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The Role of Smoking Cigarettes in the Education of a Young Jew

Jody Cohen

A dime and a quarter in the slot and out
slides a pack of Lucky Strikes.
It fits perfectly in her palm.
She walks past the kiddie pool, where diapers hang to the chubby backs of knees,
past women in white swinging invisible rackets that make green balls sing.
Up past the pool with diving boards at two levels and
decks of seasonal rooms laid out in verticals like a game of solitaire.
Until finally she climbs the last hill and there is
no one.

She opens the Lucky Strikes and lights one, then another and another,
experimenting with how to do it until suddenly she’s
swaying in the buzzing morning heat.
She lands on her back. The grass is soft, the air stale.
Last night she’d flirted with Kurt, a big-headed blond boy who
wore a cross around his neck and planned to be a minister.
She would kiss him three times.
Three cigarettes.

Rikki is tall, broad-shouldered, with hair falling over
one eye,
a sardonic twist to her mouth.
She is a year ahead of me in school, but
on Wednesday nights we meet
in the girls’ bathroom

during Hebrew School.

“6 million Jews…”
The teacher’s accented voice, her
high-waisted flowery dress, her
tongue distended with her passion—
grate on me.

The sinks are low

enough for us to elbow lean

like corner girls,
letting smoke curl from
tight commas at the sides of our

“6 million died. 6 million of our people.
We must never forget, the world must remember.”
Always the same lesson.

She goes with a boy who is Greek but not Jewish.
He can really kiss.
We twist

our tongues in the mirror,
breaking into hysterical laughter.

my father reclines and intones
as we dip parsley in

salt water
spread bitter herbs liberally on

I am always the

wicked son.

our mothers snicker behind their

breaths furtive with

Virginia slims,
the joke is

on us.

I have dropped out of

to shovel dog shit in Virginia,
when it comes out:

dad shoveling a tunnel,
seeking light, seeking air,
as he would all his life (he smoked parliaments).
an American soldier,
a jew in world war two,
a jew

in a camp.

my father reclines.

seeking breath as I sit
cross-legged before a

white wall—
flowering branch in

there is no boy here,
jewish or

seeking breath in the
pale lump of a

in the sun-filled courtyard,
standing amongst fly-by-night chairs,
holding your smooth-knuckled hand in mine,
the music of rosh hashana
moves me.
I’ve quit, almost quit.

later, a cigarette filched anyway.

we break away
break away


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Breaking Project Author/Creator: 
Jody Cohen


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