You and Me and Veronica Lake

By Colleen J. McElroy b. 1935
I used to smoke before they opened
my chest and surgery filled the dark
clouds roiling and rain turned acid.
My best friend died lungs full of ashes
her hula skirts dry grass rustling
in the corner  then another
friend and poems scattered on pages
like incomplete love letters
sprinkles from old pipes.
I used to smoke after lost loves

and Johnny-come-lately’s
some rings singalling the best
sex or the worst  the room
clouded blue under a moon gone bad
tabacco sweat leather apple smell
into sunrise stink of an old shoe.
I used to hold up my finger to find
the moon  the end stained yellow
smoke rings dancing above my head
like haloes of broken moons.
I smoked past several husbands

and loyal friends  lungs charred
black and sliced on a surgeon’s plate
from the burning kiss and coffin nails
voice lost in phlegm blooming cloudy
white to yellow. I smoked afternoons
thinking I think I believe smoking
makes anything possible  the sexiest
come-hither look or wise pause
taking you straight to the stroke
of the pen. I smoked with silver
holsters  the best tobaccos  coughs

levelling the field. I smoked
with gangsters and preachers
and mothers waiting for diapers
and fitted sheets  oh we were
the best in those days when
the best could be measured easily
by filters and name brands and what’s
up front that counts. I smoked
when glory days were good days
and mystery was repartee in a bar
snappy lines thrown by some old

Viceroy leading man to the nearest
femme fatale. I smoke happily
gloriously helter-skelter
and pell-mell. I smoked when suzy
parker was The Face  dionne
warwick crooned for bacharach and cadillacs
had fins. I smoked to live
fast love hard die young and rise
again like a fresh face from celluloid
heaven waiting beside a smoky piano
spotlight a blurred moon behind blue clouds
and me singing torch songs forever.

Colleen J. McElroy, “You and Me and Veronica Lake” from Sleeping with the Moon. Copyright © 2007 by Colleen J. McElroy. Used by permission of University of Illinois Press and the poet.

Source: Sleeping with the Moon (University of Illinois Press, 2007)

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Poet Colleen J. McElroy b. 1935

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Death, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Life Choices

 Colleen J. McElroy

Biography

Colleen McElroy was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a military family that moved often. She earned a PhD in ethnolinguistic patterns of dialect differences and oral traditions from the University of Washington. McElroy has written short stories, plays, television scripts, and nonfiction; her collections of poetry include Winters without Snow (1979); Queen of the Ebony Isles (1984), winner of the American Book Award from the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Death, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Life Choices

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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