Three Poems

Charles Simic

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 me urgently to a meeting
Of indecipherable purpose and significance?

Hell, I’m only a firecracker salesman of sorts.
It’s almost year 2000, so I called room service.
A talking dog would liven up the party,
And so would Miss Atlantic City 1964
I remember jumping out of a white birthday cake.

Nobody answered. There was a politician on TV
It would be a real pleasure to spit at in person.
Over the rooftops eeriness loomed large,
Small, baleful gusts whipped the trash in the street
And the vacancy signs were everywhere.

The Mouse in the Radio

After the late, late news,
You plucked up courage
To scratch a few times
On the wall of your hideaway.

Now that the lights are out,
Feeling the cold,
The bleak solitude,
And so sending out a query,

Or perhaps a heartfelt greeting?
On this starless,
Dateless and otherwise
Largely pitiless night

The Lives of Alchemists

The great labour was always to efface oneself,
Reappear as something entirely different:
The pillow of a young woman in love,
A ball of lint pretending to be a spider.

Black boredoms of rainy country nights
Thumbing the writings of illustrious adepts
Offering advice on how to proceed with the transmutation
Of a figment of time into eternity.
The true master, one of them counselled,
Needs a hundred years to perfect his art

In the meantime, the small arcana of the frying-pan,
The smell of olive oil and garlic wafting
From room to empty room, the black cat
Rubbing herself against your bare leg
While you shuffle toward the distant light
And the tinkle of glasses in the kitchen.