A Cigarette After Work

by G.H. Plaag



Tamara always liked to stop outside the Hobby Lobby 
where she worked to look at the stars. 
you had to train your eyes
to get past the air around the neon letters
whose glow was thin like sausage casing 

and have a look at the universe
the way you wait for the tiger at the zoo
to come outside while you eat a soft serve cone. 

it’s like people expect something big 
from the tiger, a roar or a snarl. 
they want the movie version of prison. 
peanut shells line the ground like autumn. 

instead, the tiger usually basks in the sun and the afterglow 
of his own dignity, like a disgraced lawyer 
drinking Smirnoff on a plastic milk crate 
in a back alley, stooped and with a loose tie 
hanging like an early gallows before closing 
around the final words and trapping them in the neck. 

the tiger is blithe, august. 
his matted fur feels like your fault, so you leave
and blame the tiger for your not feeling very entertained 
but at home you’re blank and shaking with the accusation. 

when they’re cold and empty, parking lots look like stages 
or atmospheres, rimmed with dead lights. in deep winter 
the stars cut brighter gashes in the earth’s jumpsuit.

I wonder what Tamara would have seen those nights
if the universe had come outside.


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