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It seems always twilight in Simic's poems, or night, or somewhere in between. Even if the sun is rising, or it is noon, it seems the poet is watching from the shadows, or entering the shadows. And, there is always the presence of death, but a weightless death, that doesn't bear down too heavily; more often welcomed than feared. The person of the undertaker, the barber, the man on a corner, has no more weight or dignity than the pigeon, or the sparrow, the dog in the front yard. Things are small and specific; images intact and real and clearly seen, yet everything remains a mystery that won't be solved, not in the poet's or the reader's lifetime.
At a time where everything is over lit, Simic reveals how little is actually illuminated, and where everything is over orchestrated, he suggests the best we can manage is noise. Simic's little poems challenge both our utopian daydreams and dystopian nightmares. The past, present and future condition is simply loneliness. Nothing grander or more tragic: loneliness is the natural state of things and not psychological in origin. Which is to say it is not treatable. If I had to put down the two ideas that align most closely in these poems it is isolation and passivity. There are no heroes, no great acts required. There is no volition, because all paths converge.
It all comes down to objects. Objects isolated as insects pinned on a page, or object aligned as carefully as Victorian family portraits. Objects and beings share space, each with its role: if there is a door, someone will knock, if there are a pair of eyes, they will look into a stranger's window. If there is a sky, it exists to reveal a crow, and on a sidewalk a pigeon or sparrow.
I am struck by the modesty of the language, by its concision, abruptness and how the whole described is so much greater than the sum of its nouns, adjectives and verbs. Often, when I read a piece, I experienced an overwhelming sense of loss. It is, however, a curious loss. Like loneliness, Simic's conception of loss is simply an existential fact, which is to say, one did not even need to possess a thing in order to experience the loss of it. Loss is simply a constant. It is just another one of life's cruel jokes, like the poet leaving us with the image of lovers walking off holding hands.
I've come to read Simic as a deeply religious poet and even his most eccentric or dark pieces as psalms. He notices small things, passing phenomena; catches life in glances, so that nothing is insignificant, or exists without meaning. To look so closely is to see, to listen so intensely is to hear, and to note is to praise. The God of Simic's world may be capricious at best, a sadist at heart, but He is the Creator, and his works deserve our praise. Even when Simic is tempted to damn with faint praise, he praises nonetheless. In this way he is like a man who was hungry as a child and so remains hungry all his life, a man who, when he believes no one is watching, licks his plate clean.