and… inhale.

Poems, Slightly Used, June 4, 2010


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