My student sits in the armchair facing mine.

He seems to listen raptly as I babble on,

losing control of my syntax: my words

spool forth, but lose their interconnections,

as with rising dismay I realize

I have no idea what I’m talking about.


No, that’s not quite true: I have an idea,

a good one, but as I start to speak,

it goes out of alignment—it forks in two, and then

the forks fork, and I think of the two roads

diverging in a yellow wood, and the old trickster

who slyly let on that you couldn’t tell them apart,

meaning, I suppose, that we kid ourselves

if we think we know what we’re doing

when we choose one path over another,


which I realize I am actually saying aloud

to my student, who clearly hasn’t a clue

who the old trickster is, or why I am talking about him,

or what the hell point I am trying to make,


when all at once I remember sitting across

from my old mentor, long since dead,

who had mumbled with smug incomprehensibility

what I assumed, because of his advanced age,

were profound and timeless revelations

(though in fact he was twenty-five years younger

than I am today). Wouldn’t you think that by now


I had realized that I had hopelessly confused

the poor kid, and that I would have the sense

not to add my irrelevant memories

of that disagreeable pontificator?

Wrong. I’m off on a new tangent, complaining

of ancient trauma the old coot had inflicted on me,


the same I am surely inflicting at this very moment

on the polite young man who sits across from me,

respectful and demure, deftly concealing

any private thoughts he must be having

about the deteriorating mentation

of the well-meaning, logorrheic, pompous

old gentleman happily blathering away.


by Victor Altshul


My poetry book, Singing With Starlings, was published by Antrim House (2015), and several of my poems have been featured in the Hartford Courant. I frequently attend monthly chapter meetings of the Connecticut Poetry Society and meet with other poetry organizations throughout Connecticut. I am a graduate of Harvard University and Yale University. Throughout my life I’ve run twenty marathons, sung various baritone roles in numerous operas, and rowed in the Head of the Charles Regatta along with other prominent regattas. I currently work as a psychiatrist with a continuous private practice since 1967.


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