Simley's Lighter

Edward Brash

He helped himself to a packet of cigarettes and the lighter
from the table—my lighter, a gift from Ann.

—George Smiley in
John le CarrĂ©’s Tinker, Tailor


They are part of our moon that is always dark.
They are lost or misplaced or about to go
missing. Objects, gestures are what I’m talking about
that once meant something but don’t anymore.
Smiley lost his, a lighter engraved by his wife, “With all my love
from Ann,” during an interview with a Russian.

“A light?” Smiley tempted the Russian
to defect with a pack of American cigarettes in a dark
Delhi jailhouse. Smiley was young and in love.
Aren’t we all when the thunder strikes and we are about to go
under? Then Smiley’s lighter was not there anymore
and Ann was sleeping with just about

anyone. Whatever else it is, this song is about
betrayal. Smiley got nowhere with the Russian,
who pocketed the lighter. Not Smiley’s anymore.
Our own version of this transaction does not require dark
scenery. It happens in broad daylight when a hand on the table can go
away empty and you learn someone else is making love

to your wife. O Smiley, you were not meant to coax love
lessons from intelligence sources but to inform us about
the enemy’s intentions. Our dearest possessions now come and go
like commodities; Ann’s lighter is, in fact, in the hands of a Russian
spymaster and so is Ann. There is no experience more dark
blue than the once-loved creature you cannot love anymore.

Did we only temporarily own what once was so certain but is not anymore?
Remark how things slide to the back of the drawer with the love
letters or disappear through floorboards into forever dark
regions of blasted memory. God knows, Smiley knew more about
loss than a prophet. We need no chain-smoking Russian
in the room when our treasures go

missing, for missing they invariably go.
This must sound ancient. No one smokes anymore.
Could we ask for the lighter back? The Russian
cold-shoulders us and our own Ann, in the ecstasies of love
with another, really no longer wants us about.
Not at all. The theater goes dark.


Have we learned any more about love
from a spy story? Smiley outfoxed the Russian.
I go back and forth in the dark.