Light Sleeper

- 1938-

You were a witness
To so many crimes
In your lifetime, my friend,
No wonder most nights
You can be found
Testifying in a trial
In some country
Whose language
You don’t understand.

The proceedings
Interminably slow
With more corpses
Being dragged in
Their ghastly wounds
As you recall them
In your own eyes
And news photographs.

You’ll be asked
To return tomorrow
So once more
You’ll crawl out of bed
And grope your way
Toward the silent
Crowded courtroom
They’ve set up
Just down the hall.

More by Charles Simic

The White Room

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me—
And then didn't.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn't leave her room.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as "perfect."

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn't it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light—
And the trees waiting for the night.

The Initiate

St. John of the Cross wore dark glasses
As he passed me on the street.
St. Theresa of Avila, beautiful and grave,
Turned her back on me.

"Soulmate," they hissed. "It's high time."

I was a blind child, a wind-up toy . . .
I was one of death's juggling red balls
On a certain street corner
Where they peddle things out of suitcases.

The city like a huge cinema
With lights dimmed.
The performance already started.

So many blurred faces in a complicated plot.

The great secret which kept eluding me: knowing who I am . . .

The Redeemer and the Virgin,
Their eyes wide open in the empty church
Where the killer came to hide himself . . .

The new snow on the sidewalk bore footprints
That could have been made by bare feet.
Some unknown penitent guiding me.
In truth, I didn't know where I was going.
My feet were frozen,
My stomach growled.

Four young hoods blocking my way.
Three deadpan, one smiling crazily.

I let them have my black raincoat.

Thinking constantly of the Divine Love 
     and the Absolute had disfigured me.
People mistook me for someone else.
I heard voices after me calling out unknown names.
"I'm searching for someone to sell my soul to,"
The drunk who followed me whispered,
While appraising me from head to foot.

At the address I had been given.
The building had large X's over its windows.
I knocked but no one came to open.
By and by a black girl joined me on the steps.
She banged at the door till her fist hurt.

Her name was Alma, a propitious sign.
She knew someone who solved life's riddles
In a voice of an ancient Sumerian queen.
We had a long talk about that
While shivering and stamping our wet feet.

It was necessary to stay calm, I explained,
Even with the earth trembling,
And to continue to watch oneself
As if one were a complete stranger.

Once in Chicago, for instance,
I caught sight of a man in a shaving mirror
Who had my naked shoulders and face,
But whose eyes terrified me!
Two hard staring, all-knowing eyes!

After we parted, the night, the cold, and the endless walking
Brought on a kind of ecstasy.
I went as if pursued, trying to warm myself.

There was the East River; there was the Hudson.
Their waters shone like oil in sanctuary lamps.

Something supreme was occurring
For which there will never be any words.

The sky was full of racing clouds and tall buildings,
Whirling and whirling silently.

In that whole city you could hear a pin drop.
Believe me.
I thought I heard a pin drop and I went looking for it.

Country Fair

If you didn't see the six-legged dog,
It doesn't matter.
We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
As for the extra legs,

One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.

Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
And that was the whole show.