May 9, 2007

My Shoes

by Charles Simic

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Poem: "My Shoes" by Charles Simic, from Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems. © George Braziller, Inc., 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

My Shoes

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1960 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the world's first birth control pill. It was one of the first times a drug had ever been approved by the FDA for a purpose other than to cure an illness or relieve pain. It was also the first time that a new medication was known not by its official name, Enovid-10, but simply as "the pill." In 1962, less than two years after the pill came on the market in the U.S., 1.2 million women were taking it daily. By 1968, that number had jumped to 12 million.

It's the birthday of poet Mona Van Duyn, (books by this author) born in Waterloo, Iowa (1921). She published her first book of poetry, Valentines to the Wide World, in 1959. She went on to publish many books of poetry, including Near Changes (1990), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

It's the birthday of poet Joy Harjo, (books by this author) born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1951). She grew up on the racially mixed north side of Tulsa, with Muscogee ancestors on her father's side of the family and Cherokee ancestors on her mother's side. She has published several collections of poetry, including What Moon Drove Me to This? (1980) and She Had Some Horses (1983). Her most recent collection is How We Became Human (2002). She has also occasionally been a singer and saxophonist for a band called Poetic Justice.

It's the birthday of the creator of Peter Pan, J. M. (James Matthew) Barrie, (books by this author) born in Angus, Scotland (1860). Barrie first wrote about Peter Pan in a book of children's stories called The Little White Bird (1902). Two years later, he produced the play Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904), which included the well-known story about Peter and Wendy and Captain Hook. Even though he'd produced many successful plays before, Barrie became obsessed with the production of Peter Pan. He rewrote the script more than 20 times. It was one of the most expensive productions ever attempted at that time, since it required the construction of harnesses and wires so that the actors could appear to fly around the stage.

It's the birthday of poet who wrote, "I was stolen by the gypsies. My parents stole me right back. Then the gypsies stole me again. This went on for some time. ... We were so poor I had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap. All alone in the cellar, I could hear them pacing upstairs, tossing and turning in their beds. 'These are dark and evil days,' the mouse told me as he nibbled my ear." That was Charles Simic, (books by this author) born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (1938). His family survived the bombing of Belgrade during World War II and fled Eastern Europe after the war was over. Simic said, "My travel agents were Hitler and Stalin. They were the reason I ended up in the United States."

They wound up in Oak Park, Illinois, and Simic went to the same high school Ernest Hemingway had gone to. After a few years of working as a proofreader at the Chicago Sun-Times, he moved to New York City. Then in 1962, Simic enlisted in the army, where he began the first poems that he felt satisfied with. He published his first book of poetry, What the Grass Says, in 1967, and he went on to publish many more collections, including School for Dark Thoughts (1978), Frightening Toys (1995), and Night Picnic (2001).

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