The White Room

Charles Simic

copyright ©Charles Simic, 2004

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me–
And then didn’t.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as “perfect.”

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light–
And the trees waiting for the night.

Notes on the Poem

Charles Simic's fascinating poem "The White Room" is a study in stark contrasts and sly, deceptively simple conundrums. Where does it all lead us? "We were Entering dark houses" ... and yet moments later, the sun is pointing things out to us. It's summer, which is presumably lush and warm ... and yet in just a few lines, we confront the contention of "the woman / Who always wore white" that "The truth is bald and cold" Someone has his or her eyes closed in a dark house (while the narrator is "sleepless", although that doesn't necessarily mean the person with the closed eyes is asleep), whereas someone or something else lies "unblinking" in "bright light." Indeed, what exactly is so obvious if there are secrets intimated at but ultimately untold by otherwise loquacious trees, and "Gods disguising themselves" as various mundane objects? If it's so obvious, there seems to be a lot of intrigue going on here. But even with that disquieting sense ... "It was the kind of day People described as "perfect."" Simic has led us somewhere - and we've gone willingly - but leaves it to us to determine where we've been left.

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