At the Charles Simic reading

The aging soundman saunters down front to fiddle with the mike and won’t leave, mimicking the famous poet they’ve all come to see. With his bad posture and offstage clothes, it’s a travesty, compounded by a highly questionable accent. “Well, you know – ” he’ll say, and improvise another droll story about his supposed life in New Hampshire or childhood in Belgrade during the war.

A few stray pieces of paper and two or three books have been left at the podium, and he picks them up one at a time and peers down quizzically, as if addressing several exceptional frogs at the bottom of a well. He ends each poem – if that’s what they are – with an audible sniff and consults his watch. It’s the modern kind, he explains – it doesn’t tick.

The imposter’s grin never quite leaves his face. He holds up the famous poet’s most famous book – printed in large type, you see, so as to take more room on the page – and claims it’s nothing but a doodle in the margins of his memoirs. A likely story! It’s boring to describe what really happened. A writer always prefers to make things up. So you say.

The overflow audience crowds the floor, up to within an arm’s length of his feet. Many of them are here by choice, it seems, and would have every right to feel cheated, but only a few people get up and leave. He goes on for forty-seven minutes, stops, and takes a few tentative steps away from the podium as applause breaks out, mingled with appreciative laughter for an almost fully credible performance.

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