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In Shanghai: The West Bund Museum

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Two PoemsCharles Simic
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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.

Then, I was a straw-headed boy in patched overalls.
Come dark, a chicken would roost in my hair.
Some even laid eggs while I strummed my banjo,
While my mother and father crossed themselves.

Next, I saw myself inside an abandoned gas station
Constructing a machine made up of a dentist’s chair,
A store dummy, an electric hair-dryer, steak knives ...
When a lady fainted seeing me in my underwear.

Some nights, however, they opened a hundred doors,
Always to a different room, and could not find me.
There was only a short squeak now and then,
As if a bird had been trapped out there in the dark.

The Avenue of Earthly Delights

Hustlers of gold chains,
Coming our way in the midnight crowd,
Waving them up high
Like angry rattlesnakes.
A French-kissing couple
Falling on the hood of a braking taxi,
Still holding onto their drinks.

Large and small African masks
On a makeshift table
With empty eye sockets,
Mouths frozen in a scream.
A tangle of tanned arms, breasts
Bathed in sweat slipping out
Of a strapless dress,

Short skirt like shreds of tinfoil
Fluttering in an electric fan
As she executes a dance-step,
Fingers popping, wet tongue
As if this sultry night
Was a delicious, creamy dessert
And we were all shortly due
To hop into one big haystack,

Dallying into the wee hours
And the soft light of day –
Which dares not come –
With its fumy side streets
And the homeless, fallen off their crosses,
Sprawled in dark doorways.

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