I had a small, nonspeaking part
In a bloody epic. I was one of the
Bombed and fleeing humanity.
In the distance our great leader
Crowed like a rooster from a balcony,
Or was it a great actor
Impersonating our great leader?
That’s me there, I said to the kiddies.
I’m squeezed between the man
With two bandaged hands raised
And the old woman with her mouth open
As if she were showing us a tooth
That hurts badly. The hundred times
I rewound the tape, not once
Could they catch sight of me
In that huge gray crowd,
That was like any other gray crowd.
Trot off to bed, I said finally.
I know I was there. One take
Is all they had time for.
We ran, and the planes grazed our hair,
And then they were no more
As we stood dazed in the burning city,
But, of course, they didn’t film that.
Simic’s poem, unlike the others we’ve run in this series so far, is not about a specific film or filmmaker; it’s not really about film at all. Instead, Simic is using the metaphor of cinema to examine the human presence in history, the marginal yet all-important way in which the average man or woman participates in the events that shape his / her world. We are all extras in the blockbuster of history, faces lost in the “gray crowd”, bodies that, as Eliot put it, “will do / to swell a progress, start a scene or two”. But like amateurs who have wandered into a shot and been allowed to stay, we are proud and exhilarated to be here, anxious to point ourselves out afterwards to our friends and family. Never mind how insignificant our role, how unnoticed our presence, how tiresome the effort involved, what matters, in the end, is our ability to say that we too were once in the movies.
Oh, and I love the way Simic’s description here connects to the images we already have in our head, conjuring up a scene that is part old documentary footage and part black and white war movie.
P.S. My thanks to Space Bar, who has provided a number of marvelous suggestions for this series, including this one.
P.P.S: I personally have had some trouble running the audio to this poem (which comes to you via The Poetry Archive) in Firefox, though it seems to work fine in IE.