A couple of friends recently visited for a few days. One of them has a life-long love affair with coffee and hand-rolled cigarettes. Ever polite, he refused our offer to smoke on our deck or screened-in porch. Instead, he set up a camp chair far from our house, under the tall trees, near their car. Conveniently, the chair has a pocket on each arm, one for the Drum pouch, the other for his stainless travel mug. Throughout the day he’d occasionally disappear, retiring to his chair under the trees for coffee and a cigarette and—no accident, I think—solitude.
Needless to say, he always returned invigorated. And though he’s not a writer, the pleasure he takes in tobacco reminded me of this charming and funny poem by Billy Collins, which almost makes me wish I did smoke, so that I too could be my own locomotive. (You can watch him read his poem, here.)
The Best Cigarette
There are many that I miss
having sent my last one out a car window
sparking along the road one night, years ago.
The heralded one, of course:
after sex, the two glowing tips
now the lights of a single ship;
at the end of a long dinner
with more wine to come
and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;
or on a white beach,
holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.
How bittersweet these punctuations
of flame and gesture;
but the best were on those mornings
when I would have a little something going
in the typewriter,
the sun bright in the windows,
maybe some Berlioz on in the background.
I would go into the kitchen for coffee
and on the way back to the page,
curled in its roller,
I would light one up and feel
its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.
Then I would be my own locomotive,
trailing behind me as I returned to work
little puffs of smoke,
indicators of progress,
signs of industry and thought,
the signal that told the nineteenth century
it was moving forward.
That was the best cigarette,
when I would steam into the study
full of vaporous hope
and stand there,
the big headlamp of my face
pointed down at all the words in parallel lines.