If it’s permitted to speak of such a thing as a national character under our current tyranny of globalism, then there’s a definite Eastern European, even Slavic, flavor to the entries in this collection. Born in Belgrade on the eve of WWII, Simic was heir to the twilit sensibilities of Mitteleuropa, which rendered everyday objects and situations with surrealist strokes, mystical implications, and, not least, sinister overtones. It’s not imprecise to refer to this demeanor as Kafkaesque—in effect, if not in intent: Nearly all of Simic’s verses contain one or more of these disturbing elements. But unlike the Prague novelist and a postwar generation of social-realist poets, Simic’s journey did not dead-end in adolescent self-absorption and life-denying seriousness. Simic made it to the US, arriving, ironically, as a teenager, quick to pick up on the American penchant for finding and expressing the humor in precisely those preposterous, though dangerous, situations. Who is Charlie Chaplin, after all, if not K. with a sense of humor? An example among these early poems is —Autumn Air,— in which a man instructs his family how to assuage hunger by swallowing a good deal of air: During his demonstration, the man floats up and drifts off to sea, where he’s threatened by new perils. The language here is spare, even simple, but the images are complex, challenging in the way surrealist art defies ordinary perceptions, juxtaposing the whimsical and the frightening.