I remember you, Daddy, as the Marlboro Man,
watching as you lean on a split-rail fence at sunset,
lighting up—the slow deep drag you hold in your lungs
as long as you can, swelling your chest
with tar and ashes and the greatest solace
you’ve ever known.
You grow the stuff, a fourth-generation master
of curing the green tobacco leaves of July and August
to the color of the burlap sacks
we’ll haul them off to market in, come September.
Sometimes you’ll hold a golden leaf to your nose
and breathe in its dark bouquet
like a rich man savoring a snifter of brandy
in a soft leather chair.
You don’t allow the word cancer to be spoken in our house.
When by chance I’m the one to tell you
your best friend died of it,
I watch you cry for the first time
and the last.
At the fence, you know I’m watching from the porch,
know I’ll run from this farm as soon as I can,
know it ends with you. You fire up another Marlboro
and pull on it hard, its tip flaring
in the fading light.
Your face, cured half a century
in the smoke you exhale from two packs a day,
is your finest brightleaf,
veined, tanned, supple, creased,
a parchment treasure map that in my mind
I fold and re-fold till it’s soft as linen,
ready to memorize and burn.