Documentary evidence suggests that Strikes/Blows was written around/over the summer of 1997.
"...this cigarette, when
inhaled, produces a mystery
like scented angels joking in a sharp soft row
(i buy 10 of them in an indigo box.)" [Lines from E.E. Cummings. -Ed.]
In that silence of Midtown which is not the absence of sound, in those small hours when one hides from books in an equally small bathroom, content to sit for a spell on the edge of the tub, reflection measures itself against breathing.—Always regard life as an inheritance to be squandered. Smoking in those hours makes me conscious of the act of breathing. Inauguration of a death slouching. Prodigality insures redemption, but do not waste a single, blank matchbook.
the man upstairs/ [This may be a reference to Stephen Jesse Bernstein's poem of the same name. -Ed.]
At a party nothing proves more fatal than being cornered by someone who knows a bit of everything, without ever having attempted or been tempted to learn everything about something. With nearly zero to say—how can I engage everything except as nothings?—my lungs ache the next day. Only the exceedingly bored or excited smoke too much. The coterminous risks are of little interest to the tepid and pellucid, who are anyway too busy with bits in their mouths.
Between sentences the fingers leave the keys and grope for luck. In the strategic interruption I inhale syllables. Thought is the long uncoiling of a question mark from the neglected cigarette, consuming itself on the lip of a glass green ashtray.
Kharms: "One must write poetry in such a way that if one threw the poem in a window, the pane would break." For the same reason, when smoking, image your body as that pane. Plots hold together, but lives droop? Or break apart, for who knows what lies behind the sockets in a long bony face? sockets— sur-rimmed by lashes stretched and burnt by an ancient eruption. Ash and fallout scattered over the stained crescents below. Benjamin quoting a lunatic: "I travel to know my geography."
You empty your pockets of inessentials, must be assured of a steady supply of cigarettes, lace carefully your shoes. When you have made that sudden decision to leave the cell, your private intellectual ecology, when you have decided to let The City make what it will, take you where it will, when you have prepared yourself as willing sacrifice, to let The City situate your body in surprising and uncomfortable locations, to take it, what comes,—New York never fails to excess. You are a pawn, and The City always wins, but against whom? In ancient times (in the name of victory) self-sacrifice was an untainted honor yet. It would seem. Flânerie promises to elevate the soul. The ambrosia is your own remains. Be afraid.
This view from my window mumbles a building's shadow up past my feet to mingle with the smoke visible in the late air. I have thought, only one: Schnittke's first concerto grosso. And exhaled smoke is visual noise. Insubordination.
But I thought that when I could blow a whole smoke ring that I would be able to make ends meet.
la nuit tombe/
(Fort/Da: Kant's sublime supplemented by Freud's compulsion to repeat?) Contrary to conventional wisdom, addiction cannot be reduced to nicotine, nor for that matter to an oral fixation. The visual remains. Puff over wisp, smoke poses itself aesthetically, while revealing the haziness between frames. Fortunately, cigarette smoke offers the subject a share in its creativity. Taken in by it, I take it in and reproduce it, exhaling deliberately, as if my body were sculpting the material in its own image. I emit ghosts, and my pleasure doubles.
(For how long will you stare at a fire?) But the sharp light—morning, mid-afternoon—of Bryant Park divests me of pleasure, for it cuts this cigarette's smoke right out of the picture. Also in the summer sun I burn myself constantly, since I cannot determine whether my match has taken. No, I must be patient for evening. When I had reached the age of eleven, when I stood beside that tiny highway, which ran down to where used car dealers set up shop on either side of the one-mile prelude to town known as The Junction, and when I leaned into the winter fog (damp enough to become rain upon contact with my sleeve) so as to be the first to detect the headlights of the school bus, which would conceal itself until the last possible moment, shedding its hazy apparel almost circumspectly, but also inexorably, the length of its yellow body emerging in direct proportion to the gloomy prospect of another day at a new school where hair below one's ear commonly resulted in others' mistakes about one's gender, when while stiff with cold, boredom, and apprehension, I picked around in the gravel for a twig suitable as a prop in my early morning performance for the traffic, the charade in which I amused myself by pretending to smoke ("Look! You can see your breath!"), relying on minimal exposure to James Dean and Humphrey Bogart for authenticity,—did I at that time realize the dawn of an aesthetic sensibility that would go deeper than mere addiction? Did I have any foreknowledge of these brilliant July days during which I meander through The City, passing the time before it becomes dark enough to behold the smoke of my cigarettes? which I will greedily smoke one after the other?
[Moreover, at the time of writing that, could the author have realized how closely he had come to Richard Klein's formulations in Cigarettes Are Sublime? no, because he hadn't at that time read Klein's book, something you should do immediately. Cf. These Dark Times. -Ed.]
"Indeed, this world is flat: as for the other, nonsense.
With hopeless resignation I accept my fate,
And to kill time while I await
Death, smoke thin cigarettes in the face of the gods.
Go, struggle on, poor skeletons to be.
As for me, the blue stream which winds heavenward
Plunges me in an infinite ecstasy and drugs
Me like the dying scent of a thousand perfume jars.
And I enter paradise, blossoming with clear dreams,
Where one sees, coupled in fantastic waltzes,
Choirs of mosquitoes and elephants in heat.
And when I awake thinking of my poem,
With joyous heart I contemplate
My dear thumb roasted like a drumstick."
[Jules Laforgue, "The Cigarette," Outcries of the Earth. The author appears to have used Smith's translation from the 1956 Selected Works of Jules Laforgue. In Cigarettes Are Sublime (see above) Richard Klein offers a superior translation. -Ed.]
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