Once she handed me her just-lit cigarette so she could do
some backyard task. I was maybe ten and all my life so far
that totem of the forbidden blazed all around me in the mouths of adults.
Smoke clung to my clothes, gathered on long car rides, every ash tray overflowing
and the crushed butts, their foam filters lipstick smeared,
the softly crumbling ash, its variations on a theme of gray, stirred in me a mingled
fascination and revulsion so even though this once I was not just permitted but bidden
to touch one, to let its red eye burn toward my fingertips, it seemed a breathing thing
and I held it at arm’s length upright like a torch so far from my lips
I couldn’t, even for the smallest of seconds, be tempted.