It's fourteen years since we stopped smoking in the pub;
ripping out a Rizla, folding in Old Holborn,
liquorice papers the favourite, with a fibrous roach,
air grey as a smoker's lung, like a descending fog,
bar lights filtering through this self-imposed fug.
Yet the wonderousness of rolling a perfect, cylindrical fag,
with the correct compaction for a satisfying drag,
whilst caressing a pint of cider, an Ambrosian delight,
a draught between each toke of carbon monoxide death,
is a smoky reminiscence of a joyous freedom from
an engine conditioner's workshop, where trichloroethylene
induced psycho-dramas and a high-stepping gait
were hazards to avoid; a far more noxious environment
than the public bar of The Ferryman's smoke smothered walls.
So every night at ten o'clock, the five of us would meet,
Darren, Ady, Roger, Mark and me in that bar,
a raucous drunken reprisal of the night before;
Strongbow, Stella Artois, Irish Stout, combustible
conversation, rollies flying off the fingers
for the final hour and on into the lock-in;
years before the lock-down, smiles our only masks.
It's fourteen years since then and I've cast off the coughing,
revivified the lungs, moved Up North, the air
a pristine Pennine flavour now the mills are gone,
a butchered working class wandering the estates
and the soot blackened pubs, but smoking now outside
of the freshly painted tap rooms, in the dog-end littered street.
My hands are free of grease, my lungs purged of tar;
perhaps a pint of light mild slips down better for that.
But now the hazard to be rid of are the neo-liberal thugs
who blight we workers lives with their oligarchic cant;
that is, until the red flag flies from all town halls.