Authors: Charles Simic
Copyright © 2005 by Charles Simic
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Simic, Charles, 1938-
My noiseless entourage: poems/Charles Simic.—1st ed.
Text set in Dante MT
Designed by Liz Demeter
Printed in the United States of America
C E G I K J H F D
It never had a name,
Nor do I remember how I found it.
I carried it in my pocket
Like a lost button
Except it wasn't a button.
On rain-slicked streets.
It led a quiet, unremarkable existence
Like a shadow in a dream,
An angel on a pin,
And then it vanished.
The years passed with their row
Of nameless stations,
Till somebody told me
this is it!
And fool that I was,
I got off on an empty platform
With no town in sight.
This street could use a bit of shade
And the same goes for that small boy
Playing alone in the sun,
A shadow to dart after him like a black kitten.
His parents sit in a room with shades drawn.
The stairs to the cellar
Are hardly used any more
Except for an occasional prowler.
Like a troop of traveling actors dressed to play
The evening shadows come.
They spend their days hidden in the trees
Outside the old courthouse.
Now comes the hard part:
What to do with the stones in the graveyard?
The sun doesn't care for ambiguities,
But I do. I open my door and let them in.
For imaginary visitors, I had a chair
Made of cane I found in the trash.
There was a hole where its seat was
And its legs were wobbly
But it still gave a dignified appearance.
I myself never sat in it, though
With the help of a pillow one could do that
Carefully, with knees drawn together
The way she did once,
Leaning back to laugh at her discomfort.
The lamp on the night table
Did what it could to bestow
An air of mystery to the room.
There was a mirror, too, that made
Everything waver as in a fishbowl
If I happened to look that way,
Red-nosed, about to sneeze,
With a thick wool cap pulled over my ears,
Reading some Russian in bed,
Worrying about my soul, I'm sure.
I'm still living at all the old addresses,
Wearing dark glasses even indoors,
On the hush-hush sharing my bed
With phantoms, visiting the kitchen
After midnight to check the faucet.
I'm late for school, and when I get there
No one seems to recognize me.
I sit disowned, sequestered and withdrawn.
These small shops open only at night
Where I make my unobtrusive purchases,
These back-door movie houses in seedy neighborhoods
Still showing grainy films of my life.
The hero always full of extravagant hope
Losing it all in the end?—whatever it was—
Then walking out into the cold, disbelieving light
Waiting close-lipped at the exit.
That faint rattle of dice rolling
Late at night
No one else hears—
They are wagering over me, placing bets,
The high rollers and their sidekicks
On their knees.
Little Joe from Baltimore,
Ada from Decatur.
The noise of bones,
The hush after each roll
Keeping me awake—
God's throw or devil's?
My love holding her hands over my eyes
As we inch toward the stairs
Stripped down to our underwear
And liable to slip and break our necks.
Of this much you can be sure:
Shadow lengthening among shadows
Of other hurried pedestrians,
The more innocent you believe you are,
The harder it'll be for you.
In this store window full of musical instruments,
I could not make out their faces
Nor could they make out mine.
Golden trumpets accustomed to blowing dust,
I thought, and turned my back with a shudder.
What a grand parade of phantoms—
Or were they mourners?
Carrying signs made illegible by the darkness
And the sun going down
Setting the pawnshops on fire.
The hundreds of windows filling with faces
Because of something that happened on the street,
Something no one is able to explain,
Because there was no fire engine, no scream, no gunshot.
And yet here they all are assembled.
Some with hands over their children's eyes,
Others leaning out and shouting
To people walking the streets far below
With the same composure and serene appearance
Of those going for a Sunday stroll
In some other century, less violent than ours.
We were never formally introduced.
I had no idea of their number.
It was like a discreet entourage
Of homegrown angels and demons
All of whom I had met before
And had since largely forgotten.
In time of danger, they made themselves scarce.
Where did they all vanish to?
I asked some felon one night
While he held a knife to my throat,
But he was spooked too,
Letting me go without a word.
It was disconcerting, downright frightening
To be reminded of one's solitude,
Like opening a children's book—
With nothing better to do—reading about stars,
How they can afford to spend centuries
Traveling our way on a glint of light.
That chill breath you felt
On your neck,
That long arm
Out of undertaker's basement,
It snatched your watch.
You saw its feathers fly,
Or were they rat's whiskers?
You even saw your ears disappear
In its pocket.
Pinched raw with cold.
Under the bed,
Mirrors never looked at.
A tongue by itself
In a birdcage
Covered with a blue work shirt
For the night, asking:
How many minutes
In a glass of water
By the bedside?
How many slow sips?
Blood too which flows
Like a stream
In the woods
While you sleep.
You're a leaf floating
In its rushes,
You are the white foam
And the cataract,
A river that doesn't know its name
And the sea at night
Like a trinket peddler setting up its stall,
And the moon a pork butcher.
The belly hobbles
In wooden clogs
Using a knife and fork
While you sit
Like a rain puddle in hell
Knitting the socks
Of your life.
The world dreams of you
Buttoned up to the chin
Turning on a spit
With an apple in your mouth.
A large stock of past lives
To rummage through
For the one that fits you
Cleaned and newly pressed,
Yet frayed at the collar.
A dummy dressed in black
Is at the door to serve you.
His eyes won't let you go.
His mustache looks drawn
With a tip of a dead cigar.
Towers of pants are tilting,
As you turn to flee,
Dead men's hats are rolling
On the floor, hurrying
To escort you out the door.
Many a poor wretch left no trace
Of ever having lived here.
This punch bowl made of silver
Belonged to a house with turrets.
It's still standing—though the rose garden
And the birch trees are long gone.
The stone walls deep in the woods
Tell another story, how everything
Foretold in dreams came to pass:
The young woman huddled on her bed
Naked and trembling with cold
Still wearing the veil she wore in church.
The small girls admiring watch faces
In the window of a jewelry store
Cannot yet tell time—and neither can I.
Come spring, our roads are muddy.
The news of the outside world arrives
More quickly but still finds us mystified.
I'll go to the island of Cythera
On foot, of course,
I'll set out some May evening,
Light as a feather,
There where the goddess is fabled to have risen
Naked from the sea—