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Smokers at Greater London House, Camden Town

The cheerful addicts gather in a ring, pass packets round, share lights.
They stand beneath the beauteous façade of Greater London House:
Egyptian/deco/polychrome, restored. The offices within
are smoke-free zones. The comrades represent a perfect irony,
in self-inflicted exile from the same — then unpartitioned — space
where formerly Carreras manufactured Black Cat cigarettes
in quantities sufficient to reduce Britannia’s breath to gasps.

A pair of black cat-statues, one on each side of the central doors,
completes the group; brand icons once, recast and reinstated now
as cats for cats’ sake, emblems of pure style; immune to irony,
immune to sympathy for those to whom the Black Cat brought no luck…

Pyjama’d, wheezing, leaning on the sink, he coughs his morning phlegm.
They took away one lung, so walking’s painful — she must have a smoke.
Drowning in air, he needs the oxygen — they fit the mask — too late.

The information of more recent years seems not to worry these,
our happy, kamikaze few, who hug their bodies, underdressed
for wet December twilight, toe their stubs out and go in again.

The cats are sleek with raindrops. Commerce? Art? It’s all the same to them.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington