A New Version: 1980

What is that little black thing I see there
in the white?
Walt Whitman


Out of poverty
To begin again:

With the color of the bride
And that of blindness,

Touch what I can
Of the quick,

Speak and then wait,
As if this light

Will continue to linger
On the threshold.

All that is near,
I no longer give it a name.

Once a stone hard of hearing,
Once sharpened into a knife…

Now only a chill
Slipping through.

Enough glow to kneel by and ask
To be tied to its tail

When it goes marrying
Its cousins, the stars.

Is it a cloud?
If it’s a cloud it will move on.

The true shape of this thought,
Migrant, waning.

Something seeks someone,
It bears him a gift

Of himself, a bit
Of snow to taste,

Glimpse of his own nakedness
By which to imagine the face.

On a late afternoon of snow
In a dim badly-aired grocery,

Where a door has just rung
With a short, shrill echo,

A little boy hands the old,
Hard-faced woman

Bending low over the counter,
A shiny nickel for a cupcake.

Now only that shine, now
Only that lull abides.

That your gaze
Be merciful,

Sister, bride
Of my first hopeless insomnia.

Kind nurse, show me
The place of salves.

Teach me the song
That makes a man rise

His glass at dusk
Until a star dances in it.

Who are you? Are you anybody
A moonrock would recognize?

There are words I need.
They are not near men.

I went searching.
Is this a deathmarch?

You bend me, bend me,
Oh toward what flower!

Little-known vowel,
Noose big for us all.

As strange as a shepherd
In the Arctic Circle.

Someone like Bo-peep.
All his sheep are white

And he can’t get any sleep
Over lost sheep.

And he’s got a flute
Which says Bo-peep,

Which says Poor boy,
Take care of your snow-sheep.

to A.S. Hamilton

Then all’s well and white,
And no more than white.

Illinois snowbound.
Indiana with one bare tree.

Michigan a storm-cloud.
Wisconsin empty of men.

There’s a trap on the ice
Laid there centuries ago.

The bait is still fresh.
The metal glitters as the night descends.

Woe, woe, it sings from the bough.
Our Lady, etc…

You had me hoodwinked.
I see your brand new claws.

Praying, what do I betray
By desiring your purity?

There are old men and women,
All bandaged up, waiting

At the spiked, wrought-iron gate
Of the Great Eye and Ear Infirmery.

We haven’t gone far…
Fear lives there too.

Five ears of my fingertips
Against the white page.

What do you hear?
We hear holy nothing

Blindfolding itself.
It touched you once, twice,

And tore like a stitch
Out of a new wound.


What are you up to son of a gun?
I roast on my heart’s dark side.

What do you use as a skewer sweetheart?
I use my own crooked backbone.

What do you salt yourself with loverboy?
I grind the words out of my spittle.

And how will you know when you’re done chump?
When the half-moons on my fingernails set.

With what knife will you carve yourself smartass?
The one I hide in my tongue’s black boot.

Well, you can’t call me a wrestler
If my own dead weight has me pinned down.

Well, you can’t call me a cook
If the pot’s got me under its cover.

Well, you can’t call me a king
if the flies hang their hats in my mouth.

Well, you can’t call me smart,
When the rain’s falling my cup’s in the cupboard.

Nor can you call me a saint,
If I didn’t err, there wouldn’t be these smudges.

One has to manage as best as one can.
The poppies ate the sunset for supper.

One has to manage as best as one can.
Who stole my blue thread, the one

I tied around my pinky to remember?
One has to manage as best as one can.

The flea I was standing on, jumped.
One has to manage as best as one can.

I think my head went out for a walk.
One has to manage as best as one can.

This is breath, only breath,
Think it over midnight!

A fly weighs twice as much.
The struck match nods as it passes,

But when I shout,
Its true name sticks in my throat.

It has to be cold
So the breath turns white,

And then mother, who’s fast enough
To write his life on it?

A song in prison
And for prisoners,

Made of what the condemned
Have hidden from the jailers.

White–let me step aside
So that the future may see you,

For when this sheet is blown away,
What else is left

But to set the food on the table,
To cut oneself a slice of bread?

In an unknown year
Of an algebraic century,

An obscure widow
Wrapped in the colors of widowhood,

Met a true-blue orphan
On an indeterminate street-corner.

She offered him
A tiny sugar cube

In the hand so wizened
All the lines said: fate.

Do you take this line
Stretching to infinity?

I take this chipped tooth
On which to cut it in half.

Do you take this circle
Bounded by a single curved line?

I take this breath
That it cannot capture.

Then you may kiss the spot
Where her bridal train last rustled.

Winter can come now,
The earth narrow to a ditch–

And the sky with its castles and stone lions
Above the empty plains.

The snow can fall…
What other perennials would you plant,

My prodigals, my explorers
Tossing and turning in the dark

For those remote, finely honed bees,
The December stars?

Had to get through me elsewhere.
Woe to bone

That stood in their way.
Woe to each morsel of flesh.

White ants
In a white anthill.

The rustle of their many feet
Scurrying–tiptoing too.

Gravedigger ants.
Village-idiot ants.

This is the last summoning.
Solitude–as in the beginning.

A zero burped by a bigger zero–
It’s an awful licking I got.

And fear–that dead letter office.
And doubt–that Chinese shadow play.

Does anyone still say a prayer
Before going to bed?

White sleeplessness.
No one knows its weight.

What The White Had To Say

For how could anything white be distinct
from or divided from whiteness?
Meister Eckhart

Because I am the bullet
That has gone through everyone already,
I thought of you long before you thought of me.
Each one of you still keeps a blood-stained handkerchief
In which to swaddle me, but it stays empty
And even the wind won’t remain in it long.
Cleverly you’ve invented name after name for me,
Mixed the riddles, garbled the proverbs,
Shook you loaded dice in a tin cup,
But I do not answer back even to your curses,
For I am nearer to you than your breath.
One sun shines on us both through a crack in the roof.
A spoon brings me through the window at dawn.
A plate shows me off to the four walls
While with my tail I swing at the flies.
But there’s no tail and the flies are your thoughts.
Steadily, patiently I life your arms.
I arrange them in the posture of someone drowning,
And yet the sea in which you are sinking,
And even this night above it, is myself.

Because I am the bullet
That has baptized each one of your senses,
Poems are made of our lusty wedding nights…
The joy of words as they are written.
The ear that got up at four in the morning
To hear the grass grow inside a word.
Still, the most beautiful riddle has no answer.
I am the emptiness that tucks you in like a
mockingbird’s nest,
The fingernail that scratched on your sleep’s
Take a letter: From cloud to onion.
Say: There was never any real choice.
One gaunt shadowy mother wiped our asses,
The same old orphanage taught us loneliness.
Street-organ full of blue notes,
I am the monkey dancing to your grinding–
And still you are afraid-and so,
It’s as if we had not budged from the beginning.
Time slopes. We are falling head over heels
At the speed of night. That milk tooth
You left under the pillow, it’s grinning.


This currently out-of-print edition:
Copyright ©1980 Logbridge-Rhodes, Inc.

An earlier version of White was first published
by New Rivers Press in 1972.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Charles Simic's poem White

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