The Lives of the Alchemists
by Charles Simic
The great labor was always to efface oneself,
Reappear as something completely different:
The pillow of a young woman in love,
A ball of lint pretending to be a spider.
Black boredoms of rainy country nights
Thumbing the writings of illustrious adepts
Offering advice on how to proceed with the transmutation
Of a figment of time into eternity.
The true master, one of them counseled,
Needs a hundred years to perfect his art.
In the meantime, the small arcana of the frying pan,
The smell of olive oil and garlic wafting
From room to empty room, the black cat
Rubbing herself against your bare leg
While you shuffle toward the distant light
And the tinkle of glasses in the kitchen.
In the meantime. There is the everyday alchemy.
I'm no great cook. This was one of the days I took whatever we had left in the fridge and made a spaghetti sauce out of it. (The green beans were on the side). Whenever I cook, the dog sits on the mat in front of the kitchen sink and waits, hopeful that something will drop.
Usually there's wine. Not always, but often. Usually, my diary is on the kitchen table. A few books of poetry. My camera.
Over the years, I've written so many lines of poetry in the time it takes the water to boil for pasta. Maybe some of my favourite lines. 12 minutes, al dente.
The poem, btw, is from Simic's New and Selected, which is on the recommended shelf above.