Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Michael Simms: Bus

In 1978 I left school to wander the country on a three-month bus pass. I slept in Greyhound stations or on friends’ couches and sometimes went whole days without eating. I was a skinny unworldly unpublished poet intent on seeing America. One afternoon at a bus stop in Ruston, Louisiana we picked up a single passenger, a huge man in a dirty plaid shirt, grease-stained khakis, and unlaced boots covered in mud. There was lots of room on the bus, but for some reason he chose the aisle seat next to me, falling into place like a boulder. He smelled of garlic and stale sweat. His hands were calloused, his arms the size of my legs. I was afraid of him, disgusted by his smell, and offended that his bulk was pushing me against the window. The forced intimacy of his presence was over-powering, but I was too intimidated to ask him to move, so I settled into my narrow space. After a while, I became comfortable with his warmth beside me and I dozed off. It was like sleeping with a hibernating bear. The sun set, and we hurtled through the dark forest. My silent companion, his elbow in my side and his giant curly head on my shoulder, was my guide as we passed through the underworld of the American South, carrying our cargo of souls. 


Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

Michael Simms is the editor of Vox Populi. His books include American Ash (Ragged Sky, 2020).

Photo by Jose Padua

8 comments on “Michael Simms: Bus

  1. kennethrosenpoet
    July 11, 2020

    Having read this fine, moving, oddly provocative and unexpected piece, right after Abby Zimet’s lovely valediction for John Prine, the two converged in my covid self-quarantine’s cloudy brooding, amid caution, restlessness, resistance and care, upon our current convulsive, if not unprecedented Jabba-the-Hut social and political smog, swamp, and blood-curdling quicksand’s expanding moment of convulsion, I found each piece, each with its own direct or oblique encomium to humanity’s complex yet ultimately fundamental simplicity, to be mutually complementary.

    Just the other day, internet noodling, I came across a Youtube video of Johnny Cash, as a still young, yet relatively mature art-and-business hawk, affectionately regarding a very young, art-and-business fledgling hawk, Bob Dylan, the latter hammering away on an upright piano and singing Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” Cash afterwards gently correcting Dylan’s sense of the tune by humming, Dylan nodding rapidly, then both men humming the corrected version together, Dylan then hammering out again the corrected part of the song.

    The correction was lost on me. I couldn’t tell the difference between right and wrong, but I loved it all. Minutes later I was weeping–I don’t know why–having clicked open the Youtube video of Cash’s last Nashville concert, beautiful June Carter Cash watching with anxious vigiligance from a seat a few yards back on the stage, as two large, very ordinary looking men, hoisted Cash from his wheelchair, hauled and settled him in a empty chair at a microphone, while another handed him his guitar, and still another his bottle of water.

    June Carter Cash died that same year during a heart-valve operation, Johnny four months later. Not only weeping, I couldn’t speak–answer my wife when she asked, what are you watching, why are you crying? All that week, later, and as right now, I thought about the tender, beautiful simplicity of the opening line to the song Cash and Dylan had been working on, “At my door the leaves are falling,” plus the next line, “And the cold, wild winds will come–” I thought of the simple and clear poets I admired, James Wright, William Carlos Williams, the paths they’d chosen from the magnificent example of Whitman, so seemingly opposite to the paths of Dickinson, Moore, Eliot, Stevens, and it suddenly occurred to me that the musical strategies, and perhaps even the very tunes, of Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” ascend steeply to grasp an emotional meaning, fail and fall steadily, were identical, that even the songs’ lyrical burdens and thrusts, Cash’s frank pathos, Dylan’s pseudo-suave denial of suffering, overlapped, were sides of the same coin.

    Lastly, to locate all this in my appreciation and gratitude for the pieces by Abby Zimet and Michael Simms, I decided I felt Auden was wrong when he, later in life, regretted and repudiated his line, “We must love one another or die.” Because ultimately, it’s really that simple.

    So am I on the spectrum described in Simm’s fine essay on Minnesota Public Radio’s mob appeasing panicked treatment of Garrison Keillor. Mob appeasement, peace in our time, means nothing threatens the status of power with change.The new boss inevitably the same as the old boss. When otherwise Whatever you say I am, I am not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      July 11, 2020

      Wow! Thank you so much for this beautiful and generous assessment of Abby and my pieces today. Bless you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beth Peyton
    July 11, 2020

    Cargo of souls…love that

    Liked by 1 person

  3. smithdaniell
    July 11, 2020

    Oh no clearer image than this one. And I am a few seats back from the hulking sleeping hibernating bear who resembles more a gorilla tipping over in sleep, snoring loudly. And I see everything in the darkness of the south swamped lined interstate outside Zachary Louisiana.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. loranneke
    July 11, 2020

    I’m with Kim: more, please.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Barbara Huntington
    July 11, 2020

    What a difference. When I traveled to Mississippi in 67, I purposely sat in the back of the bus and black passengers sat three to a seat to avoid me. In the black waiting room in Jackson, everyone moved as far away from me as possible. Must before that, I remember turning over my granddad’s car and trailer passing another car and trailer ( I had my learner’s permit) and crying, and burying my head in the chest of the woman whose car I had just passed and feeling the comfort in that moment. Wow! Good poetry brings up all kinds of memories and this one certainly did. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. kim4true
    July 11, 2020

    And? I want more of this story, Michael…

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on July 11, 2020 by in Note from the Editor, Personal Essays, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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