So I’m walking to school–usually takes me 15 minutes–but this time at a brisk pace because it’s close to my teaching hour when this dog walks up to me just around the Birmingham Museum of Art. I look around for the owner, the dog looks around too, then inches closer to me. I swear it kinda lifts its front paw towards me, but I do not panic. yet. Handshake, stranger, I’m thinking. I’ve known animals to take a liking of me and then getting on with their lives, so I’m hoping he’ll go away. Just the other day I was at a friend’s place and her sweet little puppy, usually shy and distant to others, I’m told, came and lay on my lap and raised it’s leg, so my friend said she’s welcoming me to stroke her tummy. “She never does that to anyone but me.” So I take it as a blessing and stroke the cute little dog. So this other dog on the street decides to stick with me. I cross the road, he crosses the road, I walk faster he does the same. Around his neck, no collar and no leash. He’s a big fellow, looks healthy, and I don’t know what to do with him. So anyway as soon as we get to school, door opens and lady administrator asks what’s up with me and the dog. I explain and ask for the animal rescue number so they can take him. Before heading to my class, I find myself recalling the old nursery rhyme about Mary and the little lamb that followed her to school one day and sat with her in class. I start to think that maybe that’s what I should have done. The dog might have appreciated some poetry–Charles Simic–to be precise, and now he’s gone. On the other hand what if he’d turned out aggressive and gone after my kids… best to be safe than sorry.
So what I had in mind for this post before the dog incident, of course, was to share my reasons, eleven reasons why i love Charles Simic. After the dog all that changed. All I can think of is the dog and how surreal it felt walking with him to school. Folks looking at him with questions and me quick to say he’s not my dog and the dog looking straight into my eyes and gently claiming me. kind of. I’m even wondering whether he was a dog after all. I got witnesses that saw him, so am not hallucinating. yet. He was and is a dog, but what if? he’s…a…shapeshifter? In my Prose Narratives class we’ve been discussing some cool shapeshifter and trickster stories and all things magical and fantastical, so you know how I started thinking that maybe the dog…no, perish the thought. Best to leave the “What If” stuff strictly to fiction, reality is the dog.
But you’ll now understand instead of explicating why Charles Simic is so so good, I’ll give you his six poems among many that I adore, leave the rest to you while I try to regain my composure. Enjoy.
A Book Full of Pictures
Father studied theology through the mail
And this was exam time.
Mother knitted. I sat quietly with a book
Full of pictures. Night fell.
My hands grew cold touching the faces
Of dead kings and queens.
There was a black raincoat
in the upstairs bedroom
Swaying from the ceiling,
But what was it doing there?
Mother’s long needles made quick crosses.
They were black
Like the inside of my head just then.
The pages I turned sounded like wings.
“The soul is a bird,” he once said.
In my book full of pictures
A battle raged: lances and swords
Made a kind of wintry forest
With my heart spiked and bleeding in its branches.
It seemed the kind of life we wanted.
Wild strawberries and cream in the morning.
Sunlight in every room.
The two of us walking by the sea naked.
Some evenings, however, we found ourselves
Unsure of what comes next.
Like tragic actors in a theater on fire,
With birds circling over our heads,
The dark pines strangely still,
Each rock we stepped on bloodied by the sunset.
We were back on our terrace sipping wine.
Why always this hint of an unhappy ending?
Clouds of almost human appearance
Gathering on the horizon, but the rest lovely
With the air so mild and the sea untroubled.
The night suddenly upon us, a starless night.
You lighting a candle, carrying it naked
Into our bedroom and blowing it out quickly.
The dark pines and grasses strangely still.
Where it says snow
read teeth-marks of a virgin
Where it says knife read
you passed through my bones
like a police-whistle
Where it says table read horse
Where it says horse read my migrant’s bundle
Apples are to remain apples
Each time a hat appears
think of Isaac Newton
reading the Old Testament
Remove all periods
They are scars made by words
I couldn’t bring myself to say
Put a finger over each sunrise
it will blind you otherwise
That damn ant is still stirring
Will there be time left to list
all errors to replace
all hands guns owls plates
all cigars ponds woods and reach
that beer-bottle my greatest mistake
the word I allowed to be written
when I should have shouted
The mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
At the end of a long pier
The bored seagull lifts a leg now and then
And forgets to put it down.
There is a menace in the air
Of tragedies in the making.
Last night you thought you heard television
In the house next door.
You were sure it was some new
Horror they were reporting,
So you went out to find out.
Barefoot, wearing just shorts.
It was only the sea sounding weary
After so many lifetimes
Of pretending to be rushing off somewhere
And never getting anywhere.
This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The heavens did their part
By casting no shadow along the boardwalk
Or the row of vacant cottages,
Among them a small church
With a dozen gray tombstones huddled close
As if they, too, had the shivers.
Eyes Fastened With Pins
How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death’s laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death’s supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can’t figure it out
Among all the locked doors…
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death’s side of the bed.
The truth is dark under your eyelids.
What are you going to do about it?
The birds are silent; there’s no one to ask.
All day long you’ll squint at the gray sky.
When the wind blows you’ll shiver like straw.
A meek little lamb you grew your wool
Till they came after you with huge shears.
Flies hovered over open mouth,
Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,
The bare branches reached after them in vain.
Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier
Of a defeated army, you’ll stay at your post,
Head bared to the first snow flake.
Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,
You’re crazier than the weather, Charlie.
All poems from PoemHunter