a quiet, unremarkable existence...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Charles Simic

Description of a Lost Thing

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.

Horror movies,
All-night cafeterias,
Dark barrooms
And poolhalls,
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 recent Charles Simic poem from My Noiseless Entourage encapsulates all the effective qualities of his approach to poetry: uncertainty, humor, juxtaposition. His best work tends to defy explanation. The reader knows, and the reader doesn’t. His poetry is for the corners of one’s existence.

Simic refuses, and correctly so, to identify the it of the poem. To do so would eliminate all impact in this piece, and the inexplicable ending would shrivel on the page:

And fool that I was,
I got off an empty platform
With no town in sight.

The wonderful shift in setting – very dream-like – puts me in mind of Jean Cocteau’s use of landscape in films such as Orphée and La Belle et la Bête. Note the poem’s second stanza with its horror movies, all-night cafeterias, poolhalls, barrooms and rain-slicked streets, adding a very filmic and sinister ambiguity to this work of poetry noir.

Time is stretched to a meaningless state – the rows “Of nameless stations”. Points of departure and destination. An outside force, never named, tells the speaker, emphatically, this is it!, and a realization occurs. But this realization is in the spirit and tradition of Dickinson’s truth told “slant”. The speaker’s status as fool for “an empty platform” is both humorous and pathetic. “No town in sight,” Simic writes, creating a marvelous sense of oblivion to end the piece.

A poem that will never exhaust its possibilities.


Nick said...

Thanks for your take on one of my favorite poems by Simic.

SarahJane said...

I don't think I ever read this one, but I enjoy Simic a lot. He has a good sense of humor. thanks

Cheryl Dodds said...

I think I will carry this one with me for awhile..... thank you

Liz said...

Sam, I love this poem and your interpretation of it. I'm not familiar with Simic's work but will certainly look him up...thanks.

Pamela said...

Thanks for this post. I haven't read Simic in a long time; this has inspired me to go back/forward to his work.

As for this particular poem, it reminds me of Edward Hopper, stanzas 2 and 4 especially.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read and comments - Nick, Sarah, Cheryl - glad you came by - Liz, and Pamela. We all need to read more Simic. Myself in particular.

Sheryl said...

Thanks for this post.

It made me smile!

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I appreciate your read and comment, Sheryl. Thanks for stopping by.

poet with a day job said...

I love this so much. And of course I agree that the it can't be named, even if I want to name it, and try to name it so many things...in the naming it so many though, it defies a name.

My favorite thing is the sensation of being blown about by the wind - we go where the day takes us, where our fancies take us - we have no idea what we're missing until we find it.

LKD said...

Thanks for this.

I'll tuck it in my pocket along with the handful of other Simic poems I've lately fallen in love with.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I agree with you Melissa. Thanks for the comment. There's more than a handful of Simic pieces you'll want to carry, Laurel. Thanks for the read.

Collin said...

Love the images in that poem. I'm also guilty of not reading much Simic. I need to correct that.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read and the comment, Collin. I appreciate both.

Paula said...

Thanks for this read. I had read it and smiled and wondered. Same pleasant reaction now, re-reading.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for your comment, Paula. And again, great work with the latest issue of Avatar Review. It's a wonderful issue.