The poet Charles Simic was born on May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he had a traumatic childhood during World War II. In 1954 he emigrated from Yugoslavia with his mother and brother to join his father in the United States.
The Elevator is Out of Order
Grandmothers and their caged birds
Must be trembling with fear
As you climb with heavy steps
Stopping at each floor to take a rest.
A monkey dressed in baby clothes
Who belonged to an opera singer
Once lived here and so did a doctor
Who peddled drugs to wealthy customers.
The one who let you feel her breasts
Vanished upstairs. The name is not familiar,
But the scratches of her nails are.
The bell rings, but no one comes to open.
Old man, with a face powdered white,
You caught peeking out of another door
As you were descending in a hurry,
Who did he expect to see if not you?
L’ASCENSORE S’E’ GUASTATO
Nonne, co’ l’ucelIetti loro in gabbia,
stanno, me pare, a tremà de paura
mentre che sali su cor passo greve
e a ‘gni piano te fermi a tirà er fiato.
‘Na scimmia vestita da pupetto,
già propietà d’un canterino d’opera,
qui ce viveva un tempo - e ‘n più un dottore
che spacciava la droga ai quattrinosi.
Quella che te lasciò palpà le tette
s’è squajata de sopra. Nun sai er nome,
ma i graffi de quell'unghie li conosci.
Er campanello sòna, chi viè a aprì?
Er vecchio, faccia bianca ‘ncipriata,
ch’hai sorpreso a smiccià da ‘n’artra porta
mentre che tu scennevi in fretta in fretta,
chi credeva de vède, si non te?
La traduzione che presentiamo è in “parlato” (quasi) romanesco. In italiano suona come segue:
L’ASCENSORE E’ GUASTO
Le nonne e i loro uccellini in gabbia/penso stiano tremando di paura/mentre tu sali su con passo greve/e ad ogni piano sosti e tiri il fiato.//Una scimmia vestita da bimbetto/già appartenuta a un cantante d’opera/visse qui, un tempo, ed un dottore pure,/che spacciava droghe a clienti danarosi.//Quella che ti lasciò palpar le tette/è scomparsa al piano di sopra. Il nome/non è familiare, i graffi delle sue unghie sì./Il campanello suona, nessuno viene ad aprire. //Il vecchio, faccia bianca di cipria,/che hai sorpreso a sbirciare da una porta/mentre stavi scendendo in tutta fretta,/chi pensava di vedere, se non te?
Simic was appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2007. About the appointment, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "The range of Charles Simic's imagination is evident in his stunning and unusual imagery. He handles language with the skill of a master craftsman, yet his poems are easily accessible, often meditative and surprising. He has given us a rich body of highly organized poetry with shades of darkness and flashes of ironic humor."
"I am especially touched and honored to be selected because I am an immigrant boy who didn't speak English until I was 15," responded Simic after being named Poet Laureate.
Simic was chosen to receive the Academy Fellowship in 1998, and elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2000. He has received numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995.
Most recently, he was announced as the recipient of the 2007 Wallace Stevens Award by the Academy of American Poets. Simic is Emeritus Professor of the University of New Hampshire where he has taught since 1973.