The scene is the same. Holderman is sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when a knock comes at the door. He gets up, answers it and William enters carrying the deck of cards. Holderman sits back down calmly in his chair and William positions himself so that he faces Holderman on the opposite side of the coffee table. There is a long awkward silence between the two before William goes to speak.
William: What do you want me to do?
Holderman: You were supposed to learn a card trick were you not?
Holderman: Motioning toward the coffee table, may I see it?
William: (Pulls the coffee table closer to him) Well, I’m not very good at it, but I’ll show you what I got.
Holderman: (sarcastically) I can hardly wait.
William: (fans the cards out for Holderman) Pick a card. (Holderman complies) Now look at at it and then place it at the bottom of the deck. (Holderman does so and William begins to lightly shuffle the deck) Now I’m going to turn over the cards one by one and I’ll tell you which card is yours. (Turns over about ten cards) You had the ten of spades did you not?
Holderman: (slightly impressed) Interesting trick William, not bad for a night’s work. Though I’ve seen that one before it’s one that requires some good shuffling. You’ve come a long way.
William: (settling back) Yeah, it’s amazing what that little book in the deck can teach you.
Holderman: Yes it is. It’s a wonderful little book.
William: (moment of silence) So…
William: So what does it mean?
Holderman: What does what mean?
William: The card trick, you making me learn the trick. What does it mean? What’s the point? Everything you’ve had me do up to this point has had some kind of lesson or deeper meaning. What’s the purpose behind it?
Holderman: Does it have to have a purpose?
William: (raising voice slightly) With you, yes, it does.
Holderman: (amused) Some things are what they are William. A card trick is but a card trick. It’s an illusion like most other things in the world. Entertaining, but meaningless.
William: So I stayed up late to learn that trick for nothing.
Holderman: (chuckles) You now have a wonderful trick to fool your friends with and breathe life into any party. I would hardly call that nothing.
William: (stands up and paces some) So let me get this straight. This has no deeper meaning, no larger purpose nor anything to do with poetry at all.
Holderman: Nothing at all.
William: Are you still trying to get me back for lying to you? Trying to make me feel stupid or something?
Holderman: (stands up and raises his voice) How dare you mention that again! I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying to put that behind me so I can help mold a future poet. My goal is not to make you feel stupid, though I now think you need to, it is not beat you, to turn you into a model citizen or anything, just to make you (points) a writer. If you are going to second guess my work then you should leave… now.
William: (sits down hurriedly) Ok, ok, easy. I’m sorry. You need to learn to control your temper.
Holderman: (sitting down slowly) My temper is not the issue here and you know that. But I will make this note William. If you can’t tell what is completely devoid of depth and meaning, how can you every hope to find it where it does lurk?
William: (slyly) So there was a moral there after all.
Holderman: Not on purpose. I was trying to teach you a damn card trick, you’re the one trying to pull magic out of it.
William: So, then what is today’s lesson? If it has nothing to do with the cards, what is it?
Holderman: Just a simple question. Are you human?
Holderman: Are… you… human?
William: I guess so (chuckle) I’m not a gorilla or anything.
Holderman: (leans in) There is more to being a human than your species William.
William: (puzzled) Ok…
Holderman: Humans are interesting creatures. We laugh, we cry, we feel joy and we feel pain. We’re all different, each with our own quirks and eccentricities. We each have certain events that define us, we are born, we die and we live an exciting life in between. If we’re lucky we feel the gamut of emotions from the agony of death the the highest highs of love.
William: (impatient) So what does this have to do with me?
Holderman: Your job William, is to be human. Hopefully you will write poetry to express the human experience. For that is what poetry is at its core, its a literary expression of what it means to live and die as a member of the human race. (voice rising) but to do that, to reach that, you must first learn how to be human inside and out.
William: Well, that’s all great, but I don’t think you can teach me how to be a “human”.
Holderman: (stands up and paces slowly) You’re right. I can’t. But I can at least give you a start. Every human I’ve known has had one thing that they excel at and one thing that they’re terrible at. One character trait and one character flaw. We have several candidates for your flaw William, but I ask you now, what do you do well?
William: (unsure) I… I… I… write well… I think.
Holderman: (glares at William) That’s up for debate but you’re missing the whole point! Your writing is not a part of your humanity, it is an expression, an extension of it. You need to find a way to establish who YOU are outside the pages of your notebook. Because as far as I can tell you’re just an identity-less blob who happens to write some mediocre poetry!
William: (stands up in anger) What the hell do you know about me old man? Huh? As far as I can tell you’re just a bitter old man trying to mess with some kid’s mind. What do you know about me? You know nothing! You hear me, you know NOTHING!
Holderman: (louder) Then teach me! Turn the teacher into the student, take control, take the reigns, teach me for once! (points finger) You come and you go from this room without leaving as much as an impression on my chair. Like some kind of phantom you enter and exit my life without leaving any kind of mark and that’s the problem with your poetry, it doesn’t leave a mark.
William: (sits down slowly, upset) So you’re saying it’s bad? That my poetry is bad?
Holderman: (sitting down slowly) I’m saying that you need to reach for the next level. That you are inches away from greatness but like a child reaching for a brass ring you are unable to grasp what is right in front of your face.
William: So… what can I do?
Holderman: (pacing) Tell me what you’re good at. What makes William, William? How do I distinguish you from the thousands of others of idiot youths I see out there roaming the streets. Besides writing, what is one thing that you do well?
William: (panicked) I don’t have any other talents!
Holderman: You have to have another talent. Do you hold your liquor well? Can you dance the flamenco? Do you play chess with the best of them? What about poker? Do you compete in athletics? (loudly) Can you do a damn thing besides writing?
William: I… I… I… I cook! Yes, I cook!
Holderman: (puzzled) You… cook?
William: Yeah! My dad was a chef in a fancy kitchen when I was young and he ended up teaching me a few things as I got older. I mean, I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been told that I do it very well.
Holderman: (intrigued) Hm, the cook poet. I think I like that. Pardon my reaction but you understand kids your age don’t typically take up the whisk and bowl.
William: (blushing) It’s alright, I understand. (nervous chuckle) I don’t believe it either sometimes.
Holderman: You also have your assignment. Go home and make me something for tomorrow.
William: What would you like?
Holderman: Whatever you do best.
William: Wait a minute, does this have something to do with my poetry?
Holderman: (raises voice slightly) It’s at the very heart of the matter, your humanity is at stake here. The quality of your dish might as well define your quality as a human and in turn a poet.
William: Well, I’ll do my best then.
Holderman: (walking toward the door, speaks without looking at him) William, take the cards with you on your way out.
William: (begins to gather them) Why?
Holderman: Because if this whole cooking thing doesn’t work out, you’re going to need another talent to fall back on… (opens door)
William: Ok… (looks around uneasy as he finishes gathering the cards)