Night Picnic: Poemsby Charles Simic
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The poems in Charles Simic's new collection evoke a variety of settings and images, from New York City to small New England towns; from crowds spilling onto the sidewalk on a hot summer night to an abandoned wooden church and a car graveyard overgrown with weeds. His subjects range from a bakery early in the morning to the fingerprints on a stranger's front door; from waiters in an empty restaurant to the decorations in a window of a funeral home; from a dog tied to a chain to a homeless man sleeping at the foot of a skyscraper; and other moments of solitude and clear vision.
"What is beautiful," he writes in one poem, "is found accidentally and not sought after. What is beautiful is easily lost." Simic is the metaphysician of the ordinary, a poet who reminds us of the mysteries of our daily lives.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
By Charles Simic
Copyright © 2001 Charles Simic.
All rights reserved.
Do you want to hear about the ants in my pants
For a certain Ms. Hopeless?
Or do you prefer me singing Amazing Grace?
They explained to me the bloody bandages
On the floor in the maternity ward in Rochester, N.Y.
Cured the backache I acquired bowing to my old master,
Made me stop putting thumbtacks round my bed.
They showed me an officer on horseback,
Waving a saber next to a burning farmhouse
And a barefoot woman in a nightgown,
Throwing stones after him and calling him Lucifer.
I was a straw-headed boy in patched overalls.
Come dark a chicken would roost in my hair.
Some even laid eggs as I played my ukulele
And my mother and father crossed themselves.
Next, I saw myself inside an abandoned gas station
Constructing a spaceship out of a coffin,
Red traffic cone, cement mixer and ear warmers,
When a church lady fainted seeing me in my underwear.
Some days, however, they opened door after door,
Always to a different room, and could not find me.
There'd be only a small squeak now and then,
As if a miner's canary got caught in a mousetrap.
Street of Jewelers
What each one of these hundreds
Ofwindows did with the gold
That was melting in them this morning,
I cannot begin to imagine.
I act like a prospective burglar
Noting the ones that are open,
Their curtains drawn to the side
By someone stark naked,
I may have just missed.
Here, where no one walks now,
And when he does, he goes softly,
So as not to tip the scales
In the act of weighing
Specks of dust in the dying sunlight.
This one kept its dignity
Despite being kicked
And smudged with fingerprints.
Someone wanted to get in
Now the whole neighborhood can see
What went on late last night
And the night before.
Two clenched fists
And asking God
To please bear witness.
* * *
This door's hinges,
Give off a nasty screech
Too many feet caught in it.
Just a minute ago,
With that it-pays-to-be-cagey look
Screams of a child,
Yelps of a kicked dog
And wild laughter
Followed after him.
* * *
I heard the neighbor's screen door
Creak open at daybreak
To let the cat in
With what sounded like a stage whisper
Into her still-dark kitchen.
I could feel the black cat rub herself
Against her bare legs
And then take her first lick
With her rough, red tongue
Of the cold milk glowing in the saucer.
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 on to 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, tongue sticking out
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 funny side streets
And the homeless, fallen off their crosses,
Sprawled in dark doorways.
Couple at Coney Island
It was early one Sunday morning,
So we put on our best rags
And went for a stroll along the boardwalk
Till we came to a kind of palace
With turrets and pennants flying.
It made me think of a wedding cake
In the window of a fancy bakery shop.
I was warm, so I took my jacket off
And put my arm round your waist
And drew you closer to me
While you leaned your head on my shoulder,
Anyone could see we'd made love
The night before and were still giddy on our feet.
We looked naked in our clothes
Staring at the red and white pennants
Whipped by the sea wind.
The rides and shooting galleries
With their ducks marching in line
Still boarded up and padlocked.
No one around yet to take our first dime.
Theresa, do you recall that dive
Smoke-filled like a house on fire
Where nightly we huddled
In one of the rear booths
Reading to each other from a book
On the mystic way of life?
You worked in a bridal shop
With iron bars on its windows.
The two brides on display
Had tense little smiles for me
Every time I stopped by
While you peeked between them
All prim and rosy-cheeked.
We played an elaborate game
Of hide-and-seek with words
While pretending to find clues
Of divine presence in streets
Emptied at day's end, dark
But for the sight of your lips
Quivering from the cold
As you told me of a light
So fine, so rare, it lights
The very light we see by.
In the meantime, your eyes were
Open so wide, I hurried
To close them with kisses,
While you ranted about mystic death
With the tongue of an angel.
They like shady rooms,
Cracks on the ceiling,
Flies on the pillow.
If you are tempted to lie down,
Don't be surprised,
You won't mind the dirty sheets,
The rasp of rusty springs
As you make yourself comfy.
The room is a darkened movie theater
Where a grainy,
Black-and-white film is being shown.
A blur of disrobed bodies
In the moment of sweet indolence
That follows lovemaking,
When the meanest of hearts
Comes to believe
Happiness can last forever.
Excerpted from Night Picnic by Charles Simic. Copyright © 2001 by Charles Simic. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
CHARLES SIMIC was born in Belgrade and emigrated to the United States in 1954. He is the author of many books of poetry and prose. Among other honors, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 and served as the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2007–2008.
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