Greg Simon
My Readers


A young woman, who thinks of herself as a poet, of mixed heritage, with separate but loving parents, lots of curly brown hair, sitting on a porch overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, sipping rum and trying to make sense of my poem about Apolline, the patron saint of dentistry... She has perfect teeth. She decides to write me a letter about them, then suddenly changes her mind and calls one of her boyfriends instead.

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Long-haul truck driver who works Florida and The Keys, an avid collector of books and manuscripts by Elizabeth Bishop... One night in Riverview, near the Alafia, rifling the archives of The New Republic with his laptop, he finds my poem about Luandinha, the Brazilian river goddess, which I wrote in homage to Miss Bishop.
He records "Second Childhood" onto a cassette, back to back with her poem, "The Riverman," playing it while he is working; completely identifying with the life of the apprentice shaman who is described in both poems.
His muse is no river, but the sinuous black stocking of asphalt he is following. He aligns his wheels on its back seam and drives.

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A copy of Poet in New York, marked up with notes and reminders, dropped from the valise with a broken clasp that a tall, elegantly dressed professor of Spanish and Portuguese uses, onto the floorboard of a cab driven by a guy from Long Island...
The cover photograph is of Lorca, sitting on a concrete platform in front of a huge, polished porphyry ball, once red, but now black from all the soot, reflecting that famous landscape of skyscrapers behind his own large head.
Inside the book, another snapshot of Lorca, "The Granada Kid," wearing a knit suit with a bow tie, knickers and argyle knee socks, strolling the streets of the city with two good-looking dancers from Argentina who are wearing fashionable suits, silk stockings and pumps.
It's a life worth imagining, thinking about. The cabby knows a few Spanish words from hanging around with other drivers, yet can't understand it written down. So he relies on the English side-by-side, a welcome diversion in the waiting lines at the airports.
He reads and begins to recognize parts of the city as he drives through it. Remembers things his mother told him. She was a librarian, infatuated with a local boy, Walt Whitman. But the kid's problem, and Whitman's too, maybe -- they were driven, excuse the pun, run-offs who used ten words when a couple would suffice. Yeah, that's it, poetry makes more sense with some of the words crossed out! His eyes skip back and forth, English to Spanish, until the English is well pollinated with where it came from.
He enlarges a few poems, and puts them on a yellow clipboard for cleanup and restoration. If he has learned anything about driving cab, it's economy. Now he understands Garcia Lorca. Now he's sure that someone else is going to discard a copy of Leaves of Grass on the floor of his cab. He's not afraid of it. He peers through the wipers and thumb-sized splats of rain. Words from billboards and street signs coalesce into lines: Canal Street Buy One / Second One Free / Do Drop Inn Sapphire / Mile-high Dining To Go...

~

The marked-up sheets are passed in secrecy to me, the one eternally dissatisfied reader who sees skeletons behind every line. So what if I'm wrong about anything? Here I'm the one watching the painted sky, the backdrop in oil paint that reflects a compounding of lie upon lie, until the intricate timing of the starry mind stands revealed. My reader: dissatisfied forever? O. K., O. K. I am.

Why I Am An Acmeist


I've never allowed myself time to wonder what Akhmatova and the Mandel'shtams would envy about my life if they had had a chance to examine it the way I have examined theirs. It's a notion that reeks of the self-made, self-centered worldview of Napoleon, but I can't help but think about him, crossing half of Russia on horseback or in a carriage. The arrogance of that.
I've read that in order to pass the time between battles, Napoleon would read novels, then a relatively new form of entertainment, typeset laboriously by hand, hand-sewn into leather bindings, objects as priceless now as anything you could imagine. When he was finished reading one, perhaps to lighten the load on his stable of over-worked horses, or from contempt for those who battled only with their minds -- he'd toss the book out into the snow. No Library of Alexandria for this conqueror! And similarly, because he liked to do things once and once only, or because his Marshals had warned him against a winter campaign in Russia, but he went anyway, he allowed himself just one night in the Kremlin. When he woke the next morning, he commanded his sappers to fill the ancient palace of the Tsars with gunpowder, and blow it apart. Then he left Russia forever.
Mandel'shtam was one of those lucky little boys who might have stumbled upon a Napoleon-thrown tome in the pock-marked snow. He would have dried it out secretly by the samovar, marveled at it, pushed himself to learn French on his own so he could comprehend its mystery. That was the kind of power that he had: to be able to find things like an extra pair of trousers during the great Russian depression so he could bestow them on his father with a nonchalant flourish!
It's always instructive to think about power in a reflexive way. To turn the noun back in on yourself. What kind of power do I have? Where does it come from? When I came across the three Russians with my mind in the sad, frantic dumb show of The Stray Dog in St. Petersburg, in 1912, when I imagined I could drink and hear poetry and music with them in that fabulous basement, when I saw M. wave at a man and say, "Oh, him, he'll be the first one dead," how could I not decide to remain there? Damn all my Marshals, too!
So what might my Russians envy? The fact that no one is watching me, and so I can be at peace? That I'm not on a graveyard shift, running a sewing machine while I memorize my husband's lines? That I'm not wracked with ceaseless insomnia while I worry about the fate of a son in the gulag? That I'm not standing in a line of mothers freezing, waiting to send him warm clothes, food and money?
No, I don't have those empty hours to fill; I don't have to fight all day against what's relentless. When I look out a window, I often just see the window. A thin membrane like thinking that rests securely between me and ancient Greece, or the Russian Steppes, fields of grain and rivers, or the brilliant old hills of Tuscany. I know the three of them would envy the comfort in that.