Miles from Mercy and Nicotine

His name is John
but I call him Lurch
behind his back;
mid-forties, vagrant, gentle
and soft-spoken.
He's got to be six-three
a ragged, over-sized T-shirt
always hanging
from that frame that carries flesh.
There's a bald knot
which may or may not
be a tumor
protruding from his close-cropped hair
which was definitely cut
with a dull shard of steel
by a friend doused in drink
or a barber with no conscience.
His face looks as though
he had some great idea decades ago
as lightning struck his spine
freezing his nerves in place forever.
And I like him, mostly;
especially after that
second-to-last time
when he saw I had one smoke left
and volunteered to take the empty pack
throwing it out in his travels.
A man who knows the value of a favor
should never go unappreciated.

John crosses the macadam
whenever there's a smoker
from whom to bum
on the opposite sidewalk.
I'm aware of this
as I know which dogs not to pet
on Main Street
(the ones that are on fire).
Tonight I went down
for my after-dinner cancer
commando style
with one Marlboro, a lighter
and my book of Chinese poetry.
No sharing of my pack
with the proletariat this eve.
There's a layoff coming.
Mine must be for me.

I suck the last drag
from my menthol
before tossing it into the street.
I'm half-way through a stanza
when he approaches
from the adjacent corner.
"Can you spare a..."
but I cut him off before he can finish.
"I don't have any, John," I say
pointing to my sparse items
on the stoop next to me
proud to be prepared
basking in my shamelessness
suddenly less compassionate
than I ever thought I'd be.

He turns, defeated, and picks up
my butt from the pavement
pulling hard with his lungs
on the burning cotton filter
and taking his time
to cross the double-yellow.
A truck swerves around him
this man with my saliva
and it just may be
the closest I've come
to kissing a true human.

Jesus, I curse myself.
I should've gone upstairs for one.

"Thanks," he said
when I gave him my last smoke
that other time.
"Some people get all bent out of shape."

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