The studio is arranged neatly, with paintbrushes and thumbtacks in little bins. The phone rings a lot, and she barks on it sometimes, explaining to a consigliere that she won’t agree to appear in a performance without seeing the excerpts first: “Ya know what? I’m doing them a favor.” A photograph of Susan Sontag’s flower-strewn grave sits on her mantle, along with a dark-green icon that belonged to Carroll. She considers him to be her generation’s best poet. “I was so sad when Jim died this year,” she says. “He was so sturdy as a boy.”
In here, among her things, it’s clear that she works best in a hothouse of those who have influenced her. The portal Burroughs spoke about is open for such channeling, she thinks. On tour, when she has days off, she usually visits graves: Chekhov and Bulgakov in Russia, or Samuel Beckett, Baudelaire, and Brancusi in Paris’s Montparnasse cemetery. “It’s infinitely more interesting for me to have all these people hang around me,” she says. “I’m never bored. I can access them if I’m trying to figure something out, just like I can access my family, or Robert.” There’s another reason, too: “We’ve always had a little maxim, in our band, that the guardians of history are soon rewarded with history itself,” says Kaye.
Smith crosses the studio to sit at a small writing table, as her young Italian tour manager brings over mint tea in her grandmother’s fleur-de-lis pot. “Very nice, Stefano, very nice,” she chants under her breath. Soon, she drifts over to a chest filled with objects: a stone from the river where Virginia Woolf took her plunge, her father’s cup, a small case with Arthur Rimbaud’s calling card, Mapplethorpe’s black velvet slippers. “Some of these things are only worth something to me,” she says, then opens a dark marble box. She lifts the necklace that Mapplethorpe bought at Brentano’s, pendants on a black and silver string. “This is one of my most valuable possessions,” she says. “I’ve lost many things, but managed to keep this forever.”
Then she sits back at her table, resting her hands on the top. “You know, when I was young, I wanted to do something great, and because I still don’t believe that I have quite done that, I’m still pushing on,” says Smith. “I want to write my Alice in Wonderland. I feel I have it in me to do this one thing. I don’t know what it will be.”