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The Sword in the Stone

My analyst looked up briefly.

Naturally I couldn't see him
but I had learned, in our years together,
to intuit these movements. As usual,
he refused to acknowledge
whether or not I was right. My ingenuity versus
his evasiveness: our little game. 

At such moments, I felt the analysis
was flourishing: it seemed to bring out in me
a sly vivaciousness I was
inclined to repress. My analyst's
indifference to my performances
was now immensely soothing. An intimacy

had grown between us
like a forest around a castle.

The blinds were closed. Vacillating
bars of light advanced across the carpeting.
Through a small strip above the window sill,
I saw the outside world.

All this time I had the giddy sensation
of floating above my life. Far away
that life occurred. But was it
still occurring: that was the question.

Late summer: the light was fading.
Escaped shreds flickered over the potted plants. 

The analysis was in its seventh year.
I had begun to draw again—
modest little sketches, occasional
three-dimensional constructs
modeled on functional objects—

And yet, the analysis required
much of my time. From what
was this time deducted: that
was also the question.

I lay, watching the window,
long intervals of silence alternating
with somewhat listless ruminations
and rhetorical questions—

My analyst, I felt, was watching me.
So, in my imagination, a mother stares at her sleeping child,
forgiveness preceding understanding.

Or, more likely, so my brother must have gazed at me—
perhaps the silence between us prefigured
this silence, in which everything that remained unspoken
was somehow shared. It seemed a mystery. 

Then the hour was over.

I descended as I had ascended;
the doorman opened the door.

The mild weather of the day had held.
Above the shops, striped awnings had unfurled
protecting the fruit.

Restaurants, shops, kiosks
with late newspapers and cigarettes.
The insides grew brighter
as the outside grew darker.

Perhaps the drugs were working?
At some point, the streetlights came on.

I felt, suddenly, a sense of cameras beginning to turn;
I was aware of movement around me, my fellow humans
driven by a mindless fetish for action— 

How deeply I resisted this!
It seemed to me shallow and false, or perhaps
partial and false—
Whereas truth—well, truth as I saw it
was expressed as stillness.

I walked awhile, staring into the windows of the galleries—
my friends had become famous.

I could hear the river in the background,
from which came the smell of oblivion
interlaced with potted herbs from the restaurants—

I had arranged to join an old acquaintance for dinner.
There he was at our accustomed table;
the wine was poured; he was engaged with the waiter,
discussing the lamb.

As usual, a small argument erupted over dinner, ostensibly
concerning aesthetics. It was allowed to pass. 

Outside, the bridge glittered.
Cars rushed back and forth, the river
glittered back, imitating the bridge. Nature
reflecting art: something to that effect.
My friend found the image potent. 

He was a writer. His many novels, at the time,
were much praised. One was much like another.

And yet his complacency disguised suffering
as perhaps my suffering disguised complacency.
We had known each other many years.

Once again, I had accused him of laziness.
Once again, he flung the word back—

He raised his glass and turned it upside-down.
This is your purity, he said,
this is your perfectionism—
The glass was empty; it left no mark on the tablecloth.

The wine had gone to my head.
I walked home slowly, brooding, a little drunk.
The wine had gone to my head, or was it
the night itself, the sweetness at the end of summer?

It is the critics, he said,
the critics have the ideas. We artists
(he included me)—we artists
are just children at our games.

This poem appeared in the November 8, 2012 issue of the magazine.