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.
From The Book of Gods and Devils, published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Charles Simic. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.
Charles Simic received the Academy Fellowship in 1998 and was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000.
Date Published: 1990-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/initiate