Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lips Lungs Tongue


Lips, lungs, tongue.

Lips, lungs, tongue.

I’m smoking a cigarette outside the airport terminal,
when it raises its head, curls, then snakes
its way to my inner ear, settles there,
sounding soft and sanctimonious:

You make a living
from your lips,
your lungs,
and your tongue.

I hadn’t thought this thought this way before:

my lips
my lungs
my tongue.

Everything hinges on my body parts, moving,
working as involuntary gestures, or at least
the way I will them, and I’m smoking
a cigarette, outside the airport
in white, cold Michigan.


If you can call it irony, it doesn’t escape
the mental recesses where my inner cynic resides,
but resounds there, reverbing,
like a childhood taunt that won’t shut up:

You’re stupid!

I’m smoking a cigarette, addicted
to dying in small fragments,
tiny fractions of time,

and the way I pay my rent
is to peddle my lips,
my lungs, and my tongue
to anyone with spare coins and a microphone.

I’ve tried other occupations, and they suck.
So honestly, I don’t even need a microphone.
Just the cash, and a room of my own
where I can smoke and write poetry.

Call me a hypocrite, but outside the airport terminal
I refused to drop the cigarette. Even as I thought
to quit the habit, I pulled a final drag
from the carcinogenic tip and lit
another one.


Contrary to popular belief,
dying isn’t the opposite of living.

Killing is the opposite of living.

Whether you’re killing yourself or someone else,
whether you’re cutting an artery or
shooting the guts of an enemy,
you might be breathing,
but you ain’t living.

This isn’t an anti-killing poem, I promise.

I believe a little killing is necessary,
I believe in killing in moderation,
killing in self-defense,
killing to eat,
killing so I can sleep better at night, feeling safer,

because, while I personally am doing no killing,
killing is happening so I can live
without thinking about killing.



Sometimes, I lie,
obscure the facts,
omit the details,
just so I can convey the truth. 

Sometimes, I stand in a crowd of strangers
and recite poetry with a kind of certainty and predictability
that suggests I’ve rehearsed every gesture,
memorized each line, honed
the presentation of poetic verse.

I want to give it to you:

Hard, then soft.

Hard, then soft.


It’s a living—
a way of breathing by holding my breath,
a way of seething and out-talking death.

People have died for less than poetry.
And is poetry worth killing for?


I’ve got to quit smoking.

© Ami Mattison

Flickr photo courtesy of Lanier67

For One Stop Poetry's One Shot Wednesday


  1. I love the thinking that's happening in this poem. I could easily visualise you muttering all these lines to yourself outside the airport terminal. You lips moving soundlessly and easily, warmed by the cigarette:)

  2. '...This isn’t an anti-killing poem, I promise...', fabulous! I enjoyed very much!

  3. nice ami...i believe in killing in moderation as well...a way of seething and out talking death...i wonder when he comes for me is i can...smiles. nicely done as always...

  4. wow - loved it - sit in my living room and clap my hands... this adds a whole new dimension to poetry and so far, there are not many spoken artists on osw's - but who knows...maybe hearing you makes the one or other wanna give it a try..
    and thanks again for your reading tips...

  5. oh yes, i dig this. killing in moderation?
    i hadn't considered it, but yes, that is very attractive.
    people have died for *much* less than poetry. poetry is more.

  6. You have such presence when you perform your work, Ami. So pleased you're sharing at OSP/OSW.

  7. Such a very raw and yet polished piece. I especially liked the third section, with its explanations of the heart for life and death, and the taking of life. Without death,it's a biological fact there would be no life, or possibility of life. A fine, mature and glowing piece of poetry in all ways.

  8. I loved the line: "this isn't an anti-killing poem, I promise" - HA! Your performance is flawless, as usual.

  9. Wonderful are more than a poet...I hope you do some acting too...your overwhelming presense is well felt and worthy of more....bkm

  10. Hey, everyone! Just wanted to thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. I'm really diggin' being able to share my spoken word in a different format. It's fun! Thanks again!

  11. *tilts head*

    Maybe. But I kind of like the messiness. Not of ash trays, but of people.

    As for cold white Michigan, working in it again has been wearing me out in a hurry, and cutting severely into my blog time. I'm trying to catch up a little today, starting with you!