The Cigarette Girl
Lea Banks

On heavy metal tracks the train’s thunder rumbles
our flyblown trailer every strangled bit of morning.
Mama’s alarm. Slam of the sleep button—again,
again. “Rainy Night In Georgia” in my head on loop.

I whisper secret noises to the silent air; soon
I need to wake her. Give me
this share of myself a bit longer before
she stumbles out of bed with a bellow.

I’ve made her lunch in a paper bag.
I hand out intractable Pall Malls.
The cigarette girl with fishnet tights
in the aisle, I wait patiently as she hustles
around. Pop open a can of cat food, smear
it in his dish. Here, stupid cat. Day after staggering day.

Mama’s face—worn-out, bloodshot, speeding
to school in our shameful stick car. Layers
on mascara as we round the corner, her mouth
an “O” in the rear view mirror, doesn’t
even look as she applies it. I dig through her
purse, find coral lipstick.

I look at her through crooked
bangs. At this moment, she glimmers
ravaged beauty to honey.

“Light me a cigarette, doll baby,”
and smiles her slanted smile. 
She’s the fairy queen, the good mommy. Stinking
of smoke on my ten-year-old
self, I don’t care if I’m late again.
As we pull in to school, she’s blotting
her coral lips with an unopened bill.

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