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olive branch

“One day when I got home at Fourteen Wright Street, Judy opened the door and looked so stricken that I said, ‘Judy, what’s happened? Has Tom Jones died?’ That was our cat. She said, ‘No, but Volta Hall has had a heart attack and died.’ I suppose this is one of the most terrifying blows life has to offer: when your psychiatrist disappears. Within the next two days I wrote an elegy for Volta Hall which is in the Collected Poems and in which the repeated line is, ‘Now the long lucid listening is done.’ I sent this to his widow with a bunch of violets. There was no reply. I thought perhaps there is an unwritten rule that the wife of a psychiatrist does not make contact with a patient even after he himself has died. So I thought no more about it. About ten years later I had a note from her asking if she could come to see me. She came and told me that I would never know what that poem had meant, that she could give it to her children so they could see what her husband and their father had been for so many patients and what he was in himself. She also came—and this touched me deeply—to ask my blessing on her remarriage, as though I was speaking, in a way, for Volta. ‘Of course,’ I said, ‘that’s what he would want.’
        You never know, when you send out a bird with an olive branch in its beak, whether it will come back or not.”

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source: Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1993), 130–31.

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