Poems for Salome

Article excerpt

Though both James Tate and Charles Simic had published individual works in Chicago Review, this poem from the Summer 1971 issue represents a unique collaborative venture. SIMIC explains how it came about:

Tate and I wrote the sequence during one long night of drinking wine and listening to jazz. We had a rough idea that we wanted a poem in the spirit of Baudelaire, a kind of homage employing the cliches of French Symbolist poetry. I remember being dazzled by Tate's seemingly endless inventions. He came up with many more terrific images, but we kept them out of the poem for the sake of its coherence. This is my only collaboration ever, and I must say it was a lot of fun.

I. What does a black cat see when it closes its eyes It sees the langours of its hashish childhood Where the gate is closed And a ring is sinking slowly into a pillow Where the winestains prepare themselves for the journey Into the lighthouse of salt

II. The secret police dressed in red lace Come to the matchstick jail The prisoner confesses that he is the handkerchief That smothers the Cardinal's dream The old guard's cock stands up Like a little pig-tailed girl on the first day of school In two hours the bullets Will be rubbing sleep from their eyes And coughing into the steam of their morning coffee

III. …