In Beijing, almost every male smokes
Some though more frequently than others,
In the more unchecked districts their flat, amber stubs
Cover the ground like the dried leaves of autumn

Men smoke while walking their dogs
In the evening, when taking their kids to school,
My neighbour unlocks the wire gate of his window
And leans out with his chest exposed

Their packs are nearly always peeking
From out of their shirt pockets,
They are usually of dark red or gold

The worst brand you can buy come in a white packet
They have the image of pandas decaled on the side
Though you never see panda cigarettes
Passed out at formal occasions,

Status is everything here

They each hold their cigarettes differently,
Some smoke the more conventional way
While others balance them between
Their index finger and thumb, held aloft
Like a tiny, burning caber

Some billow out their cheeks before inhaling
Like one does with a good cigar,
Though I have never seen anyone smoke those here,
Nor roll their own cigarettes for that matter

I have seen a cigarette poked intrusively through
A makeshift hole in an air-purifying mask,
And a plate of them stacked neatly in a pyramid
On a table at a wedding, in amongst
The cold dishes, the pickled oeuvres

Over the past few years many places
Have begun to follow the national ban,
Now the men stand outside in the rain
Just like anyplace else

Rooms smell less stale, less acrid and parched
The floors to most restaurants are usually clean
And hospitals seem that little bit safer somehow

But my neighbour still leans out of his window
The ban has done little, to change
His nightly routine

I wonder sometimes when I see him, if it
Is because his wife will not allow him
To smoke inside, or whether it is simply
That he prefers the view

There is, in truth, not that much to see
From our tower block out in Haidian,
The park has been cleared, the trees so severely cut down
That it seems they will never grow back

A blue, neon light from our local Wu-Mart
Obscures any chance of stars,
And the haze is so thick that at times
You can barely make out the ground

Yet there he is, out every night
His arms crossed loosely before him,
I should ask him why it is that he leans out so far
Is it to think or reflect or just to smoke?

But I have never seen him, away
From his window, never have we
Met one another in the hall

I do not know his name, nor how
To address him, and am confident that he
Does not know mine

What if I speak and he does not understand me
What if the question confuses or causes anger?

Is it rude or impolite to inquire
Why each night a man chooses
To lean out a window and for a moment
Be alone with the world?

I have not pursued it,
Nor think that I ever will

Though it does make me glad to know that tonight
When the day is finally exhausted and over,
I can go to the window and lean out
Almost certain to find him there

There is still, some comfort
In that.

Author: jameskramerblog

James Kramer is a fiction writer currently based in Beijing. His writing has appeared in Your Impossible Voice, as well as various Poetry anthologies. He currently writes a monthly-ish column for LeftLion magazine on China.

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