I visited him three times. The first visit we spoke about T. S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party and the character he reminded me of, a sort of spiritual psychiatrist: a no-nonsense male authority figure with T. S. Eliot’s world-weary deep rueful skeptical intellect, the waspish sting neutralized by Anglican gentleness with a smile of resignation. It was a scary but fascinating ordeal–talking to him, I mean. The fact that his first name was Eliot may have had something to do with it. I went home and re-read the play and I saw it performed on Broadway and in London’s West End. When I talked to him about it, I realized that one out of every ten of Eliot’s analysands is a martyr in the making, preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice in a South American revolution or a famine in Africa. “One out of ten,” Eliot agreed. “But not you and not me.” The third time I visited him we played a game of free association. He would say “death wish” and I would say “pleasure principle” and then we reversed roles, and I would say “pleasure principle” and he would say “death wish.” The sessions had a profound effect on me. It was after the last visit that I understood that these two impulses, the death wish and the pleasure principle, meet at the point of orgasm. From this insight everything else followed: job, wife, children.
DAVID LEHMAN is the author of Yeshiva Boys (2009), When a Woman Loves a Man (2005), The Evening Sun (2002), The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (1998), and other books. Lehman has also written collaborative books of poetry, including Poetry Forum (2007), with Judith Hall, and Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man (2005), a collection of sestinas he wrote with the poet James Cummins. He edits The Best American Poetry series.