Master of Disguises NPR coverage of Master of Disguises by Charles Simic. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
NPR logo Master of Disguises

Master of Disguises

by Charles Simic

Hardcover, 75 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, List Price: $22 |


Buy Featured Book

Master of Disguises
Charles Simic

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Book Summary

A collection of poetry by 2007-2008 poet laureate of the United States Charles Simic in which he examines themes such as identity, mystery, violence, and innocence.

Read an excerpt of this book


Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Master Of Disguises

The Invisible One

You read today about a child
Kept for years in a closet
By his crazy parents
On a street you walked often.

Busy with your own troubles,
You saw little, heard nothing
Of what was said around you,
As you made your way home

Past loving young couples
Carrying flowers and groceries,
Pushing baby carriages,
Hanging back to scold a dog.


Master of Disguises

Surely, he walks among us unrecognized:
Some barber, store clerk, delivery man,
Pharmacist, hairdresser, bodybuilder,
Exotic dancer, gem cutter, dog walker,
The blind beggar singing, O Lord, remember me,

Some window decorator starting a fake fire
In a fake fireplace while mother and father watch
From the couch with their frozen smiles
As the street empties and the time comes
For the undertaker and the last waiter to head home.

O homeless old man, standing in a doorway
With your face half hidden,
I wouldn't even rule out the black cat crossing the street,
The bare light bulb swinging on a wire
In a subway tunnel as the train comes to a stop.


Nineteen Thirty-eight

That was the year the Nazis marched into Vienna,
Superman made his debut in Action Comics,
Stalin was killing off his fellow revolutionaries,
The first Dairy Queen opened in Kankakee, Ill.,
As I lay in my crib peeing in my diapers.

"You must've been a beautiful baby," Bing Crosby sang.
A pilot the newspapers called Wrong Way Corrigan
Took off from New York heading for California
And landed instead in Ireland, as I watched my mother
Take a breast out of her blue robe and come closer.

There was a hurricane that September causing a movie
At Westhampton Beach to be lifted out to sea.
People worried the world was about to end.
A fish believed to have been extinct for seventy million years
Came up in a fishing net off the coast of South Africa.

I lay in my crib as the days got shorter and colder,
And the first heavy snow fell in the night
Making everything very quiet in my room.
I thought I heard myself cry for a long, long time.


Scenes of the Old Life

Washing hung from the fire escapes.
Boys threw cats from rooftops.
War veterans hopped on crutches,
Pitching pennies and smoking reefers.

Writers destined to remain obscure
Wrote late into the night
Using a pencil and the kind of notebook
Their children took to school in the morning.

Outside a club advertising exotic dancing girls,
A man in a crumpled white suit
Staggered with a knife in his heart,
One dark eyebrow raised in surprise.

In winter, rain fell as if it meant to fall forever.
We kept the gas oven lit to warm ourselves,
While mother cried and cried chopping onions
And my one goldfish swam in a pickle jar.