I've been spending many of my days wandering aimlessly in and out of nooks throughout the city this week, and have found myself drawn to the poetry of Charles Simic. On these walks, I have never seen any of the images that Simic conjures in "Miss Delphine," and yet the poem is so vivid that it convinces me I was a witness. The bizarre people seem to be their own kinds of archetypes for things not yet defined.
On the streets Cornell walked forty years ago, there were still medical leech dealers; importers of armadillo meat and ostrich eggs. There were people like Miss Delphine Binger, who collected goose, turkey, and chicken wishbones so she could boil them and polish them and then decorate them with charms and ribbons. She sent them to presidents, movie stars, famous politicians in the same way Cornell sent gifts of scraps of paper and odd objects to the ballerinas he loved.
This poem is taken from Simic's "Dime Store Alchemy," which is a collection of poems based on the artist Joseph Cornell. Cornell walked the streets of New York collecting odds and ends and recontextualizing them in wooden boxes (pictured above). Simic's approach is simpler. He muses upon the people and things Cornell may have encountered.
There is something quintessentially American in this poem. It seems to speak to a specific kind of experience: a simultaneous alienation and fascination, which is especially strong in big cities such as New York. Cities fragment beauty. In places that are of human construction, beauty isn't always a given (as it is in nature). The poem explores this fragmented beauty. It is a beauty that has to be sought out and acknowledged.
This sort of acknowledgement seems to be the essential element of many of Simic's poems. Simple acknowledgement of the charm of a thing or a person is such a subtle and often overlooked poetic power. The simplicity of the poem is meaningful because it conveys two senses of peace: an inner peace and a peace with the world beyond oneself, no matter how chaotic that world is. This calm and echantment extend to one's experience with the poem. There are no lavish, unreasonable expectations superimposed on the figures within the poem and there are no lavish, unreasonable expectations put upon the reader to understand any element beyond its quirky essence- a kind of magic that isn't for show.