Excerpts from the essay “The Artist’s Smoke” published by Bayou Magazine, Issue 52, 2009

One cigarette leads to another and another and another. In a poem, one cigarette looks lonely on a page.

The smoketress, the woman who smokes, the woman in the habit of smoking, is the woman in the physical act of something that exerts so little energy it’s almost passive, and yet the woman smoker is driven to smoke each cigarette, to lift a stick (barely an ounce of weight) in the mouth. She inhales and exhales. (The one physical act we all have in common: we begin with breath and we end with breath.) She breathes and blows out smoke.

The smoketress requires little except a smoke and a match. She is aware that depression affects one in five women over the course of a lifetime (double the number of males) and, of those, at least half will suffer a second episode. She does not notice the change in her body; she does not feel the heartbeat change its pattern, or the depletion of vital energy, or the change in temperature. She experiences a change in mood, a break from work, a filler of time, a quelling of a barb of anger. She engages in passive breathing—something in and out—the lift of a cigarette, its lightness, a lightness of being—a sublime transformative passing of time, the changes inside her body not visible to the human eye.


Excerpt from the essay “The Writer’s Smoke” published by Under the Sun, Summer 2010

I was a daughter who fell in love with my mother’s hands. I remember driving in the powder-blue LeMans (from the Pontiac division of General Motors—today as I write these words the media report that GM may declare bankruptcy). My father always bought American cars for my mother. She smoked in the car. She smoked True Blues.

I remember my mother’s hands . . . strikingly beautiful hands held the cigarette and the steering wheel, authoritative hands, creative hands . . . hands that held me and raised me and transported me from here to there. I remember freedom in the car, traveling in the car, windows rolled open, my mother smoking. (My father hated smoking. He was allergic to smoke, cats, and dogs. My father tore up her cigarettes and promised/bought gifts if she would stop.) I remember hands with veins that protruded, elegant hands, hands that did not labor hard, hands that held butterflies and white talcum powder, hands that never hurt, hands that spun the wheel round and round. Smoke twirled inside the car and out the window and I smoked her smoke too.

And when I turned thirteen, she let me smoke with her and I felt like a grownup and it was our secret and my mother did not share this with my father or brother. I was special—it was our time, driving through town smoking True Blues, talking and listening to the Rolling Stones, to Joni Mitchell, to the Beatles, to Sly and the Family Stone, the Temptations, to Bob Dylan, to Janis Joplin, to Jefferson Airplane, to the Supremes. I remember looking at my small hands wondering if one day they would spread and reach out like my mother’s thirty-six-year-old hands, if I, too, would wear red Max Factor nail polish and look as beautiful as she did driving and smoking on a normal Jersey day?