I ran into the poet Mark Strand on the street. He immediately challenged me by drinking a glass of wine while standing on his head. I was astonished. He didn't even spill a drop. It was one of the bottles Baudelaire stole from his stepfather the Ambassador in 1848. "Is this what is known as subjective reality?" I asked. Years ago this same Strand translated a famous Quechua poem about a man raising a fly with wings of gold in a green bottle, and now look at him!
I am the last Napoleonic soldier. It's almost two hundred years later and I am still retreating from Moscow. The road is lined with white birch trees and the mud comes up to my knees. The one-eyed woman wants to sell me a chicken, and I don't even have any clothes on.
The Germans are going one way; I am going the other. The Russians are going still another way and waving good-by. I have a ceremonial saber. I use it to cut my hair, which is four feet long.
Comedy of errors at an elegant downtown restaurant.
The chair is really a table making fun of itself. The coat tree has just learned to tip waiters. A shoe is served a plate of black caviar.
"My dear and most esteemed sir," says a potted palm to a mirror, "it is absolutely useless to excite yourself."
Margaret was copying a recipe for "saints roasted with onions" from an old cookbook. The ten thousand sounds of the world were hushed so we could hear the scratching of her pen. The saint was asleep in the bedroom with a wet cloth over his eyes. Outside the window, the owner of the book sat in a flowering apple tree killing lice between his fingernails.
The city had fallen. We came to the window of a house drawn by a madman. The setting sun shone on a few abandoned machines of futility. "I remember," someone said, "how in ancient times one could turn a wolf into a human and then lecture it to one's heart's content."
He had mixed up the characters in the long novel he was writing. He forgot who they were and what they did. A dead woman reappeared when it was time for dinner. A door-to-door salesman emerged out of a backwoods trailer wearing Chinese robes. The day the murderer was supposed to be electrocuted, he was buying flowers for a certain Rita, who turned out to be a ten-year-old girl with thick glasses and braids. . . . And so it went.
He never did anything for me, though. I kept growing older and grumpier, as I was supposed to, in a ratty little town which he always described as "dead" and "near nothing."
My father loved the strange books of André Breton. He'd raise the wine glass and toast those far-off evenings "when butterflies formed a single uncut ribbon." Or we'd go out for a piss in the back alley and he'd say: "Here are some binoculars for blindfolded eyes." We lived in a rundown tenement that smelled of old people and their pets.
"Hovering on the edge of the abyss, permeated with the perfume of the forbidden," we'd take turns cutting the smoked sausage on the table. "I love America," he'd tell us. We were going to make a million dollars manufacturing objects we had seen in dreams that night.
Charles Simic was born on May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. His first poems were published in 1959, after his family had immigrated to the United States, and he has since published more than sixty books in the U.S. and abroad. He is a past recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the MacArthur Fellowship. His newest collection, My Noiseless Entourage: Poems, is forthcoming from Harcourt. He has also published many translations of French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Slovenian poetry, and several books of essays, including the recent A Fly in the Soup: Memoirs. Since 1973 he has lived in New Hampshire, where he is Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire. These pieces originally appeared in The Western Humanities Review (vol. 42, #1) and The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems (Harcourt, 1990).
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