Walking the Black Cat – Charles Simic

Walking the Black Cat

The bearded old man on the corner
The one drinking out of a brown paper bag
The one who declares himself
The world’s greatest ventriloquist,
We are all his puppets, he says
When he chooses to say anything………..

The street ventriloquist frightens the songbirds with his ascending voice booming as he reads the ghostly script printed on the sun-struck window, the lost authenticity of man. The empty cardboard box flies across the crowded boulevard, the language of humanity latching on a destitute like a garish whore, a new residence is in the offing. The shadows of the painted doll faces cramped in the store window bobbing in approval of a ragged old woman on the road to somewhere else. A pack of cards evaporating in thin air, the twin dummies sitting on his lap wanting to saw me in half, the world chained in the magic mirror, the applause began as a naked bride lay in the coffin; the fleeting moments of life grasp the abstraction of my magician. The mice in the large cage squeaks as it hear the silence of hell darting in and out of a dark corner like a black cat. Have you met Miss Jones? ,enquire the drunken insomniacs as they pour wine, the bottle wrapped in a pristine white napkin, triumphing Miss Jones’ protruding cleavage entering the world of the dead. Powdered wigs, theatrical costumes scurrying through deafening fire alarms, French fries drowned in streams of ketchup, a cigarette burning in the ear of the executioner while the Marie Antoinette eats her fries.

Little cutie, are you for sale! the devil will say.
The undertaker will buy a toy for your grandson.
Your mind will be a horner’s nest even on your deathbed,
You will pray to God, but God will hang a sign that
He’s not to be disturbed.
Question no further, that’s all I know……………

War, famine, illness bed each other, the weeping grandchildren breastfed on the gravestone, the roadside ant being the envy of all and the fly-infested corpse watching a silent movie is what the gypsy told my grandmother while she was still a young girl. Chewing the same horrid gum, the gypsy woman now dines with undertaker, body and soul. Talking to the little birdies, the sly feline in my arms pondered on the imaginary friends of Heraclitus who incessantly argued in the midst of a strange neighbourhood. The romantic world that we envision and the reality we witness unfolding day after day bearing a resemblance to the monkey perched on an electric chair smoking a cheap cigar and enjoying an evening of noir films in a roach motel. The father of lies licking the honey from the black glove sniggers at the bees wobbly on crutches, paradoxical consequences in the plea of the preacher of wanting to be God’s video game, all night long in a closed penny arcade.

My chicken soup thickened with pounded young almonds
My blend of winter greens
Dearest tagliatelle with mushrooms, fennel, anchovies
Tomato and vermouth sauce
Beloved monkfish braised with onions, capers
And green olives
Give me your tongue tasting of white beans and garlic……..

Lazing in Café Paradiso, a pair of glasses perched on the bridge of his nose; he details the specifics of wild berries with cream. “People watching is my favourite occupation”, he asserts. The observant poet pens the reality of life in its most essential moments embossing memorable imagery one after another. The magnificence and revulsion of life lies in simple nuances of everyday life. Poignant words unfolding the fundamental isolation of transient singular entities, encompassing the uniqueness of life experiences and comprehending the workings of our complex world. “What’s a poem but a well-prepared dish served on a plate?” the poet articulates; the food we eat, the recipes we concoct assimilating the singularity of assorted ingredients into a gourmet variation establishes a mutual co-existence which at time alienate its patron with horrific inedibility. The sum of the isolated ingredients exacting the nature of life; the sum of its ephemeral moments. The reality of food imbibing the reality of life. The brilliance of the poet illuminating the path of poetry in discovering a better world letting the surrealism of silence speak through the minimalistic pleasures of life away from the eyes of abstraction.

The lyrical sagacity of Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Frost, Dickinson, prevail in the air, Vasko Popa leading the poetic parade, guiding the realist poet to vibrantly capture the precious moments of life overlooking the idealist romanticism. In poise, a poet name Charles Simic, pens mesmerising multifaceted sentences tracing his own childhood experiences in a war-torn former Yugoslavia( Serbia) assimilating the elliptical imagery with his immigrant life in urban America. Similar to the fluidity of a Hollywood movie, juxtaposing the memory of the beginning and end in the overlapping images of movie, a young boy struggles with his individual identity stuck between two cultures, the domestic alienation marred with recollections of a horrid war and the convolution of absorbing the present American culture, making mere cameo appearances.

……That’s me there, I said to the kiddies
I’m squeezed between the man
With two bandaged hands raised
And the old woman with her mouth open
As if she were showing us a tooth…….

That hurts badly. The hundred times.
I rewound the tape, not once
Could they catch sight of me
In that huge gray crowd
That was like any other gray crowd……

A panhandling Jesus, the Emperor donning his pig masks limping down the avenue with the three-legged dog poet, the dogs hear it, the throbbing of the Hamlet’s ghost walking in the hallways of a Vegas motel .Under the rusted cans sharpening the potato peeler, the conquering hero is tired of sawing a cadaver. Hell with those judicial robes! Lincoln wears a false beard and so does Moses! After a cold shower, Adam and Eve relaxing in a madhouse, hurry home. Water turning into wine! Let it rain! Let it pour! With arms spread out like a Dutch windmill howling the blind man’s bluff, death becomes an early riser. The pavement crowded with giggling schoolchildren, the white blindfold fastens. The blood orange tumbles on the ground, the pink juice streaming in bloodied rain, the birds are silent, the end of the world may be near, the cry of the child left on the doorstep asphyxiating the pouring rain. The incoherent ventriloquist seeks out a refuge under the cardboard box.

….It’s because there are things in this world
That just can’t be helped, you said.
Right then, I heard the blood orange
Roll off the table and with a thud
Lie cracked open on the floor.

The blossoming rose may sing melodious hymns to the morning sun, but in the shambles of bowed petals nestled at the kerb dwell the lingering verses of a soulful poem. I pick up a couple muddy magenta ones curled besides my feet whilst walking the black cat to its home.

4/5****

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