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Published: Wed Apr 15 1992
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
The Elimination of First Thoughts

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?

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The numerous books of Robin Becker include Domain of Perfect Affection (2006), The Horse Fair (2000), All-American Girl (1996) and Giacometti’s Dog (1990), all in the Pitt Poetry Series. In 2001, The Frick Art & Historical Center (Pittsburgh) published Venetian Blue, a limited-edition chapbook of Becker’s poems about graphic art. Her newest book, Tiger Heron, will appear in spring 2014. Professor of English and women’s studies at Penn State University, Becker has received grants from The Bunting Institute, The Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her column on poetry, “Field Notes,” is a regular feature in The Women’s Review of Books, where she serves as Contributing and Poetry Editor. (updated 10/2013)

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