I might not look like it, but I'm a natural-born smoker. Okay, I've smoked an occasional cigarillo ... just one or two ... but I don't smoke. From an early age, I've been enamored with the whole process of smoking; the look of the pack, the lighter, the exhale, the cigarette in my hand, poised between drags.
I had it down perfectly at age four. Uncle would take me to Chew's Grocery, in rural Burlington, Indiana, on the handlebars of his bicycle. My choice was always candy cigarettes. They used to sell them in little packs that looked similar to the real thing. I didn't actually eat the chalky candy, just pretended to smoke it, tap the ash with an expert flick of my little fingers. It all came very naturally to me, even exhaling up, so the smoke wouldn't blow in my imaginary friend's face.
When Grandma caught me in my favorite pastime, she, like Queen Victoria, was not amused. The sandy scuff of her house shoes on the hardwood floor signaled me to extinguish the cigarette in the tea set saucer I used as an ashtray. She frowned on the notion of a little thing like me pretending to smoke, even though it felt so very right.
It's a good thing I didn't start, because it would be a habit too hard to shake. These days I make do with nibbling my nails. It's part of my addictive personality, and certainly not as satisfying as smoking. I keep them coated in Black Cherry polish to remind me not to chew, but it doesn't keep me from craving a glamorous smoke from one of those curious finger holders Gloria Swanson used in Sunset Blvd.
hang sexy and impatient,
combust smooth and easy.
Pluck them fast ―
inhale before they sprout nervous wings
and take flight.
Pen them down, taste,
capture the essence as it smolders,
circles the ashtray,
spellbound in the mouth,
taking a chance,
* Candy Cigarette, 1989, by Sally Mann