cover image Walking the Black Cat

Walking the Black Cat

Charles Simic. Mariner Books, $14 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-15-600481-7

Simic's short, taut lines carve dark-edged images reminiscent of old folk tales. In this new collection, his 13th (The World Doesn't End earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990), he focuses on such folklore elements as chance, luck, faith and illusion at work in a quotidian world of cookouts, family life and memory. Juxtaposing disparate images, Simic jars his readers into a state of disorientation, priming them for a world where one must approach mirrors ""sideways/ In rooms webbed in shadow,"" where ""Destiny marks you early in the day/ With a knowing finger,"" and where a tree is ""spooked/ By its own evening whispers/...Making a noise full of deep/ Misgivings,/ Like bloody razor blades/ Being shuffled."" There the lucky and the nimble survive: ""Death's an early riser./ You've got to be real quick/ To slip under his arm."" Handling his many images like a confident juggler or a magician, in ""My Magician"" Simic himself is the magician's dummy: ""Through a row of wooden teeth/ We spoke of God the Father./ Then we vanished in a pack of cards."" Simic's poetry depicts a tricky, dangerous and unstable existence where the black cat--symbol of bad luck--is a constant, even loved, companion. ""It's horror movie time,/ Says the Emperor"" in ""The Emperor,"" but with these poems Simic tames that horror some and walks it on a leash. (Oct.)