smoke eater | a {re}collective poem

he came to bed

war in his head

a breathing cemetery from head to toe

he gets up as soon as the sun rises

he can’t lie down

too close to the ditches and trenches

the arrested faces

the muted moments

the immovable uniforms

burial shrouds

he’s still in that basement


the dead reign

move his writing hand

corpse faces glued to his alphabet

page after page

rewrites his memory

drains his memory

cures every sickness in his body

like waves they come back to holler

he never walks back alone

he haunts the dead

he can’t stay away

he drinks himself back

collecting objects

the harbinger of death and decay

mothers’ faces

he takes them in

flesh and blood

colouring outside the lines

dyeing fields

young men flooding

here’s an object

the last one he held

the one he looked at the most


open mouth

tears rolling

letter after letter

he travels

until his hands are empty

this is it

now you must live

children are born

because there has been too much death

isn’t that how it goes

splitting his body in two

collective pain

collected pain

too heavy for himself

branching out


a wardrobe of letters

never reaching the weight within him

he writes because he hopes that he can survive

“Smoke Eaters” by W. H. Zerbe (1864-1943)

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