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James Baldwin
B. 8.2.24 Harlem / D. 12.1.87 St. Paul-de-Vence, France
Stomach Cancer

James Baldwin beckons to me across the room to come light his cigarette.
I don’t know why, I’m not the only unimportant person in the room, nor the least important in the spaces intervening
but without hesitation, I am off across the room, to light his cigarette.
Funny how this would never have happened ten years ago, even five, it occurs to me.
James Baldwin is talking to a dark-skinned U.N. diplomat whom he appears to have mesmerized with the cold, bee-dancing baton of his cigarette.
Me, a white girl, bringing a match to such a one, when beckoned!
Draped behind James Baldwin there is something like a semi-circular curtain, such as would be used to “set off” a marble faun on sale, made up entirely of faces; multi-colored, stretched to listen, strained to smile, in all the living swathe there’s not a single pair of eyes to see that someone needs to light his cigarette.
I arrive as if at the dais, as if pensive and shy in a short clinging tunic, as if wearing one of those thin gold bands around my virgin head, and offer flame. In the snaky depths of his smoke-squint I see he's read my every thought.

Consolation Site: The Times

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