It’s Autumn of 1995,
and I’m working as a cashier at Maswik Cafeteria
on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
By day, I wear a maroon polyester blazer,
charcoal grey mompants, and a white buttondown blouse
that’s tasted the armpits of fifty women before me who’ve
come here for minimum wage and all kinds of reasons –
between life changes; post college; off the rez.
Smoking is the outlet, the shared death,
the conversation starter.
Smoking is the assertion that we’re here, we live here,
we work here, you stupid tourists who’re
just passing through. We’re here and we smoke,
out back by the loading dock
sitting on the upended milk crates, flicking ash into an empty
rusted-out #10 can of kidney beans,
staring down the ponderosa
and listening to the mules jostling each other in the corral.
By night, I wear long skirts, gauzy peasant blouses,
hemp-and-bead macramé chokers, tie-dyed socks
and Birkenstock sandals – Arizona style of course –
rubber soles worn down to the cork,
brown leather stained and smudged with spilled beer, pine sap
and campfire ash. Tucked in under each nubuck buckle
are always cigarette butts – more than one brand’s been
jammed into the knuckles of my Birks:
Camels, Marlboro Reds, Kools. A Lucky Strike
during that no-filter phase when I even started
to roll my own with Drum tobacco:
sloppy loose smokes that fell apart wetly in
my inept hands. Pack it in, pack it out.
You never know when you’ll want a quick drag and
there’s no butt can, no trash can, only your shoes.
No butts about it, hippies don’t litter.
Stub it out and stuff it in your ‘stock.
We don’t toss our burning cancer sticks out car windows.
Not here in this dry country, on this brittle plateau of
cinder cones, unrolling like a crinkled Zig-Zag all the way
to the red edge of the lip of the earth.