Project Description

In a Meme

Cigarette in raffish beak,
Poe’s raven tells his side of the story.

But something doesn’t seem right,
and looking makes it clear:
that coffin nail has a filter, first patented
in 1925 Hungary by one Boris Aivaz.
We could have one ancient raven on our hands,
but I’ve never heard of anything
warm-blooded racking up the centuries
like tortoises—one of Darwin’s is still alive—
or the deep and ancient Greenland shark.

Yet this bird might deserve
the benefit of the doubt.
Its species has been observed
using tools and mourning their dead,
and we could likely do far worse
than giving them the right to vote.

What I see as a cancer stick
might serve them as nesting material—
in Mexico City, menthols among twigs and spit
were found to repel mites and, yea,
a whole host of vermin.

If the anachronism still rankles,
it is because a smoker in Poe’s time
would have rolled his human or corvid own
like my Washington, DC neighbors
do to smoke their skunk weed.

What actual skunks make of this
is unknown to such science as I read,
but they seem to abide on the National Mall
in burrows opening too wide for rats—
but like them, tag along for the omnivore buffet
of kiosk and food truck scraps, inter alia
cheesesteak, pizza, falafel, chicken bone
and the half-smoke, in its origins
most obscure among sausages.

Ravens could join them but mostly
avoid the Mall, out of intelligence
or the development of a palate
set for long-term survival.
Which makes sense, as in the meme
the bird’s cigarette is unlit.
It might be training to outlive us. Evermore.

J.D. Smith

J.D. Smith’s fourth poetry collection, The Killing Tree, was published in 2012, and in 2007 he was awarded a Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work in several genres has appeared in The Awl, The Bark, Boulevard, Dark Mountain, Grist, the Los Angeles Times, Nimrod, and Terrain. He works outside of academia in Washington, DC, where he lives with his wife and their rescue animals. From time to time he spots an osprey with a fish in its talons.