Sunday, July 2, 2017

some words for Charles Simic's poetry


TO BOREDOM
I’m the child of your rainy Sundays.
I watched time crawl
Over the ceiling
Like a wounded fly.
A day would last forever,
Making pellets of bread,
Waiting for a branch
On a bare tree to move.
The silence would deepen,
The sky would darken,
As grandmother knitted
With a ball of black yarn.
I know Heaven’s like that,
In eternity’s classrooms,
The angels sit like bored children
With their heads bowed. -
-Charles Simic, New Yorker 12/10/07

A fine, chiseled ode here. Boredom is those moments when you find yourself that seems to make you heavier with a lethargy that seems to have grown hands attached to big, brawny arms that grab you around the chest and drag you to the floor;ennui turns to terror, as you're too lazy to fight and a passing thought turns into a concrete, concentrated panic over teh notion that the floorboards and checkerboard tile might fall away and the metaphorical hands and arms would drag to a hell where every second of the eternity to come is the precisely the agony you felt on the worst day you ever had while wandering those years in the material world. Time stands slows to an inch worm's slither and there is the feeling of being suspended between dimensions. Charles Simic is a great poet and gets it right about heaven as well; eternal perfection is without dynamics, variation, a constant state of equilibrium.



Don't name the chickens, says poet Charles Simic, because doing so is to find yourself leaning  into  a perceptual left hook. . As the poem details, in  details inspired by the spare , weathered cadences of WC Williams, chickens in the barnyard are not really the kings of their domain as folk tales and cartoons would suggest, but merely a creature inhabiting a niche on which some things depend on; lording or majesty have nothing to do with it.  We have the terrain Simic sets up  beautifully, a small niche in the natural order  that is overlaid with expectations that suit the man or woman gazing from a window, from the porch, on their way to the barn to repair  a machine.

  

Don't Name the Chickens

Let them peck in the yard
As they please
Or walk over to stand
By the edge of the road.

The rooster strutting about
Will keep an eye on them,
Till it's time for them
To step under a tree

And wait for the heat
To pass and the children
To return to their toys
Left lying in the dust.

For, come Sunday,
One of the chickens may lose its head
And hang by its feet
From a peg in the barn.


This is beautifully done, I believe, a  cold and crackling laugh coming from the throat, and winding up echoing through the nose, a  combination of  bemusement and revulsion with  the vanities  citizens dress themselves in, the  idea that persists even on the most micro level, that the events of the day revolve around them.
Naming creatures implies ownership, that the animal given  a Christian assignation is now part of the family, like the dog or the cat, embedded in the good graces of human social structure until death , a natural death. But again, the power to name things and bestow upon them the complexities of far reaching relationships with kindred human significants are projections of  our collective ego, personalized, brought down from the global to the specific, the back yard, the barnyard.

Charles Simic's poems appeal to me for the same reason you might like a wisecrack someone makes as they recall an incident that  turns into one of  life's little lessons:  whether lost car keys, spilled milk, or walking around a department store with you fly open, a terse, casual summary, vaguely self mocking, with an odd detail tossed in for texture, makes the phrase memorable . We can each supply our own example of things a friend has said we wish we could claim as our original wit. Simic, here, has a poem, The Red Alarm Clock, I wish I'd written.



Red Alarm Clock

"I want to sail down the Nile
At sunset
Before I die,"
You said once, Cleopatra.
The room, I recall,
Had a plank floor,
A narrow bed, and a window
Facing a brick wall,
Plus a chair where I kept
A pint of bourbon,
The coffee cup we used as an ashtray,
And a red alarm clock.



This is a perfect snippet of a longer conversation, the start of something that makes you lean closer for the juicier parts, the contrasting accounts of what was said and done and how both the narrator and the "you" remember each other's response. It is a vivid, brief, alluring tease of a poem that does not drift off as would a conversation between two people fade as the couple walked further up the sidewalk from where you stood. It is cut off, rather, bright, loud, full of hard things, a tangible place. A room with a skinny bed, a window that gazes upon the grain of brick wall, a chair used as night stand to hold pint of bourbon. Simic has the particulars of a James M. Cain novel, he all but suggests a lustful reunion before and the beginning of a bittersweet dissection of an ended affair in the rumpled afterglow.

 It's not unlike some smooth camera work; you can feel the lens slowing panning the stark room,  ending up in on the coffee cup --the additional bit of it being "used as an ashtray" is a precisely brilliant fit for the situation evoked here--and the red alarm clock,  uncluttered with poetic language, it's color alone setting the tone of  an urgency both these characters would rather ignore. The clock, though, is enough to bring home the fact that the clock is ticking all the same and that  time runs out for everything, even regrets and reunions. Simic  concerns himself with neither the back story nor the tale that continues after the last line, he focuses on this slice and creates, I think, a set of particulars that create a mood, if not a meaning. 

The feeling of  that time has expired is made more tangible even by the way the narrator says, lastly, at the end of his sentence, as throw away detail "...and a red alarm clock ."  Unfreighted with meandering metaphors or latch key similes to ham handedly imbue the object with intangible qualities, Simic prefers the physical over the literary and lets the situation as described create the mood from within it's parts; the phone is mentioned,the color is emphasized, like something remembered , suddenly, brutally, an intrusion of truth that seeps into a conversation that reminds you that yes, whatever was the case before is done with and now is the time to move into respective horizons
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