Jamie Keith

The fast girls did it and those
who yearned to not be slow,
the single girls, the secretaries,
the bookkeepers, receptionists,
the working girls come in to the city
from the salty damp coast,
from chaste halls of women’s dorms,
from the flatlands’ dusty homes,
to live in efficiencies with
the lone eye of a hotplate watching
over their evenings and, less,
the bedrooms lent out, sometimes
two to a room, by couples
who needed some extra cash,
No smoking allowed.

But smoke they did,
in backyards, out bathroom windows,
on lazy Sunday afternoons
on front porch swings, 
in jazz-slung bars and dim
restaurants, in windowless offices,
in the sun of park benches,
their syncopated breaths, 
deep inhales, and slow
considered breathing out,
a tawny tobacco bit stuck
to a bright red lip, the exact
twist of wrist holding cigarette aloft,
smoke swirling up in long caressing
pirouettes, as if turning in a secret dance.

They knew how to light up a party,
illumine a long lonely afternoon,
how to step on stage— 
a saucy minx, seductive siren, 
wise-minded woman of the world—
a smoke screen, a clever cloaking device,
the right of passing into womanhood,
a way of flaunting freedoms
newly cast: they tap the pack,
shake loose a cylinder, strike
the match or spring a flame
from silver Zippo, suck in the fire
and savor the burn of amber scent, 
a nimbus of glamorous innocence
floating above their heads.


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Jamie Elliott Keith lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she writes and volunteers in the community. She has recent work in Rust + Moth, and forthcoming in The James Dickey Review, Appalachian Heritage, and Still: The Journal. She is co-editor of the anthology Familiar Landscapes, Iris Press, 2015.