JOHN OLIVER SIMON
John Oliver Simon is one of the legendary poets of the Berkeley 60's who has remained
true to his calling. Published from Abraxas to Zyzzyva, he is also a distinguished
translator of contemporary Latin American poetry, who received an NEA fellowship for his
work with the great Chilean, Gonzalo Rojas (1917-2011). He is Artistic Director of Poetry
Inside Out, a program of the Center for the Art of Translation, and is the River of Words
2013 Teacher of the Year.
The question is what I'm the right distance from:
just before sitting down to write, fumbling
with a new candle, wax must drip in the pan,
my granddaughter doing cartwheels last Friday,
last time I painted watercolors, Sheila
and Victor's house on Roosevelt Ave, their mural
of green trees within which actual windows
are houses on a distant twilight mountain,
the mountains I climbed, the hurtful thing I said
to my Dad not my father in the kitchen
to my Mom at the moment she remarried,
floral swan-maidens' hats at my grandparents'
wedding — only one looking at the camera
five-year-old in sailor suit, Ansel Adams.
My Dad who wasn't my father imagined
the old maples trudging up Bantam Mountain
a magical mystical Forest of Arden
inhabited by nice talking animals
he must have suspected I wasn't his kid
from the moment he first saw my cowbird eyes
then must have known: played catch with me anyway,
played like they say the shitty hand he was dealt,
baffled by my adolescent revulsion,
the poetry virus from my stepfather,
stood up to answer my versified complaints
watched impotent as I escaped forever
to my mother's ancestral California,
rooting for the Giants against his sad Mets.
I didn't call Bunny all through the fall months
of 1968 because I was sure
he was supporting Hubert Humphrey. Richard
and I tacked a poster on the Boneyard wall
capital bold san-serif letters REVOLUTION
REVOLUTION ELDRIDGE CLEAVER which becomes
a codpiece joke in retrospect, while Kia
who was to be and wasn't his granddaughter
was growing gills and a tail and losing them
in the privacy of her mother's tummy —
what did I fear anyway? controversy?
a full and frank exchange of opinions?
sorry for my anorexia, Bunny,
that deprived us of a good conversation.
"How come it's summer in Argentina when
it's winter here?" Teachable moment! Daddy
directs a candle be placed on the table
(hot wax flows down Grandpa's trembling fingers)
and Tesla Rose observes from the tilting globe
cartographer's illusion of the planet
how light waxes closer and farther away
before long a turtle stands in for the moon
and staring into the flame, "what are the stars?"
Inculcate geometry and inference
in accordance with the common core standards
all well and good, but what about the duende?
Tesla Rose takes in exactly what she can
and announces, "I'm the Queen of Jupiter!"
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