Monday, April 11, 2005

I used to be a smoker. which is different, I think, than saying I used to smoke. I mean, I was into the paraphenalia of smoking. the lighters, the ashtrays, cigarette cases, the works. smoking was about identity, about how to hold off the world while simultaneously embracing it.

I recall smoking was so much more present when I was a kid in the '70s. Everybody, it seemed, smoked. and if someone died of cancer, the first question one would ask upon hearing the news was if that person smoked.

--oh yes, was the reply.

--ah, okay.

it was a common enough way to die. and it seemed as natural as dying in yr bed at an extremely old age. I'm not glorifying death, or the horrible deaths caused directly by smoking. I quit smoking permanently when I met Anna, and we agreed to stop together.

it's been 12 years and I've not had a puff since. and smoke fucking stinks! it really smells horrible on a person. especially on a hot day. that is something one discovers when converting to a life of the nonsmoker.

and yet. . . and yet. . .I've a friend back east that smokes and when he sends me his latest books, or journal publications, I can smell the tobacco. and it takes me back to my life as a smoker. I dig the smell. a heady perfume.

I miss the stuff of smoking. I remember going to Macys as a kid with my parents and fondling the table lighters, the sort of things that were fashioned to look like chess pieces or Spanish galleons. where would the trigger be, and the flame. or the real fancy ashtrays cut from crystal. these items were located in the section alongside the expensive tableware and china. smoking was part of the environment. everyone smoked.

there was a sexiness to it that rob mclennan embodies in his poem "The Unavoidable Sexiness of Smoking" in his 1999 talonbooks collection The Richard Braughtigan Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. you may disagree with mclennan's thesis but I find Bogey with a lit cig irresistible.

and the dangers of smoking? they are real, and really fucking ugly. there is humor in it as well. like in David Sedaris essay "Diary of a Smoker" in his 1994 collection Barrel Fever. here is a small taste of Sedaris going over family photos.

[W]e looked through boxes of family pictures and played a game called "Find Mom, find Mom's cigarettes. There's one in every picture. We've got photos of her pregnant, leaning toward a lit match, and others of her posing with her newborn babies, the smoke forming a halo above our heads. These pictures give us a warm feeling.
(p. 153)

family smoking is also woven into a poem by David Larsen, "This Pipe may be too Hot for You," in the chapbook anthology, Smokers Die Younger, ed. by Stephanie Young. each contributor was sent an empty pack of Canadian cigarettes and tasked to write something on them, and/or about them. the packages of these cigarettes show graphically the damage done by inhaling tobacco. there are anti-smoking poems, and smoking poems in the chap. Larsen's poem is a tour de force of subtly and humor. and the poem finishes on the art of smoking.

I saw a
Grandma do it
with a baby
in her arm

what I miss about smoking was my old silver Zippo lighter the most. man, was it cool. at least I thought so. I loved the sound the wheel made when turned by my thumb and the click of the flame. it fitted perfectly in my hand cupping the flame as I leaned toward the light. and my brand of smokes? yep, you guessed it, Camel.


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