David Lehman

The Trip Not Taken 


It was in Cambridge in 1970 or 1971 that I went to a lecture

by George Steiner,

an energetic man, short and stout,

with an international accent of indeterminate origin.

It was standing room only.

My friends and I stood in the back.

The subject was language and silence

or maybe language versus silence.

Language won.


Steiner praised the American students in Cambridge --

sharper, more daring than the English.

We beamed idiotically.

One of us raised his hand and said something

meant to prove Steiner's point.

He used the words "conceptualize" and "anarchic"

in the same sentence.


My mind was where?

In the girls' dormitory.

Listen to my story.

Nothing could be finer

than to be in her vagina

after listening to George Steiner

at the anarchic heart

of our culture.

Is the heart anarchic?


Nothing could be finer

than to walk among the amber

streetlamps of Cambrdge

after the lecture

and visit my friend's sister

who brought blotter acid with her

from America

and what we did

we did without supervision

and we didn't own a television

but we owed ourselves a vision

and we had it in front of a store

with women's sweaters in the window

not on King's Parade but the next street over.


I have to tell you: Steiner was brilliant.

And we had the experience

even if we did miss the meaning:

ruin and consolation, desire and

annulment. We took

the trip.

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