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The great labor was always to efface oneself,

Reappear as something entirely 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.

The Lives of the Alchemists

Charles Simic


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