It was after midnight and I put down Sudden Fiction in the middle of a story about a guy drowning while his girlfriend made out in the boathouse with an older man; bit into and consumed two pieces of hot crispy garlic and butter bread, upped the heat to it's highest setting, sat in front of the fan in nightie, red hoodie and distressed leather Danskos (all preheated before I garbed) and opened Poets and Writers, Sept/Oct 2005 issue.
James Baldwin is on the front, photographed in b/w, dressed in a white tunic with embroidery on it. "Through the Eyes of the Photographer," an article about photographing writers and poets is the feature in this issue. I'd just read an essay in Ideas and Patterns in Writing (c. 1971), Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin. He describes his impossibly cold and distant father--his tone is sad, but not sarcastic, as he flatly relates how he and his siblings avoided their father, a cruel and vindictive person.
Come back with me now, to tonight. I'm in front of the heat and James is on the front of P & W. I open the magazine with a sense of impending discovery and flop, straight away it falls to a full-page b/w of W.H. Auden, 1972. He's a reptilian creature in this photo, around 70 or 80. His chin is tipped upwards, eyes slanted down, eyelids so baggy that his eyes are dark slits in shadow. His hair is mussed a little, but maintains a saucy air. He's smoking. He's sucking the hell and life and tar out of that cig, but easy, like it's a dainty goblet of communion wine. Like it's his last breath and he doesn't give a damn, he'll suck it up good. The cigarette is just a stub between his stubby fingers, with a one-third inch of ash. Any second, he's going to reef hard, separate his lips from the burning member, then wave his hand up in the air cigarette intact, and "ta-dah!"
That's when a shutter opened on a secret part of my mind. With a queer little shiver I realized that deep inside me, in that place that many of us have which is for want of a better word a very secret life, certainly a hidden thought life that rarely rises to the surface, and inside it niblets of truth simmer behind the scenes until they explode and you have to say hey, I heard that.
I imagined me alone in my house, like I am now, the red hoodie is faded and I'm wearing warm knee socks. Probably I am 50 years old at least, since my daughter is grown and gone in this scene. I'm smoking. My chin is tipped and my eyes are slits and my lips are glued to a Camel, I've secretly been planning to smoke again ever since I quit 10 years ago now, and 20 in the mind movie.
This revelation made me realize how unsafe I really am, if I can hide this thought away so well for so long. Telling all of the world that I quit smoking for good. And then planning to start up again as soon as my kid is grown. As soon as no one important is looking. As soon as some event, terrific or awful, precipitates the renewed act of smoking. As if something will happen where I won't be able to "help it." And my mouth watering while my brain swears no I won't do it. I won't. But I can tell I'm really secretly planning to.
Real fast, I thumb ahead in P & W to Our Annual Look at Independent Presses.