Review: ‘Walking the Black Cat’, by Charles Simic

Walking the Black CatWalking the Black Cat by Charles Simic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book Charles Simic is both maestro and ethnographer of one surreal geography after another alongside moments of the personal, sublime quotidian. The overall gesture of the book seems one as comfortable with the absurd as well as the pastoral, Simic constantly limning both everyday moments and nightmares at constant risk of becoming hilarious. While never quite cynical, the speaker of these poems feels slightly haggard with experience and knowing, a speaker that’s been around the block a few times — a block where razor blades are shuffled like cards, and Mary Magdalene dons shades and drives Jesus down Santa Monica Boulevard in a yellow convertible.

The heartbeat artistic tic of these poems are their stark images, moments of a dark, glamorous, almost cinematic quality. An ant raising a single charred straw onto it’s back, flies from a slaughterhouse pressing tiny bloody footprints across the pages of a book. As the poems oscillate between quieter scenes and parades of the ludicrous, these moments of imagery work both to magnetize tempo and the reader’s attention.

All of these poems are heavy with the human pang, nearly always looking outward from the self but the landscapes continually cast shadows back on the cave wall, the layers of imagery and metaphor becoming a subtle language that narrates a tremendous deal of emotion and introspection. As accessible as the poems are they should not be too easily considered simplistic or merely playful. This is a strange and forceful collection.

‘Blood Orange’

It looks so dark the end of the world may be near.
I believe it’s going to rain.
The birds in the park are silent.
Nothing is what it seems to be,
Nor are we.

There’s a tree on our street so big
We can all hide in its leaves.
We won’t need any clothes either.
I feel as old as a cockroach, you said.
In my head, I’m a passenger on a ghost ship.

Not even a sigh outdoors now.
If a child was left on our doorstep,
It must be asleep.
Everything is teetering on the edge of everything
With a polite smile.

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.

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