in the key of cigarette smoke by James King

You set down your suitcase and light the Root on the curb,
On a corner of two streets where you don’t want to be,
Cold day done and gone.
The sun sets slowly and dark night rises as you droop,
Drag and drain into the pavement.
It’s cold tonight.
Your eyes begin to close as you breathe in the smoke,
Feel the fire in your lungs,
Expel the note. A single wobbling cloud waits in the dark for the chord to be completed.

The second comes and goes unceremoniously,
A chaser for the root, a tone that means nothing
But another step higher and a little more tar in your lungs.
The third, though, you reach into the pack eagerly. This is the one. You light it and break the peace
With smoke and sound. It ripples off the tenement steps, the fundamentals of a broken chord,
An arpeggio of arsenic in your nocturne of nicotine.
An ember burns at the tip of your lips. It’s minor.

You cannot choose the fourth over the perfect fifth, try as you might.
So you light the fifth alone and a tear leaves your eye as the chord sounds,
Smoke sweeps over the streets in the shape of soul music.
You cough.
You try to light the fifth, to paint the street a different shade than blue.
It sparks once and dies. You throw it in the gutter, where it lands in a puddle and turns your
Reflection into distortion.
You think about changing the instrumentation but from Pall Malls to Marlboros it’s all just smoke.

You keep on to complete the scale and light the sixth on the curb.
You listen to the note, watch the inky liquid dance in front of a yellow streetlamp
And wonder where all the headlights have gone.
An old man walks past and bums the seventh off of you.
He’s rickety as a rocking chair and grins at you through crooked teeth, grey tombstones,
Blows the seventh in your face and sours the tone of your menthol melody.
You quickly realize that the music is no longer giving you the same buzz it used to.
You’re tolerant.
The old man takes a bite from the sunset and offers you a piece. You take it.
It tastes like nothing.

So you light the Octave in silence.
The last light has been eaten up, but you know it’ll be back tomorrow.
And so will you,
Eating the dying light and harmonizing in the key of cigarette smoke.