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The Elimination of First Thoughts

by Robin Becker

I can imagine a composure that has nothing
to do with desire, though I really think certain people
are born with it, like perfect pitch or
the ability to add large numbers in your head.
When his parents argued, a student once told me,
he and his brother would give each other addition
problems, impossibly long lists, and keep score
against the clock until the yelling stopped.
I wonder what he does now.
Or maybe it’s not a gift at all but a practice,
like meditation or the martial arts to which you devote
long hours on February afternoons: equanimity
of correct gesture and punch, the scream
which comes from the gut and wards off potential
attackers. I remember the tranquility of our teacher,
the female monk who shaved her head
and left Cambridge for the monastery in Kerala.
I thought she was crazy, denouncing the West
for the texts of Buddhist contemplation and study,
determined to erase longing and the body’s hungers.
Remember how we snickered after class?
What did we know, doing T.M. for the first time,
trying it to save the relationship, already
looking around for the next thing and the next?


Robin Becker, the author of Giacometti’s Dog, serves as poetry editor of The Women’s Review of Books and teaches at M.I.T.’s Writing Program. She is currently a Visiting Writer at Kent State University. (1992)

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