Elizabeth Kilcoyne 

the tobacco song

in a series of late summers

sweat-stuck to a pickup truck

hair soft with river silt, reeking

ivory soap and copperhead,

mouths sweet with royal crown

fingers sticky with tree sap

                             my sister and i found playmates

                             in crawling things.

the same year i scaled the ladder

when no one was looking,

chasing a little black barn cat

across the tobacco rails sweet

from housing last year’s crop

and              slipped, emptying my lungs,

my stomach into the dust.

that year we searched the leaves

for tobacco worms, squashed their

fat, bulbous bodies into the pockets

of our shorts, made them battle

                             like gladiators

in the cornfields, positioning them

like barbie dolls in acts of violence.

the sun hung heavy in september,

papaw’s collar red, soaked with sweat

the year a worker screamed, clutching

his chest.      palpitations wracked his body,

poisoned leaves seeping into rough hands.

nicotine’s ache came bruising, a stain

on the fingers, a shaking in the wrist.

the smell of smoke    on my father’s hands

too much to bear, the yellowing of teeth,

his breath wilted like the leaves in the field

where we could no longer play. 


Elizabeth Kilcoyne is a poet and playwright living in Lexington, Kentucky. She is an alumnus of SCAPA Lafayette and Governor’s School for the Arts as a creative writing major. She attends University of Kentucky as a theater major.  


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