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Dirty Old Man’s Ode to Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke does for him
what madeleines did for Proust.
At the carwash he lingers near
a woman puffing on a cigarette

waiting for the conveyor to disgorge
her SUV. He’s back at his house
with his chain-cigar-smoking father
and chain-cigarette-smoking mother

and all the windows closed because
the air conditioning is always running.
He goes over to the woman and asks
her, politely, to blow smoke in his face,

the way Bette Davis does in the movies.
She looks at him, mutters something
and walks away, taking his house
and his mother and father with her.


Gustavo Pérez Firmat


A writer and scholar, Gustavo Pérez Firmat is the author of several collections of poetry in Spanish and English, among them Scar Tissue (Bilingual Review Press, 2005), Bilingual Blues (Bilingual Review Press, 1995), and Equivocaciones (Editorial Betania,1989). His other books include a study of Cuban-American culture, Life on the Hyphen (University of Texas Press, rev. ed. 2012), as well as the memoirs Next Year in Cuba (Arte Publico Press, 1995) and Cincuenta lecciones de exilio y desexilio (Ediciones Universal, rev. ed. 2016). Pérez Firmat is the David Feinson Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. In 1997 Newsweek included Pérez Firmat among “100 Americans to watch for the 21st century” and Hispanic Business Magazine selected him as one of the “100 most influential Hispanics” in the United States. In 2004 Pérez Firmat was named one of New York’s thirty “outstanding Latinos” by El Diario La Prensa. That same year he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Pérez Firmat has been featured in the documentary CubAmerican (2012) and in the 2013 PBS series Latino Americans.