- The Smokestack
The town had a smokestack. It had a church spire. The church was prettier, but the smokestack was higher.
It was a lone ruined column, a single snuffed taper, a field gun fired at heaven, a tube making vapor.
The smoke thinned the attention. Its aspect kept transforming. It could look like a cloud, or like mosquitoes swarming.
The smokestack’s bricks were yellow, and its mouth twenty feet wide. Its smoke was usually pale, but there was a rust color on its side.
The smoke was yellow coral, a bouquet of yellow roses, a yellow beard, a yellow eye, and sometimes runny noses.
Often it looked heavy like junipers under snow. At dawn it was limpidly pink and shaped like an embryo.
It could look like Cuba as seen from outer space. It could look like a pedestal stone. It could look like Jesus’ face. [End Page 53]
The busy residents tended to ignore it, though no one alive remembered a time before it.
Sometimes it looked like ermine, sometimes like elderflower. Sometimes it looked like a Persian cat, and sometimes like power.
It came before Lincoln Steffens. It survived Eric Blair. It was older than stop signs. It would always be there,
resembling a tuxedo ruffle, or an elephant head, or a balled-up blanket on a hospital bed.
It stopped three times a year, but only for one day. Once, in the ’30s, it seemed to die. Many families went away.
But it stayed dead a week, and when it was resurrected, the sky turned black, and then white, as if a new pope were elected.
To labor it looked like a witness, to management a snitch, to both victim and perpetrator it looked like getting rich.
At the Chamber of Commerce, on a postcard of the square, you’d find it in the background, diminutive but there. [End Page 54]
On cool summer evenings, it billowed like azure silk. On cold winter mornings, it spread like spilled milk. [End Page 55]
joshua mehigan’s first book, The Optimist, was a finalist for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry and winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. In 2014, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published his second book, Accepting the Disaster, cited in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Book Review, and elsewhere as a best book of the year. He was the Alan Collins Fellow at the 2015 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and has received writing fellowships in recent years from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.