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That Little Something


by Charles Simic

Hardcover, 73 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, List Price: $23 |


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That Little Something
Charles Simic

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Book Summary

Presents a collection of poems that examines the darker side of history and human behavior, looking at the strange interplay between ordinary life and extremes and between reality and imagination.

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

Excerpt: That Little Something



I never run into anyone from the old days.

It’s summer and I’m alone in the city.

I enter stores, apartment houses, offices

And find nothing remotely familiar.


The trees in the park—were they always so big?

And the birds so hidden, so quiet?

Where is the bus that passed this way?

Where are the greengrocers and hairdressers,


And that schoolhouse with the red fence?

Miss Harding is probably still at her desk,

Sighing as she grades papers late into the night.

The bummer is, I can’t find the street.


All I can do is make another tour of the neighborhood,

Hoping I’ll meet someone to show me the way

And a place to sleep, since I’ve no return ticket

To wherever it is I came from earlier this evening.



for Li-Young Lee

The likelihood of ever finding it is small.

It’s like being accosted by a woman

And asked to help her look for a pearl

She lost right here in the street.


She could be making it all up,

Even her tears, you say to yourself,

As you search under your feet,

Thinking, Not in a million years . . .


It’s one of those summer afternoons

When one needs a good excuse

To step out of a cool shade.

In the meantime, what ever became of her?


And why, years later, do you still,

Off and on, cast your eyes to the ground

As you hurry to some appointment

Where you are now certain to arrive late?



Grandmothers and their caged birds

Must be trembling with fear

As you climb with heavy steps,

Stopping at each floor to take a rest.


A monkey dressed in baby clothes,

Who belonged to an opera singer,

Once lived here and so did a doctor

Who peddled drugs to wealthy customers.


The one who let you feel her breasts

Vanished upstairs. The name is not familiar,

But the scratches of her nails are.

The bell rings, but no one comes to open the door.


That old man, with a face powdered white,

You caught peeking out of a door,

Whom did he expect to see if not you,

All frazzled and descending in a hurry?



I’m the furtive inspector of dimly lit corridors,

Dead light bulbs and red exit signs,

Doors that show traces

Of numerous attempts at violent entry,


Is that the sound of a maid making a bed at midnight?

The rustle of counterfeit bills

Being counted in the wedding suite?

A fine-tooth comb passing through a head of gray hair?


Eternity is a mirror and a spider web,

Someone wrote with lipstick in the elevator.

I better get the passkey and see for myself.

I better bring along a book of matches too.



Empty beer cans tied to an old model car.

A small circus tent in a parking lot.

Sparrows chirping in rows of trees

That have never known leaves.


The stores on Main Street were boarded up,

Except for a brightly lit tattoo parlor.

Persephone’s daughters on show

With orange hair and spiked collars.


You wish to know about the fires?

We saw mills the color of dried blood

Half-shadowed, half-lit by the setting sun,

Their many windows mostly broken.


The drunk who asked for spare change,

Wanted to tell us about his time in prison,

But with Satan’s palace still to see,

We left him right there with his mouth open.



You take turns being yourself,

Being someone else,

Addressing mirrors, airing your grievances

To a goldfish in a bowl.

Your Queen Gertrude and Ophelia

Are snoring away across town.

Your father’s ghost is in the bathroom

Reading Secret Life of Nuns,


While you pace back and forth

Clenching and unclenching your fists,

As if planning a murder,

Or more likely your own crucifixion.

Or you stand frozen still

As if an idea so obvious, so grand

Has come to you

And left you, for once, speechless.


Outside, you notice, it has started snowing.

You press your feverish forehead

Against the cold windowpane

And watch the flakes come down

Languidly, one at a time,

On the broken bird feeder and the old dog’s grave.



Where you are destined to turn up

Some dark winter day

Walking up and down dead escalators

Searching for someone to ask

In this dusty old store

Soon to close its doors forever.


At long last, finding the place, the desk

Stacked high with sales slips,

Concealing the face of the one

You came to complain to

About the coat on your back,

Its frayed collar, the holes in its pockets.


Recalling the stately fitting room,

The obsequious salesman, the grim tailor

Who stuck pins in your shoulders

And made chalk marks on your sleeves

As you admired yourself in a mirror,

Your fists clenched fiercely at your side.



Copyright © 2008 by Charles Simic


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