Still Life With Smokers

Seaside Shopper

How many times have I ashed a shoe or smoked a poem or talked loudly on the other shoe on a crowded bus at noon, as if what I had to say was everyone’s primary interest? I’m sorry. I thank you for your own discretion. You are my role model of the public sphere. I’m not being sarcastic when I say this, even if my tone of voice tells a different story.

I want to do a still life of a poet, an ashtray, and a woman’s tennis shoe, but it’s the same every time. The poet can’t sit still for the picture. His curiosity about who the shoe belongs to leads him around the room when the name of the game is stillness. So no still life for the time being, unless I alter my vision to exclude the poet. The problem is that he’s my best friend in the city and near the top of my list for all times and places.

A tennis shoe is a wonderful thing to wear on and off the court. It makes me feel nimble. Quick like the player I was once when I was twenty. Then I was a smoker for twenty years, and the very thought of a full-length match took my breath away. I smoked to be in the image of a poet. One day the greatest poet I personally know asked me to please stop smoking. ‘But you smoke,’ I reminded him. ‘Kind of a double standard, don’t you think?’ ‘I’d like you to be around,’ he blew out, ‘for as long as possible.’

This morning I bought an ashtray for a poet friend of mine. The irony of the object lay in its shape of a tennis shoe. It sits before me now, beside a flowerpot and an apple. It’s ironic because our lungs, his and mine together, now that we’re both ex-smokers, are as pink as they’ll ever be. Before meeting him to hand off his present, I do as he would do and stop to write a poem. It’s a love poem about First Love. Because it must accomplish a lot to mean much to someone who doesn’t know me, it sets me up for failure. In it, I must do the following: