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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 smoke rises, And the grey afternoon light returns With its wild apple tree And its blue pickup truck, The one with a flat tyre, And the rusted kitchen stove They meant to take to the dump ...

The Elevator Is Out of Order

Charles Simic, 22 June 2006

... 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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 with a shoe As tears run down her face ...

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 sheep grazing from my sight ...

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 oldest one of them Puts on her rhinestone glasses To read what the cards have to say Now that you are soaked wet And are about to shiver to death, Except it isn’t your time yet ...

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 sitting on his front porch For what seems like for ever, Whose house stays dark at night, The garage closed, the great Hearse of a car parked in the back ...

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 ...

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 ducklings Marching in line with me tagging along, Pulling a small toy truck by a string While trying to make the sound of a motor Rev up as it sits stuck in the mud ...

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 by the side of the road? The swing set in the widow’s yard? Ask yourself, if words are enough, Or if you’d be better off Flapping your wings from tree to tree And carrying on like a crow? Softly Set the knife and fork on your plate, Here, where it’s always wartime, It’s prudent to break bread unobserved, To pour the wine out of the bottle Watching its shadow leap on the wall ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 walking pigeon-toed far behind them, and calling out in distress: ‘Hey, you! Where the fuck do you think you’re going?’ Passing Through An unidentified, inconspicuous someone, smaller than a flea snuck over my pillow last night, unbothered by me, in a big rush, I bet, to get to his church and thank his saints ...

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 fence? Miss Harding is probably still at her desk, Sighing as she grades papers late into the night ...

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