They explained to me the bloody bandages
On the floor in the maternity ward in Rochester, N.Y.,   
Cured the backache I acquired bowing to my old master,   
Made me stop putting thumbtacks round my bed.

They showed me an officer on horseback,
Waving a saber next to a burning farmhouse   
And a barefoot woman in a nightgown,
Throwing stones after him and calling him Lucifer.

I was a straw-headed boy in patched overalls.   
Come dark a chicken would roost in my hair.   
Some even laid eggs as I played my ukulele   
And my mother and father crossed themselves.

Next, I saw myself inside an abandoned gas station   
Constructing a spaceship out of a coffin,
Red traffic cone, cement mixer and ear warmers,
When a church lady fainted seeing me in my underwear.

Some days, however, they opened door after door,   
Always to a different room, and could not find me.   
There’d be only a small squeak now and then,   
As if a miner’s canary got caught in a mousetrap.

  • Charles Simic, “Past-Lives Therapy” from The Voice at 3:00 AM: Selected Late and New Poems. Copyright © 2003 by Charles Simic. Reprinted with the permission of Harcourt, Inc. This material may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  • Source: The Voice at 3:00 AM: Selected Late and New Poems (Harcourt Inc., 2003)

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