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Michael Simms: Brotherly Love

AWP Conference, Philadelphia, March 2022

I broke from the colloquy of ten thousand poets,
walked down Arch Street with the March wind
in my face and a few flakes falling. I was headed
 
for dinner but, as things turned out, I became a witness
to love. Evening filled the air with light and shadow. 
Two young men walked toward me holding hands -- 

the air was cold but the men were warmed by laughter.
A stylish older couple passed by arm in arm, 
their faces pink and happy in their woolen scarves.

I walked past the Kabuki Sushi and the TexMex Grill,
past the elegant Notary Hotel with its marble floors
and mirrored halls where we’d discussed Dickinson,

past the magnificent City Hall in the Second Empire style
of 88 million red bricks and thousands of tons of white marble, 
over 700 rooms and 250 sculptures, capturing artists, 

educators, and engineers who embodied American ideals 
and contributed to this country's genius as the bronze says
and the tall clock tower, witness to the slow decay

of this glorious city of brotherly love and anguish. 
I came to the Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse 
on Chestnut Street where a haunch of roasted calf 

is carved beside each table and I tried not to think
of the terrified yearling who’d given his life for this spectacle
of consumption. Not having tasted flesh for 15 years,

I filled up on fresh greens, beans, fruit and light fluffy 
Pão de Queijo at the lavish salad bar 
and my young friends and I laughed and gossiped 

and ranted about the current war and the past president 
and who’d won the big-ass poetry prize 
and whether someone else, meaning one of us, 

should’ve. Next, the U-Bahn with live loud music 
by SlamJam but I couldn’t hear anyone talking, 
hadn’t had a drink in 37 years, too old for sloppy,

and my friends were heading to the Good Dog Bar 
The Black Sheep Pub or the Harp and Crown – 
they couldn’t decide— so I said goodbye and walked away, 

calling it a night after 68 years of mostly good luck
and walked up Filbert toward Thirteenth where it passes 
beneath the Convention Center, the wind becoming fiercer 

and the snow faster and harder, white in the darkness. 
People hunched over as they walked, 
holding their collars close around their throats 

and I remembered going to the Flower Show 
at the Convention Center the day before 
where the air was heavy with jasmine and gardenia 

and I thought heaven if it’s anything at all 
must surely and entirely be warmth, scent and color.
I turned onto thirteenth street, a block-long tunnel

where people sleep on the sidewalk huddled in blankets 
and plastic sheets, hoodies hiding their faces, 
their hands neither black nor white but gray

with the dust of the city, a few zombie drug addicts
but mostly just people with nowhere to sleep 
except this dark cold cave their lives had become. 

A man with a puppy snuggling inside his coat 
glanced up, puzzled. People like me usually walk 
the long way around to avoid people like him
 
because we’re afraid to look deprivation
in the eye, resent admitting our own dumb luck,
but in my superior compassion, my arrogant morality 

as a vegan, a social warrior on many fronts, armed only 
with my thin belief in Good Orderly Direction, 
I decided to risk walking among the indigent

as if I were Mother Teresa and not just a tourist 
of misfortune. A car stopped. A white woman 
in jeans handed a Styrofoam box 

to a man hunkered and trembling on the sidewalk. 
He nodded thanks and the car moved to the next man 
and the next, each one receiving supper,

perhaps a Last Supper I thought wryly, immediately
ashamed of finding irony in compassion. 
The car came to a woman with two small girls, 

the mother dressed in rags but her children in pink parkas, 
the woman giving everything to her children, 
keeping nothing for herself, and the small family 

received the dole of fried chicken, mashed potatoes,
brown gravy, a dinner roll, a small heap of chopped greens 
and a delicate plastic fork, tines breaking off 

in their food. The car pulled up 
to the last man standing on the sidewalk, 
gray hoodie pulled back revealing a scarred face,

dreadlocks like a black halo. 
The social worker handed him his dinner 
and the man leaned over to kiss her cheek, 

a chaste thank you, an affectionate reward 
for her kindness, but the woman yanked 
her head back, avoiding his kiss 

and the two stood surprised, 
their faces a hand’s breadth apart, 
two travelers caught in a web, uncertain 

how to break loose from the other’s gaze. 


Copyright 2022 Michael Simms

Michael Simms is the founder and editor of Vox Populi. His recent books include a collection of poems Nightjar (Ragged Sky, 2021) and a novel Bicycles of the Gods: A Divine Comedy (Madville, 2022). He lives in Pittsburgh.

Many people live in underground tunnels in the Philadelphia area. This graffiti is from the Reading Viaduct. (Source: YouTube: Tucker Upper.)

36 comments on “Michael Simms: Brotherly Love

  1. abby
    April 18, 2022

    whew. thanks as always for your hard glittering truths, michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joan E. Bauer
    April 3, 2022

    So true! We don’t want to acknowledge our ‘dumb luck’ That is at the root of so much reckless disregard and hypocrisy. Yes, Michael, you nailed it. Thank you for this haunting and beautifully crafted poem.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 4, 2022

      Thank you so much, Joan, not just for this generous comment, but for all you do for poets and community.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. vengodalmare
    April 3, 2022

    Chills of vivid emotion.
    Congratulations on this wonderful poem.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Arlene Weiner
    April 2, 2022

    Thank you. Wonderful poem. I remember your “quotidian poem” prompt. It works–if the poet has the power of observation–and the heart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Yes, well I guess every poem is a journey. If not a physical one, then a spiritual or psychological one.

      Michael Simms https://www.michaelsimms.info

      Author of Nightjar Author of American Ash  Founder of Autumn House Press Editor of Vox Populi

      >

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Emily De Ferrari
    April 2, 2022

    Thanks Michael for this. For beautifully making us uncomfortable. That denied kiss is the flip side of Naomi Nye’s Gate A-4. Thanks again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thanks, Emily. I know Naomi’s poem, but I hadn’t thought of it as the flip side of mine. I’ll have to think about this pairing. Michael Simms https://www.michaelsimms.info

      Author of Nightjar Author of American Ash  Founder of Autumn House Press Editor of Vox Populi

      >

      Liked by 2 people

  6. melpacker
    April 2, 2022

    Thanks Michael, clearly one of your best.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. John Tieman
    April 2, 2022

    Years ago, I was chatting with a Catholic priest, my spiritual advisor. We spoke of the Berrigan brothers, and he asked, “Who are today’s prophets?” I said something vague, but I really didn’t have an answer for him then.

    But today – this poem – this is old school prophecy.

    jst

    Liked by 3 people

  8. loranneke
    April 2, 2022

    Oh the heartbreaking closure! and “Two young men walked toward me holding hands —
    the air was cold but the men were warmed by laughter” — —–and so much more. What a poem!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thank you, Laure-Anne. It’s so nice to see you back on these pages. We missed you! Michael Simms https://www.michaelsimms.info

      Author of Nightjar Author of American Ash  Founder of Autumn House Press Editor of Vox Populi

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Barbara Huntington
    April 2, 2022

    Wow! I was there. And felt the beauty and the cold and my privilege. Maybe someday I’ll get to play with the big kids and go to a conference. Thank you. ( the ending. Oh the ending)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Beth Peyton
    April 2, 2022

    You are at the height of your powers and outdid yourself with this one, Michael. Bravo.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thank you, Beth. Writing the poem required me to look at myself in ways that I’d never had to do before. Some of what I saw I didn’t like. Michael Simms https://www.michaelsimms.info

      Author of Nightjar Author of American Ash  Founder of Autumn House Press Editor of Vox Populi

      >

      Liked by 2 people

  11. rhoff1949
    April 2, 2022

    Michael, you nailed it! Absolutely gave me back my experience of those three days. Thank you. I found that all the complexity was drained from my experience every time somebody asked and I said, I had a great time, a great time. Thanks for restoring all that was slipping away.

    Bravo!

    R

    >

    Liked by 3 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thank you, Maestro. I admire your poems so much, your praise means a great deal to me. Michael Simms https://www.michaelsimms.info

      Author of Nightjar Author of American Ash  Founder of Autumn House Press Editor of Vox Populi

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Saleh Razzouk
    April 2, 2022

    Simms is back with this poem after a war he waged for Ukraine.
    The language and the humur are different. The passion is more thin and real since it touches on social and humane dilemma.
    A new one..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thank you, Saleh. America is a rich country, but the poor here live much like the poor in other countries, hungry and sleeping on sidewalks. There is no excuse for the way we treat the needy.

      Liked by 3 people

  13. Lois Losy
    April 2, 2022

    Thank you for sharing your experience in this wonderful poem. You brought me back to the city I grew up in and I felt like I was walking with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thank you, Lois. My experience in Philadelphia was enlightening. Great history and architecture there, but I was troubled by the many homeless.

      M. Michael Simms https://www.michaelsimms.info

      Author of Nightjar Author of American Ash  Founder of Autumn House Press Editor of Vox Populi

      >

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Ellen Foos
    April 2, 2022

    Wow, what a great takeaway, better than a tote bag for sure. And I love how you used the stolen kiss. Hope you read it at Mulberry Street.

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone Get Outlook for Android ________________________________

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Melanie Hedlund
    April 2, 2022

    I echo the other’s comments. You brought me to and through the tunnel, with all the often conflicting emotions of being human. Beautiful poem.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thanks, Melanie. It was a difficult poem to write because it made me face my own privilege, and the denial of that privilege.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Billy Clem
    April 2, 2022

    Excellent. That ending: damn.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. maryjanewhite
    April 2, 2022

    Thank you, Michael, for your poem, which took me there/

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      April 2, 2022

      Thanks, Mary Jane. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to get together. Your car broke down in Wisconsin?

      Liked by 2 people

  18. David Adès
    April 2, 2022

    Ripper poem, Michael! You take us right there and we are with you each step of the way, the images, the emotional responses, the self-judgment, all of it…

    Liked by 2 people

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