First Smoke
9 December 2020

It might have been with Alistair and Billy.
Behind the bushes on the hill at school.
But I think it was with you, Chris.
At the house on Whitney Avenue,
with a menthol cigarette 
Melissa Hynes gave us.

We smoked it in the garage
with the chopped wood
and the scent of gasoline
and fresh mown grass.
There was a window at the back
that looked out onto your mum’s garden.
The magnolia tree that flowered pink for just a week
and then was bare the rest of the year.  
The long stretch of lawn 
and the circular rockery
with its heavy granite slabs 
and stone bench
and in the centre
the caribou antler 
my mum gave your mum
that the squirrels liked to gnaw on.

We held onto that cigarette
as though it possessed a talismanic power.
You struck a match
and raised it to the tip,
like we’d seen my dad
do a thousand times.
My nostrils filled
with sulphur and when I puffed
my chest turned to ice
like it had been rubbed
on the inside with Vicks vapo rub.
I coughed and passed it to you.  
And you coughed
and sputtered too,
and it went on this way
until we were done.
We buried the evidence
in the loose, dry soil
of a broken clay flowerpot.

Years later, I was living in London
and you were there with your folks.
You snapped a picture of me in the park,
a rollie hung loosely from my lips.
The habit never took with you,
as it did so enduringly with me.
We went for lunch that day 
with our parents 
to the Pizza Express
on Hyde Park Corner.
Your dad and my dad.
My mum, your mum.
You and I, the smoke 
from the house on fire
they got on like.

I know that objects viewed from such a distance
grow unreliable,
but these are the facts as I recall them.

Do you remember
old friend,
our first smoke, at the house on Whitney Avenue?
The house that smelled of potpourri
and your mum’s perfume.
It was on our lunch break.
We were in Grade 5.
It was Autumn and cold.

We were late going back to school that day.
We ran.  Toothpaste on our breath.  
A fresh secret jostling between us.