In the photo on the back of an edition
of his selected poems published in England,
Charles Simic looks a lot
like someone I used to see at the
downtown strip joints in the early 80s,
a guy with big glasses and a big forehead,
who was an even bigger dork than me.
I’d go to this one strip joint from time to time,
when I just wanted to be a dork, alone,
but every time I went I’d see him,
which meant he was probably there everyday
with the sort of cluelessness
that put my own cluelessness to shame.
He would communicate with the dancers
by slowly raising and lowering
his trembling eyebrows, over and over,
watching them when they got close
as they stretched arms, legs, torsos
and anything else they had
that could be stretched.
He’d respond by doing the thing with his eyes.
Maybe he thought the dancers
would think it cool or even sexy
in the way that only great poets can be
cool and sexy, putting the rest of the world
to total fucking shame.
I doubt that the guy was actually Charles Simic,
but what if he was?
I’m looking through Simic’s poems to see
if he ever wrote about this,
about doing that annoying thing with his eyes,
and the strippers he tried to impress with it
and whom he went home with
and loved and left before
driving off in his sensible car
to write more great poems.
I know he wrote with loving enthusiasm about breasts,
but did he ever write about going to grungy strip joints?
That would be evidence that the guy
doing the eyebrow thing really was Simic.
But when I consider the possibility that
the real Charles Simic would do such a thing
and try to court and bend the world
with such unimaginative motions
I come to the conclusion that
no, I was never in the company
of this great poet
in a downtown strip joint.
Why the real Simic would have the dancers
sitting down with him, surrounding him.
He’d buy them drinks and entertain them with observations
about the baby pictures of famous dictators,
discuss his neighbors, the formidable Hittites,
and ride almost roughshod
over the list of classic ballroom dances
he’d mastered in the matter
of just a few short years.
Or, would he attempt to assert his mastery of the arts,
his mastery of the fantastic, the unimaginable,
by doing the dorkiest thing possible?
Yes, I think finally and with certainty,
it was him, I know it was him.
Confident, insouciant, unafraid, even
proud to stand up from his table
while both women and men rolled
their bloodshot, liquored eyes,
then shook their heads at him behind his sturdy back
as he approached the exit,
hit the sidewalk,
pulled out the keys to his 1974 Dodge Dart,
then headed back home to the books
and their innumerable blunt images and dark words.
To the loving discomfort of our sometimes unfathomable art.
Photograph by Jose Padua