John Oliver Simon, Poetry Flash Contributing Editor
Poet, essayist, and
translator, and Contributing Editor to Poetry Flash, John Oliver
Simon won a 2001 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship
for Velocities of the Possible, his translation of the great Chilean
poet Gonzalo Rojas. John Oliver Simon is also author of Caminante, a
narrow road into the far south (Creative Arts Book Company), from
which these poems are taken. Son Caminos, his selected poems in
Spanish, was published in Mexico City in 1997. A former statewide
director of California Poets in the Schools, he teaches bilingual
elementary students and is Artistic Director of Poetry Inside Out, a
bilingual poetry program for children based in San Francisco at The
Center for the Art of Translation.
When I noticed the poem within me I knew I could
I stood on the parapet and stepped straight into air.
I soared down past a congregation of zopilotes,
past orchids growing like pineapples in the moustache
of pine branches, butterflies embroidered on the breasts
of living women, their mouths shaping fog into words.
I entered the turquoise screen of the cenote naked
and emerged among ebullient salt caminos.
Comentario: caminos are paths,
zopilotes are buzzards, and a cenote
is a waterhole in limestone. Las Lagunas de Montebello is a chain of
boundary waters reaching into Guatemala. As I watch, their colors
change: pastels of reflected pine and oak and cliffs, leaves’ suave
green swirl with gouache pink---then the wind breathes, titillating
oak leaves, and the surface flutters silver into turquoise. They say
lakes drain through a tunnel to the Pacific Ocean, two ranges away.
Smugglers row across at night.
The human ego, they say in Mexico, is that little
inside of all of us, and the punch line is “che,
¿cómo pequeño?” what do you mean little, and the che
does not translate, but everyone knows who Che
was, a medical student who set out on his motorcycle
to explore América, and like the Buddha, discovered the poor,
which led him from the Sierre Maestra to a canyon in Bolivia
where the soldiers cast dice to divide his few possessions.
Comentario: in 1947, while Jack
Kerouac and Neal Cassady were
driving coast-to-coast on a North American road as endless as a spool
of paper feeding through a beat-up typewriter on its way to a golden
eternity, a young medical student named Ernesto Guevara, from
Rosario, Argentina, went forth on a motorcycle with a friend to
explore South America. Ernesto was deeply appalled at the poverty
they found on their way up the Andes to Lima and Bogotá, and he
vowed to dedicate his life to changing that. In Mexico, a few years
later, he fell in with a bunch of idealistic young Cuban revolutionar-
ies, led by a law graduate and sometime righthanded pitcher named
Fidel Castro. Because of Ernesto’s Argentine manner of speech---che,
vos---his comrades nicknamed him El Che.
This is where they run out of road.
Where the bridge sways with the weight of your breath.
Where the tracks of all your friends are blurred by blowing sand.
To the edge of earth, where water howls and prays,
where seagulls peck at a woven robe of flesh,
where the sun is squeezed to a glowing syllable
and gone, and then, as if to balance things,
the moon’s pale cup is lifted from a final line of hills.
Comentario: sunset on the long
white deserted windy beach of Cucao,
on the Pacific coast of the great island of Chiloe, 42º South, my clos-
est approach to the South Pole. A whale-vertebra a meter in diameter
is stuck in the sand, and birds are still eating the blubber. Fluffy
clouds pass over from the south, above the massive forested hills, home
to the endangered sequoia-like alerce. When the rain comes again, the
clouds will turn and come from the north, symmetrical to how it hap-
pens in California. This rhyme pleases me. For Cecilia Actis.