An excerpt from

The New World
by Carmine Starnino


I was eight when he first let me light his cigarettes.
The wooden match flashed as it
struck the side of the box, and he'd lean toward
the flame I held.

I loved that
first drawing in; the tip flaring, and then the mouthful of smoke
he'd ease out. In the kitchen, those afternoons,
a small boy kneeling on a chair,

stretching out to a man in an undershirt -
to that man here, now asleep
on his back, the respirator tube pushed so far in
he has swallowed it, his chest rising

and falling with the slow, muscled
flutter of a snake, feeding. The doctors do not know
what will happen to him, his heart
having collected something

of each grey breath until it now strains
like a stuffed pocket, unable to accommodate
one more thing, and I am helpless
to reach into his helplessness - the way, once,

he reached into my open mouth
as I choked on a quarter, a man peering down
the dark hole of his son's life, my head pressed back
against the chair, two fingers working relentlessly into my throat.

I watched his face in its concentration,
the way I did when he steadied his cigarette
for my match; the slight frown that closed into a squint
as the smoke drifted across his eyes.

There are more stories I can tell,
but as I sit here, in this hospital room, no other
comes to mind: my father, grinning,
handed me back the coin. We lit a cigarette.
I breathe it in; that one, mingled gust of smoke and fear.