702: Slow Drag with Branches of Pine

702: Slow Drag with Branches of Pine

702: Slow Drag with Branches of Pine


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Full confession: I used to really want to be a smoker. The cool unwavering person committed to smoking despite all of its undeniable health horrors. On Sonoma’s central plaza, down a cobblestone walkway that boasts the local Irish Bar and the back of a French bakery, there used to be a candy shop called–no joke–Hooker’s Shebang! My best friend and I would buy chocolate cigarettes and bubble gum cigarettes there and sit in the plaza and watch the fake smoke (which was powdered sugar) leave the fake cigarette.

I love black and white movies, and even then I liked Humphrey Bogart films. Anything on the Turner Classic Movie Channel. I especially loved it when Lauren Bacall would light a cigarette and those candy cigarettes let me pretend I was Lauren Bacall. And then, of course, I’d unwrap the candy and eat it like the child I was.

When I was in my early twenties, I practiced for a while, learned how a cigarette felt in my hands and how I looked with a cigarette between my lips. It never suited me despite all my failed attempts. Smoking made me ill, mostly, sick to my stomach and sick to my heart, and it made me feel like I needed to go to confession. I hated the smell of it, the insidiousness of smoke.

But the thing that I loved about it? That’s easy. I liked that it gave you a chance to be alone. That at any moment you could step outside and breathe. Breathe deeply even. Inhale it all for a moment. I learned that the thing that I loved about the idea of a cigarette was actually the reality of breath. It was the act of doing something that really meant doing nothing.

What could be better than having an excuse to be alone at the ready? I wonder if folks would find it socially acceptable to say, “I’m just going to stand outside in the night air for a moment and remember who I am.” Maybe they would? Maybe, if you’re thinking of quitting smoking (and really, how delighted would you feel if you did!), you might consider that what you probably like the most about going out for a cigarette is the going outside part, the breathing, the slowing down.

Today’s poem honors those hard earned moments of being alone, of breathing, of, with a deep tenderness, noticing the self.

Slow Drag with Branches of Pine
by Ama Codjoe

        	Here I am, holding one more
mirror. This time smoke, winding
                                	            like a river. I close my eyes,
not because the smoke stings—it
does—but because it’s a way
to examine myself, like looking
                    	          at your face in a river certain it is not
        	  your face. The smoke combs
like a mother through my hair
or like searching the shoreline
for shells unbroken. I sing to myself
and the smoke drags my voice on its back
        	    just as the breeze heaves it.
                    	           Here, in my half-singing,
I’m reminded how to slow drag.
I watch the pine trees creak
                                	            and sway. Here, I am
my own twin. I rest my cheek
against my cheek; I barely move at all.

"Slow Drag with Branches of Pine" by Ama Codjoe. Used by permission of the poet.