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Reflections in a Spa by Louis Simpson

October 09, 1988

The walls are lined with mirrors, doubling their images, front and back. You see yourself receding in a tunnel. The man on the adjacent bicycle speaks: "whakunam?" Finally I understand: he has no voice box. "Whakunam?" means "What's your name?" "Amjaw"--"I am George." There are impressive physical specimens: body builders, weight lifters with limbs of oak, bellies ridged like washboards. On the other hand, some whose doctors have said, "Exercise, or else!" And some like George, and a night watchman whose legs are withered and walks dragging each foot across the floor, like a "partially destroyed insect"-- the cripple Doyle in Miss Lonelyhearts . The time will pass more easily thinking about Miss Lonelyhearts.

Without fiction life would be hell. I feel like a disembodied spirit. Who is that balding middle-aged man in the mirror, pedalling away from me? Strange, the back of one's own head and body growing small.

From "Collected Poems" by Louis Simpson (Paragon House: $24.95; $75 Ltd. Ed.; 416 pp.). Simpson, son of a Russian actress and a Jamaican lawyer, was born in Jamaica in 1923. His many books of poetry include "The Arrivistes" (1949), "The End of the Open Road" (1963) and "The Best Hour of the Night" (1983). Simpson won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1964 and the Columbia University Medal for Excellence in 1965. 1988, Louis Simpson. Reprinted by permission of Paragon House.

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