I smoke my first cigarette to strike
a cocky stance, to pass time I lean
against a wall in an adult theater.
I slouch, reluctant to stand too straight,
maintain the macho effect. My lips
pout smoke, as if it is even possible
to shape smoke rings from amateurish puffs.

The theater is dimly lit. Dampness
has tormented paint from walls. Strips
the size of a human hand hang loose.
Men parade a well-worn path up and down
aisles, through the lobby to the restroom,
come back out, start again. A constant
procession of desperate faces pass me.
I stand still watching, waiting for someone
to stop with a come-on line or a roving hand.
Amidst smoke and gloom, most faces appear
gray as corpses, seem bent on not showing
an interest in each other. My eyes don’t lock
on anyone for fear of dispelling detached appeal.

Propped against a wall, in my silence I dream
of another way to look at the universe
that doesn’t lead here. Eyes averted, I think
there must be more to do than loiter here
with a sneer fixed to my face as if with glue.
I and the others never a smile. To do that
would violate caution and watchfulness.

So what did hanging along these walls mean,
the risk of arrest always imminent?
I can only say that for a while the cigarette
and pretense let me become someone else.
let me get into the world the only way I knew how.

Back home, safe from apprehension,
I try to love the part of myself I have saved back,
not squandered during leather-jacketed hours
being cautious, loitering in shadows to hide
my flaccid neck and the top of my fading hair.