Charles Simic

Charles Simic’s Come Closer and Listen: New Poems will be published next year.

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 22 November 2018

The Name

After St Sebastian Had his chest Pierced by arrows He was nursed Back to health By a rich widow in Rome With the help Of a blind servant girl Whose soft steps I may have heard Entering and leaving My room at night And whose name I’d love to know And whisper in the dark.

Terror

  Saw a toad jump out of boiling water   Saw a chicken dance on a hot plate...

Three Poems

Charles Simic, 18 May 2017

The Election

They promised us free lunch And all we got Edna Is wind and rain And these broken umbrellas To wield angrily At cars and buses Eager to run us over As we struggle to cross the street.

The Saint

The woman I adore is a saint Who deserves to have People falling on their knees Before her in the street Asking for her blessing. Instead, here she is on the floor, Hitting a mouse...

Four Poems

Charles Simic, 9 May 2013

Let Us Be Careful

More could be said of a dead fly in the window of a small shed, and of an iron typewriter that hasn’t lifted a key in years both in delight and dark despair.

Merrymakers

A troop of late night revellers, most likely shown the door at some after-hours club or a party in the neighbourhood, still whooping it up as they stagger down the street with a girl in a wedding dress...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 2 June 2011

It’s a Hot Night

A swarm of half-naked, tattoo-covered bodies To squeeze through on the sidewalk With a wary glance at a dagger dripping with blood And a winged serpent paused to strike.

Young boys are smoking reefers and shooting baskets In the dark playground. Tipsy old men Mutter to themselves on park benches While red roses open at midnight and butterflies flit by.

Each one of them...

Diary: New England in the Recession

Charles Simic, 20 January 2011

Only someone badly lost would find himself driving through a village as unremarkable as this, I’m thinking. The lights are on in the post office, but the parking lot is empty: no one, I imagine, is in a hurry to pick up their mail when it consists, mostly, of bills. The two-storey elementary school is quiet: it’s as if they’re waiting to hear the answer to some question the...

Three Poems

Charles Simic, 9 September 2010

Migrating Birds

If only I had a dog, these crows congregating In my yard would not hear the end of it. If only the mailman would stop by my mailbox, I’d stand in the road reading a letter So all you who went by could envy me.

If only I had a car that ran well, I’d drive out to the beach one winter day And sit watching the waves Trying to hurt the big rocks Then scatter like mice...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 10 June 2010

The Marriage

If I had an ounce of good sense I’d stay put in the country, Rising early to hear the birds And see the sun come up, Taking long walks after lunch, Stopping only to talk to a crow, Or a dog who happens by.

The trouble is, I like to raise hell As much as I like sitting quietly Like a monk in his cell. A car careening with a screech, Carrying a party of revellers To another...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 7 January 2010

The Mirage

Like a cartoon of a lost traveller in the desert, Fallen on his knees and dying of thirst, Who sees a quiet pond in the distance Surrounded by tall palm trees, Once on a train approaching Chicago, I saw a snow-peaked mountain I knew perfectly well was not there, And yet I stared, gradually beginning To make out one high sunlit meadow, When the black smoke from the mills Hid the...

Poem: ‘Old Man’

Charles Simic, 5 November 2009

Backed myself into a dark corner one day, Found a boy there, Forgotten by teachers and classmates, His shoulders slumped, The hair on his head already grey. Friend, I said.

While you stood here staring at the wall, They shot a president, Some guy walked on the moon, Dolly, the girl we all loved, Took too many sleeping pills and died In a hotel room in Santa Monica.

Now and then I thought of...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 20 November 2008

Carrying On like a Crow

Are you authorised to speak For these trees without leaves? Are you able to explain What the wind intends to do With a man’s shirt and a woman’s nightgown Left on the laundry line? What do you know about dark clouds? Ponds full of fallen leaves? Old model cars rusting in a driveway? Who gave you permission To look at the beer can in a ditch? The white cross...

Poem: ‘In the Afternoon’

Charles Simic, 19 June 2008

The devil likes the chicken coop. He lies on a bed of straw Watching the snow fall. The hens fetch him eggs to suck, But he’s not in the mood.

Cotton Mather is coming tonight, Bringing a young witch. Her robe already licked by flames, Her bare feet turning pink While she steps to the woodpile,

Saying a prayer; her hands Like mating butterflies – Or are they snowflakes? As the...

Some Sort of a Solution: Cavafy

Charles Simic, 20 March 2008

He was a poet of a lost world. A hundred years ago, there were still Greek communities along the coast of the Mediterranean, in Asia Minor and in South-East Europe that have since dispersed or died out. I know a little about them since part of my family, on my mother’s side, are descendants of Greek merchants who were permitted to settle in Belgrade by the Ottomans in late 18th century; they prospered, became wealthy and over time intermarried with Serbs and lost their ethnic distinctness. My mother heard Greek spoken in homes of certain family members when she was a young girl. I did not, but I remember how foreign these ancient cousins and aunts appeared to me, how cluttered their small, dark apartments were with furniture, their walls covered with Turkish carpets, icons or paintings of bearded priests and plump-looking men with heavy black moustaches who kept a stern eye on me as I poked around. There were also old books and magazines in many languages. These were educated people who in their youth attended schools abroad but whose families had long since gone broke and were at the point of extinction. Those stuffy apartments came to mind as I read about Cavafy’s home in the old Greek quarter in Alexandria, crowded with his mother’s furniture.

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 1 November 2007

Flying Horses

Neighbours leaned out of windows To see a pretty girl pass by While bombs fell out of the sky And flames lit up the mirrors.

Our building was a rollercoaster We took a ride in every night Wearing only our pyjamas And clutching a suitcase or a small dog.

It was like a street fair in hell. Death had a shelf full of stuffed animals At the shooting gallery Where we were a row of...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 6 September 2007

Department of Complaints

Where you are destined to turn up Some dark winter day Walking up and down dead escalators Searching for someone to ask In this dusty old store Soon to close its doors for ever.

At long last, finding the place, the desk Stacked high with sales slips, Concealing the face of the one You came to complain to About the coat on your back, Its frayed collar, the holes in its...

Once again, I find myself on the North Pole. I have no sled, no dogs and I’m dressed for bed. You ask me if I’m cold? Of course I’m cold, you idiots.

Sleepwalkers unite. Congregate on the rooftops at midnight.

Headlines in supermarket tabloids: A FLY TERRORISES KANSAS CANNIBAL WAITER EATS SIX DINERS IN LA BABY SMUGGLED INSIDE A WATERMELON

The number of watches and clocks to...

Five Poems

Charles Simic, 16 November 2006

The New Office Tower

They tore down the seedy block Of small, poorly-lit shops With their dusty displays Of love bracelets, nose rings, Tarot cards and sticks of incense

Where years ago I saw a young man With blood on his white shirt, Blow soap bubbles on the sidewalk, His face pinched and troubled Save when he filled his cheeks with air

Aunt Dinah Sailed to China

Bearded ancestors, what...

Grandmothers and their caged birds Must be trembling with fear As you climb with heavy steps Stopping at each floor to take a rest.

A monkey dressed in baby clothes Who belonged to an opera singer Once lived here and so did a doctor Who peddled drugs to wealthy customers.

The one who let you feel her breasts Vanished upstairs. The name is not familiar, But the scratches of her nails are. The...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 5 January 2006

Prophecy

The last customer will stagger out of the door. Cooks will hang their white hats. Chairs will climb on the tables. A broom will take a lazy stroll into a closet.

The waiters will kick off their shoes. The cat will get a whole trout for dinner. The cashier will stop counting receipts, Scratch her ass with a pencil and sigh.

The boss will pour himself another brandy. The mirrors will...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 2 June 2005

Walking

I never run into anyone from the old days. It’s summer and I’m alone in the city. I enter stores, apartment houses, offices And find nothing remotely familiar.

The trees in the park – were they always this big? And the birds – so hidden, so quiet? Where is the bus that passed this way? Where are the greengrocers and hairdressers,

And that schoolhouse with a red...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 5 August 2004

Some Roadside Town

Where you take a sudden detour, Not knowing why, And are afraid to ask yourself, And when you think you are ready,

You enter a small pet shop, Sidle up to the parrot Waiting for him to say a word, While he turns his head

Studying the young woman With hair fallen over her eyes Who is checking on the hamsters, One of whom she calls Dave.

Egyptian Horror Film

In that museum,...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 20 May 2004

Sweetest

Little candy in death’s candy shop, I gave your sugar a lick When no one was looking, Took you for a ride on my tongue To all the secret places,

Trying to appear above suspicion As I went about inspecting the confectionery, Greeting the owner with a nod With you safely tucked away And melting to nothing in my mouth.

Our Old Neighbour

Who hasn’t been seen in his yard Or...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 4 March 2004

In the Planetarium

Never-yet-equalled, wide-screen blockbuster That grew more and more muddled After a spectacular opening shot. The pace, even for the most patient Killingly slow despite the promise Of a show-stopping, eye-popping ending: The sudden shrivelling of the whole To its teensy starting point, erasing all – Including this bag of popcorn we are sharing.

Yes, an intriguing but...

Three Poems

Charles Simic, 24 July 2003

Description of a Lost Thing

It never had a name, Nor do I remember how I found it. I carried it in my pocket Like a lost button Except it wasn’t a button.

Vampire movies, All-night cafeterias, Dark bar-rooms And pool-halls, On rain-slicked streets.

It led a quiet, unremarkable existence Like a shadow in a dream, An angel on a pin, And then I lost it. The years passed with their row

Of...

Four Poems

Charles Simic, 6 February 2003

Everybody Had Lost Track of Time

The wide open door of a church. The parked hearse with bald tyres. The grandmother on the sidewalk Leaning on a cane and cupping her ear.

The lodger no one has ever seen Drawing her bath upstairs. The cat in the window That keeps an eye on things.

An old man carrying a chair And a long rope in the backyard As if he meant to hang himself. Words on the tip of...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 7 March 2002

Trudging These Roads

What good does it do you To complain, Charles? The fates shuffling your cards Are old and blind. You may as well look for them In every nursing home in Tennessee.

One day your car breaks down Outside some dead mill town With a couple smokestacks in the rain, And you trudge past the home With your gasoline can in hand Almost brushing against the grey bricks

Just as the...

Three Poems

Charles Simic, 23 August 2001

The Late Game

That sleepwalking waiter Carrying a tower of plates Is he coming to our table, Or is he going to walk right out of the door? He’s going to walk right out of the door.

A baseball game is being played Under the lights In a small field across the road. It’s gone past midnight Because the score is tied, And now someone’s hungry In the near-empty bleachers,

In the...

Three Poems

Charles Simic, 22 February 2001

Wooden Church

It’s just a boarded-up shack with a tower Under the blazing summer sky On a back road seldom travelled Where the shadows of tall trees Graze peacefully like a row of gallows, And crows with no carrion in sight Caw to each other of better days.

The congregation may still be at prayer. Farm folk from fly-specked photos Standing in rows with their heads bowed As if listening...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 5 October 2000

Car Graveyard

This is where all our joy rides ended: Our fathers at the wheel, our mothers With picnic baskets on their knees As we sat in the back with our mouths open.

We were driving straight into the sunrise. The country was flat. A city rose before us, Its windows burning with the setting sun That vanished as we quit the highway And rolled down a dusky meadow Strewn with beer cans and...

Four Poems

Charles Simic, 27 April 2000

No One in the Room

And here I was asking About some child I saw on the street Carrying an Easter Lily.

It was spring then. She came my way In a crowd of turned backs And emphatically Blank faces, With eyes of someone Who sees Through appearances – And she didn’t like What she saw in me.

Was it alarm or pity? I always wanted to know. No hurry replying, I said to no one. It’s...

Two Poems

Charles Simic, 11 November 1999

Past-Lives Therapy

They explained to me the bloody bandages On the floor in the maternity ward in Rochester, NY, Cured the backache I acquired bowing to my old master, Made me stop putting thumbtacks around my bed.

They showed me, instead, an officer on horseback, Waving a sabre next to a burning house, And a barefoot woman wearing only her slip, Hissing after him and calling him Lucifer.

...

Two Poems

Aleksandar Ristovic, translated by Charles Simic, 13 May 1999

Purgatory

We never even felt our share of the eternal in what was our life: the moments from which these bursts of activity and lethargy are made up, the similarity between here and there in inner and outer space. We exchanged life for its semblance, the object for its shadow, the visible coin for the invisible riches whose origins are unknown and whose value is ambiguous: the body for a wee...

It may well be that the most interesting literature of this century cannot be subsumed under the broad label of Modernism or be said to have originated in the great literary centres, but was actually the work of outsiders and mavericks, starting with Kafka, who created something without precedent from a mix of native and foreign traditions. The poetry of Vasko Popa, who died in 1991, is of that eccentric company. He was the best-known Yugoslav poet of this century, and the most translated: his Selected Poems were first published by Penguin in 1969, as part of its series of modern European poets. Popa was then usually grouped with Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub, two other astonishingly original East European poets, whose work was plainly unlike anything being written in Britain and the United States. Encountering in Popa an exotic blend of avant-garde poetry and popular folklore, the foreign reader tends to think that this is what all poets from that part of the world must be like. In fact, no other Serbian poet sounds like Popa. He was both the product of his time and place and the inventor of his own world.

Three Poems

Charles Simic, 1 October 1998

Firecracker Salesman

I was drumming on my bald head with a pencil, Making a list of my sins. Well, not exactly. I was in bed smoking a cigar and reading In the Sunday papers about a Jesus-lookalike Who won a pie-eating contest in Texas.

Is there some unsuspected dignity to this foolishness? I inquired of the large stain on the ceiling. Is someone about to slip a note under my door Summoning...

Three Poems

Charles Simic, 2 October 1997

The School for Visionaries

The teacher sits with eyes closed.

When you play chess alone, it’s always      your move.

I’m in the last row with a firefly      in the palm of my hand.

The girl with red braids, who saw the girl      with red braids?

...

Unfashionable Victims

Charles Simic, 31 July 1997

Oh those awful Serbs! Until recently no one cared or knew much about them in the West and now almost everyone has an opinion about them and it’s most likely to be unfavourable. Karadzic and Mladic – icons of inhumanity – are taken as embodiments of the soul of their people. Even before the wars in the former Yugoslavia started, American newspapers are offering analyses of the Serbs. A New York Times editorial on 4 April 1989, for instance, described Yugoslavia’s Roman Catholic republics as ‘the country’s most advanced and politically enlightened region’ now undeservedly threatened with ‘bullying’ by a block of Orthodox Christian republics. It was an open-and-shut case: a struggle between industrious Roman Catholic Slavs, whose culture and traditions are a part of civilised Europe, and the Byzantine East, where laziness and violence are the rule. Later on, during the war in Bosnia, it was the Bosnian Muslims who were praised for their affinities with the West and for being unlike Muslims elsewhere.

Four Poems

Charles Simic, 22 February 1996

The Preacher Says

Regiments of the damned, halt!

So, we turned to take a better look At the spread eagle on the sidewalk.

There he was, hair combed over his eyes.

Abominations, he called after us,

Everything crummy and screwed up since Adam Is thanks to you!

Let’s see you turn water into wine!

Let’s see you get down on your knees and pray!

     *

You are...

Four Poems

Charles Simic, 24 November 1994

Relaxing in a Madhouse

They had already attached the evening’s tears to the windowpanes. The general was busy with the ant farm in his head. The holy saints in their tombs were burning. One of them, flames and all, was the prisoner of several female movie stars. Moses wore a false beard and so did Lincoln. X reproduced the Socratic method of interrogation by demonstrating the...

Letter
I’ll be surprised if, a few years from now, there are many traces in Kosovo of Serbs ever having lived there. Jeremy Harding’s article (LRB, 19 August) makes this plain. ‘Of course the monasteries and churches should be cared for,’ Noel Malcolm exclaimed in a recent op-ed piece, in which he called for independence, but I don’t think the Kosovo Albanians are listening....
Letter

Plato’s Gulag

21 May 1998

There are a great many things to say about M.F. Burnyeat’s brilliant piece on Plato’s Republic (LRB, 21 May), but for someone like me, brought up under Communism, what stands out immediately is the similarity of Plato’s ideas to those of Stalin. The difference is that the dictator understood, and the philosopher did not, that to turn poets and writers into ‘engineers of the...
Letter

Those Awful Serbs

31 July 1997

Charles Simic writes: So, I’m supposed to hate all Turks! That must be why I listen to Turkish music, cook Turkish dishes and have Turkish kilims on my floors. I have no recollection of the event. I may have said plenty about the brutality of the Turks in the Balkans and was probably unpersuaded by Ms Gün’s claim that for five centuries it was never the Turks, but always the local...

Cheesespreadology

Ian Sansom, 7 March 1996

In a power-rhyming slap-happy parody of Thirties doom-mongering published in 1938 William Empson famously had ‘Just a Smack at Auden’: What was said by Marx, boys, what did he...

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