Extracts from Notebooks 1996-2006

Charles Simic

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 be found today must be an affront to eternity.

I remember a small boy saying in the lull between two waves of planes during a bombing raid: ‘I want to go pipi, Mama.’

Here’s a fifty-year-old wine of noble vintage ready to be poured down the drain.

An old man singing ‘Oh Marie’ at the top of his lungs while being shoved handcuffed towards a police car with its lights flashing.

Faces in the crowd. They were going about their business when they saw me staring at them and they were either amused or they turned away annoyed. All this time they were hiding in plain view and I found them out.

The Golden Age of American Literature. When cowboys used to read Emily Dickinson in the saddle, and the cops walking the beat carried a volume of Wallace Stevens in the pocket of their overcoats.

The occupiers everywhere, I note, are outraged by the bad manners of the occupied that do nothing but complain about being mistreated.

Sat up like a firecracker in bed, startled by the thought of my death.

Snow arriving this morning at my door like a mail-order bride.

Canned laughter on TV like beer cans tied to a car driving in the dark with no headlights.

The comedy of clocks: the clock the universe keeps and the one the roach running up my kitchen wall has just consulted.

The Egyptian bronze mirror (1500 BC) in the British Museum where I managed to catch a blurred reflection of myself one rainy afternoon in 1982 is still there.

It’s the kind of neighbourhood where a rat is likely to keep a child as a pet.

While he sat thinking, he kept scratching his bald head with a match as if trying to set it on fire.

In Charon’s boat I intend to give my seat to the first lady that comes along.

Short poem: be brief and tell us everything.

An old man huddled over a urinal with a doomsday sign on his back.

The waiter’s name was Bartleby – or it should have been. He brought me two pieces of burnt toast on a cracked plate.

I remember my father saying: let’s have another bottle of wine so that when we rise from the table we can feel the earth turning under our feet.

MISSING CATS FOUND BY A PROFESSIONAL MEDIUM, the card pinned on a bulletin board said. There was a phone number and the name Adele.

More tabloid news:
SHAKESPEARE’S DOG ATE HIS BEST, NEVER-PERFORMED PLAY. THE BONES OF ADAM AND EVE HAVE BEEN FOUND IN THE ACT OF EMBRACING. A MAN CHANGED HIMSELF THROUGH AN OPERATION INTO AN APE. HELL IS SO OVERCROWDED, THE NEW ARRIVALS ARE BEING SENT TO HEAVEN.

‘This is the kind of place,’ my wife says, ‘where you want the waiters to sit down with you and talk.’

Creaky old bedsprings, one-man blues band.

This morning opening the papers I caught a whiff of evils to come.

Softly now, the fleas are awake.

In the office of a business on the verge of bankruptcy, three mummified beings surrounded by antiquated adding machines and filing cabinets, their backs and greying heads bent obediently as if waiting for a reprimand from a superior who is about to arrive. Even the light falling on them is dusty.

I knew a woman who collected black buttons she found in the street. Some years there’d be only one or two. When I asked her what for and why only black buttons, she shrugged her shoulders. She kept them in a jar on the coffee table. They seduced the eye. One button even had some thread left as if it had been torn in a hurry. A violent scene took place, a burst of passion in some dark doorway, and then she came along the next day and found the button.

There’s a fortune to be made in America manufacturing cages for human beings.

In the fall of 1958, a homeless old man came up to me late one night on MacDougal Street and said: ‘Sir, I’m writing the book of my life and I need a dime to complete it.’ I gave him my last dollar and we both went off happy.

Ease your troubled spirit on a park bench, dear sir. Exchange the phantoms of worldly success for the eyes of an adoring mutt.

PHONE SEX WITH PERSEPHONE IN HELL, the ad said.

A waiter with a white napkin over his eyes. He starts toward our table with two bowls of soup and loses his way until he crashes into a wall. We are stunned, outraged and about to leave when another waiter with a white napkin over his eyes emerges from the kitchen carrying our steaks.

Four poets reading. My pain is greater than yours, they kept shouting all night.

In a house closed up since last summer, the phone won’t stop ringing.

It’s plain to see, the wind is bored with the trees, the sea is bored with the rocks.

Free the guppies.

I’m willing to relocate to a rock in the sea.

I heard of a mind-reader who could read what a lit match feared as it entered a dark house.

How to Make Bad Wine Good. 1000 recipes. Send $19.95 to Box 192, Fool’s Paradise, NH.

In my dream, I took a taxi to China to see the Great Wall.

A brightly lit cash machine in a slum.

Even prisoners look back and say: ‘Ah that was a great day. We were all out in the yard. The sun was shining, I was sunbathing, and I said to myself: “God, I feel so good!”’

If you asked my grandmother any question about the past, she would reply this way: ‘Of course, I remember the day the war started. The night before, your grandfather said to me: “Mitzo, it’s been a long time since we had veal chops. Why don’t we have some veal chops tomorrow?” So I’m thinking: Well, let’s see, veal chops, I used to go to so-and-so for them, but last time the veal was so tough, I’d better go see another butcher tomorrow morning.

I used to have a few imaginary friends. We used to lie in bed at night and tell each other about our travels to Africa.

A window thick with exotic plants. They live in a jungle, I think. They have a tiger for a sofa; use an alligator for a coffee table. Their children run around like monkeys. When father opens his mouth to speak, the air fills with fireflies. When his wife lifts her skirt to show him her purple stockings, the parrots shriek.

That must have been Ivan the Terrible I saw playing the accordion on the street corner in Berlin.

A moonbeam in a letter office. A postcard faded beyond recognition with someone like Persephone on the postage stamp.

This morning, rummaging through a drawer, I found one of my baby photographs. The little fatso looked happy. The few dark hairs on his head were carefully combed. One could see he was itching for some lady to pick him up and show him a good time.

They were cutting someone’s throat in a field across the road. ‘Can I go and watch?’ I asked my mother, God forgive me.

Père Simic’s advice: treat yourself, son. Drink a good bottle of cheap wine.

‘I had a bellyful of your love,’ a man shouts into a cellphone as he passes me on the street.

A life of vice starts in the cradle. I loved crawling under the skirts of my mother’s friends and staying there as long as they’d let me.

The devil is always scribbling something. Neighbours try to peek over his shoulders, flies, and even God himself. When people ask him what he’s writing, he tells them nothing. And yet, they say, his pockets are full of worn-out erasers and pencil-stubs.

And there you were, father, with your white hair, white shirt, white pants, all alone in midday heat on a street of white buildings with no one else in view, except someone lost like me too spooked to ask you for directions.

People tell about a blind man who rolled dice on the sidewalk and paid the neighbourhood children a quarter to read the numbers for him.

An Assyrian stele in a museum depicting prisoners of war in a file whipped by their guards as they march. They all have identical beards, identical expressions and clothing and are completely interchangeable.

Finally a just war; the innocents killed in it can regard themselves as lucky.