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By Charles Simic

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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Poet Bio

Charles Simic
Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, during World War II, Charles Simic suffered great hardship during his early life—an experience which has had a heavy influence on his art. In 1954 he came to the United States and studied literature. His education was interrupted in 1961 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Concise, and at times surrealistic, Simic’s poetry has earned many honors including the Pulitzer Prize for The World Doesn’t End. See More By This Poet

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