biblio-excerptise:   a book unexamined is not worth having

Selected Poems, 1963 to 1983

Charles Simic

Simic, Charles;

Selected Poems, 1963 to 1983 (18)

George Braziller 1990-04 (Paperback , 186 pages $8.95

ISBN 9780807611302 / 0807611301

topics: |  poetry | usa

Selections from
 - Dismantling the silence 1971
 - Return to a place lit by a glass of milk 1974
 - Charon's cosmology 1977
 - Classic ballroom dances 1980
 - Weather forecast for Utopia and vicinity 1980-83

Some 33 of the poems have been revised in this volume.

For sheer pleasure the short Watermelons sure has a lot of bite!

Watermelons 53

Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.


Butcher Shop (p.1)

Sometimes walking late at night
I stop before a closed butcher shop.
There is a single light in the store
Like the light in which the convict digs his tunnel.

An apron hangs on the hook:
The blood on it smeared into a map
Of the great continents of blood,
The great rivers and oceans of blood.

There are knives that glitter like altars
In a dark church
Where they bring the cripple and the imbecile
To be healed.

There is a wooden block where bones are broken,
Scraped clean– a river dried to its bed
Where I am fed,
Where deep in the night I hear a voice.

Evening p.15

The snail gives off stillness.
The weed is blessed.
At the end of a long day
The man finds joy, the water peace.

Let all be simple. Let all stand still
Without a final direction.
That which brings you into the world
To take you away at death
Is one and the same;
The shadow long and pointy
Is its church.

At night some understand what the grass says.
The grass knows a word or two.
It is not much. It repeats the same word
Again and again, but not too loudly . . .

	[earlier version had an addl last line:
	     The grass is certain of tomorrow.]

My Shoes 33

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.

Breasts 63

I love breasts, hard
Full breasts, guarded
By a button.

They come in the night.
The bestiaries of the ancients
Which include the unicorn
Have kept them out.

Pearly, like the east
An hour before sunrise,
Two ovens of the only
Philosopher's stone
Worth bothering about.

They bring on their nipples
Beads of inaudible sighs,
Vowels of delicious clarity
For the little red schoolhouse of our mouths.

Elsewhere, solitude
Makes another gloomy entry
In its ledger, misery
Borrows another cup of rice.

They draw nearer: Animal
Presence. In the barn
The milk shivers in the pail.

I like to come up to them
From underneath, like a kid
Who climbs on a chair
To reach the forbidden jam.

Gently, with my lips,
Loosen the button.
Have them slip into my hands
Like two freshly poured beer-mugs.

I spit on fools who fail to include
Breasts in their metaphysics
Star-gazers who have not enumerated them
Among the moons of the earth ...

They give each finger
Its true shape, its joy:
Virgin soap, foam
On which our hands are cleansed.

And how the tongue honors
These two sour buns,
For the tongue is a feather
Dipped in egg-yolk.

I insist that a girl
Stripped to the waist
Is the first and last miracle,

That the old janitor on his deathbed
Who demands to see the breasts of his wife
For the one last time
Is the greatest poet who ever lived.

O my sweet yes, my sweet no,
Look, everyone is asleep on the earth.

Now, in the absolute immobility
Of time, drawing the waist
Of the one I love to mine,

I will tip each breast
Like a dark heavy grape
Into the hive
Of my drowsy mouth.

  [The line
	"O my sweet yes, my sweet no"
	"O my sweet, my wistful bagpipes,"
		in an earlier version]

contains 33 revisions of many of the original collection's poems. Simic's
imagery and meaning rely heavily and beautifully on line breaks and their
rhythm. His phrases create their own separate thoughts between line breaks,
easing the music of the poem into a slower, contemplative pace despite the
topic: "Because I am the bullet / that has gone through everyone already / I
thought of you long before you thought of me" (from "What the White Had to

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at] 17 Feb 2009