I said, “I can’t talk to you
this morning, I’m very busy.”
He jumped back two paces,
and smiled and said, “You have
a very pleasant irascibility.”

I said, “Come to my house
on Saturday. You can tell me
everything on your mind, all at once.”

So there we were, in my study,
with his father, the Sanskrit scholar
who died at twenty-three,
the uncle who kept a “dramshop,”
another uncle who was poisoned,
and a cousin named Maya …

“Stop!” I said. “Go back
to the uncle who was poisoned.”
“Yes,” he said, “by his mistress.”

He spoke in a monotone
of the village where he grew up
and, when he was a man, in Calcutta,
sharing a room above the market …
a shuffling all night long
going by, a murmur of voices.

                                   *

A book came in the mail, from India,
cardboard covers and cheap paper,
Wings of Song by Sastri,
dedicated to his “friend and mentor.”

In India when someone chooses you
as his mentor, from then on
you’re in his debt, obliged
to help him … find him a job.
When he marries you’re expected
to help support his family.

There’s no end to it … the quarreling
next door. The sound of a flute,
and a murmur and shuffling.

All those people in the street
who stay up all night long.

Louis Simpson

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 11 Number 9, on page 33
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