Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What the Gypsies Told my Grandmother while She was Still a Young Girl

It seems that my desire to blog is inversely proportional to my psychological health. Again, I thank all who walked through the darkness with me, and as it were, held me up. Just the contact of comments could sometimes momentarily convince me I was human at my worst. It meant much.

I shall have to return to a different subject to keep writing, and the other main subject of my blog has been poetry. Yet in numerous published essays I have expressed myself to my own satisfaction on this subject, though even now I am involved in discussions/debates at various boards, most notably The Gazebo: Theory and Practice. In short, I am not inspired to write about poetry so much as to resume writing it.

I have been reading Charles Simic and e. e. cummings of late. Simic is a poet of substance, unable to attain the lyrical, as he did not emigrate to the U.S. until the age of 16 from Yugoslavia, in 1954 (under Tito's rule, I believe). Though a little choppy, his substance can be terrific.

Cummings is an amazing technician, a perfectionist. He wants an epiphany more than he wants to be understood, which I think admirable in its way. Some forget he was quite a master of the sonnet and think him indelibly Post-Modern. He was actually, by history and inclination, a Modern and compares favorably with Marianne Moore.

Here is the best poem, IMHO, from Poet Laureate Simic's selected volume of “Sixty Poems”:

What the Gypsies Told my Grandmother while She was Still a Young Girl

War, illness and famine will make you their favorite
You'll be like a blind person watching a silent movie.
You'll chop onions and pieces of your heart
     into the same hot skillet.
Your children will sleep in a suitcase tied with a rope.
Your husband will kiss your breasts every night
       as if they were two gravestones.

Already the crows are grooming themselves
     for you and your people.
Your oldest son will lie with flies on his hips
      without smiling or lifting his hand.
You'll envy every ant you meet in your life
     and every roadside weed.
Your body and soul will sit on separate stoops
      chewing the same piece of gum.

Little cutie, are you for sale? the devil will say.
The undertaker will buy a toy for your grandson.
Your mind will be a hornet's nest even on your
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.

Charles Simic, "Walking the Black Cat," copyright 1996 by Charles Simic. Harcourt Brace & Company. Used with permission.

I would be happy to write a poem this good once every two years. Or maybe once.

Simic's pre- and post-war childhood should be remembered as a historical context for this work, but it speaks for itself even without such knowledge.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin


  1. C.E.--

    Thanks for posting the Simic poem. It is marvelous, dark and half-surreal in that Eastern European way of his. I've put off reading Simic for years, but I see that I was wrong about that....

  2. Anonymous8:06 AM PDT

    I have a Simic collection of essays somewhere, maybe its Memory Piano. But man, dry, droll and wholly absent of sparkle. Not for me. No doubt that's a sign of decadent art, liking how things are said as much or if not more than what is said. You're astute enough here to cut him some lyrical slack given his non-English origins.

    norm who likes the flourish

  3. Simic's poem is a good one. Terrific mood piece. I really like his approach to poetry. Thanks for posting it, CE.

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