west wash

never have i had a schedule like this: one that feels
do-this-every-day-til-you-die. the same 1.1 miles
to work, sometimes puddles sometimes ice.
i pass a section 8 apartment building and try
to say good morning to everyone who will look
me in the eye. maybe it is polite habit maybe
i am just trying to help. i pass the buildings between
nine and nine fifteen. the cast is often the same:
woman with daughter holding her backpack strap
in her hand, dragging the tired old bag behind her.
middle aged man walking ridiculous puff of a dog,
its screeches audible through headphones.
i smile at him too but hate that thing, a sorry excuse
for a pet. the man who looks barely older than me
with a face full of potholes. his lips look indented
where the cigarette sits. he paces while he smokes,
as if walking the same six sections of sidewalk
might counteract the tar and carcinogens. i take
an extra long step to avoid an uncapped needle.
i am wearing boots with soles as thick as a steak
but you can never be too careful. i say good morning
as i pass and he breathes out heavy, lungfuls of
smoke catch in my hair and i know the lady
who sits next to me at work will notice the smell.
i wonder if he will do this every day now. if i will say
good morning and he will douse me in cigarette stink.
another addition to the list of rituals that come
with this sort of living. lady-who-sits-beside-me will think
i’ve taken up smoking. perhaps i will take up smoking.
the only reason not to smoke is so people won’t think
you smoke—it can look unbearably cool. cigarettes
are unfair this way. if you already look like the bassist
for some up and coming, cigs can only make
you cooler. but if you are standing outside
section 8 housing with skin like a bad backroad,
the smoke smells terrible and nicotine nails
peel like old wall paper. it is not a life
i would choose. luckily it is not a choosing game.
maybe some morning i will step on the needle instead.

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