A Brief History of Smoking
It’s not like heroin, where (I’m told) the first hit’s best and you spend
your life trying to repeat it. No, smoking is hard work starting out,
more like skiing with fewer bruises. Behind a bus shelter in Connemara;
a marrowfat-green pack of Major, conjured from a sodden anorak pocket,
five minors gravely suck, exhale, pale—play James Dean,
but there’s something obscene about a kid smoking.
I blame Madonna. My fingerless lace gloves got me busted. Mother,
always a fashionista, tried them on, held them to her cheek,
blanched at the whiff of stale smoke and searched my room.
The contraband, a pack of Drum (Mild Shag), was on my person
as I followed her around, but she found it in the pocket of my blazer
and burnt it in the Aga.
I’d dreamt of Gauloises, but that summer we smoked Lucky Strikes,
lakeside in the Alps near Gap. We were tan, unaware
of our taste in their mouths—the white-teeth boys who offered a light
from brass Zippos. Delphine and I swam the lake to escape,
walked back on virgin feet, laughing at nothing, bumming
a smoke on the way, and who wouldn’t give us one?
A pool of denim and velvet on the floor between bed and door;
sending a taxi for smokes at 3am; all those things we don’t do now,
like cigarettes after sex—crackle as leaf becomes ash, sheets of smoke
suspended, up-lit by a candle in a Mateus Rosé bottle.
On the nightstand, like a carriage clock, Dunhill’s claret-and-gold pack;
alas, now gone, replaced with images that would put you off coming.
Lighting up in the office fire escape: me, filing clerk and hot CEO, who tells
me I should wear red to work more often. (You could back then).
And the switch to Silk Cut Ultra, when you realise addiction is not
strictly chemical. I mean how much nicotine is really in those things?
Fourteen years post-quitting, the gaps—still there; after dessert,
or making love, or when news comes on the phone that someone’s died.
The first time you have a panic attack you have no idea
what’s happening. Only that you cannot read a simple instruction—
how to call home from a public phone box in a foreign city. There are
only nonsense words, inerst cnois hree, and lungs that won’t fill.
Two good pulls on a Rothmans would’ve shit all over the Aropax
they gave me, but that only occurred to me years later.
They tell me I still have the smoker’s personality (whatever that means):
extroverted, tense, impulsive, neurotic, sensation-seeking—
this last, I love: the search for new, complex, intense experiences,
and the predisposition to take risks in order to do so, including
radical sports, criminal activities, risky sexual behavior, alcoholism,
use of illicit drugs, gambling. Well, maybe I have and maybe I haven’t.
And now we live to a hundred; nothing left to kill us off before we sit
in wheelchair and plaid rug staring out a window at pariahs
huddled outside cafés and bars. (Viva! Vivienne Westwood, at the ball,
pack of Marlboro tucked up the puff sleeve of her gown).
Can it be that hard to create a smoke that might grant years of calm,
and, one unexpected night, assassinate you in your sleep?
Audrey Molloy was born in Dublin and grew up in rural Wexford (Ireland). She now lives in Sydney, where she works as an optometrist and medical writer. Her poetry has recently appeared in The Moth, Crannog, The Irish Times, Orbis, Meanjin and Cordite. Audrey’s work has been nominated for the Forward Prize and she is one of Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets 2018. She was runner up for the 2017 Moth Poetry Prize and has been shortlisted for several other poetry awards. Audrey is a founding member of the international online poetry group, Poets Abroad.