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It first appeared a wisp of winding darkness in the air,
A blemish in the blue of morning otherwise so fair.
I thought it was a snake arising from the forest top,
Then through the breeze it billowed like a roaring mountaintop.

Alarmed to see the smoke proceeding from the verdant wood,
I rushed toward the place on which the writhing pillar stood.
The atmosphere grew thicker and the branches hung with haze,
My footsteps growing heavy as afar I spied the blaze.

The smell. It formed a heavy curtain putrid with decay,
Which as I entered entered me and caused my head to sway.
My feet were tied, in vain they tried to bear me from the smell
Which was so fresh with burning flesh, a pungence I knew well.

Through fog both mental and substantial gazing I did see
A darkened figure ‘gainst the flames just standing, watching me.
An interest burned inside me even hotter than the flame
To find the eerie nature of the smoky fellow’s game.

I stood against my sense’s strong repulsion to advance,
And strode toward the spectral form of whom I’d caught a glance.
As I approached the crux of the conflagratory scene,
Macabre and sordid parts of the inferno did I glean.

It was no ordinary flare whose smoke blocked out the sun.
For any wood or standard fuel I looked and there was none.
With fiend delight the flames ascended treeward, high and bright,
Yet nothing burned except the bodies heaped to awful height.

Young men and older, women too and children laid out neat
Comprised a heaving mound of rot and bone that fed the heat.
A vile mass of deathly fumes like prayers rose to the sky;
My gaze averting turned away but met the specter’s eye.

It stared at me, and I at him; surprise begot surprise.
The horrors faded from my mind while looking at those eyes.
I opened up my mouth to speak but choked upon the air,
Amazement stuck inside my throat: my likeness he did bear.

I could not say a word to him, nor did he speak to me.
Instead we shared our common consternation silently.
In vain I sought familiar impressions on the face
The counterpart from which I’d striven feeling to erase.

Again the odor struck me and the sound of splitting skin
Recalled my unexplained acquaintance with that noisome din,
And all at once we understood, impelled by toxious breath,
That I was him while still alive and he would be my Death.

Now I had thought more time would pass before I heard that name;
Perplexity displayed betrayed that he’d presumed the same.
I cursed the smoke that led me to a meeting so malign
And turned away. But not before I knew the smoke was mine.

That stifling smell informed by visc’ral visions my mind’s eye:
The bodies burning here were those of souls I’d sent to die.
With dogged duty Death had stacked the victims of my hate,
And burned them, waiting, hoping for relief upon my fate.

I felt the specter’s agony and yet he seemed resigned,
(For even if I went my way, my soul he’d lastly find.)
Until then I would take some time to walk in cleaner air,
Forgetting smoke and bodies’ stench – that surely he could spare.

If time and flame would burn the vap’rous pile to harmless dust,
On my return the air might clear, if tend the vale I must.
But no – the smoke would haunt me and I’d fill my life with hate,
And in my time add corpses ‘till the flame will not abate.

Toward the pyre I turned again; ‘twas better now to die –
Enduring smoke and stench – than wait for my own hopeful lie.
My Death, his duties over, smiled and leaping made his end;
A final stroke to fan the smoke I furthermore would tend.
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Written on October 20, 2012

Submitted by JohnsMusings on June 11, 2022

3:36 min read

John M. Broadhead

John grew up in a rural area outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was afforded endless room for his imagination to grow from an early age. Filmmaking was his first passion, a passion which led him to screenwriting and then to poetry and prose. His Bachelors degree is in English Literature, and he has written several feature length screenplays, two science fiction novels and a collection of poetry. He still lives in Albuquerque. more…

All John M. Broadhead poems | John M. Broadhead Books

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Discuss this John M. Broadhead poem with the community:


  • Excellent, and very vivid poetry in motion. I really saw the screenplay writer in all the lines. Maye this could be offered to cigarette companies to accompany their boxes on death. One paragraph will do for each company to disclose the facts to their loyal fans. 
    LikeReplyReport 120 days ago
  • I will add this comment - an ode to a cigarette. !
    There was a time that smoking was the elite thing to do !
    But your clothes and body had that awful stench
    Alas they discovered smoking caused cancer so many quit ! 
    LikeReplyReport1 month ago
  • A very startling poem about death !
    He is the grim reaper always hoping to declare his own.
    Heaven and Hell are the two choices, it's up to you , which one ?
    Imagine, we get to choose !
    LikeReplyReport1 month ago
  • wow - this is haunting. I have a feeling your poem will stick with me for a long time
    LikeReplyReport 11 month ago


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"Smoke" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2022. Web. 14 Aug. 2022. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/129784/smoke>.

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