I found this poem while going through the used Poetry section at Pegasus Books and finding the anthology City of Buds & Flowers: A Poet’s Eye View of Berkeley. The first thing that caught my eye was that it was a collection of City poems, the second thing was its editor, John Oliver Simon—a great teacher of poetry, fine poet & translator, and true gentleman.
Simon’s anthology speaks to all of Berkeley’s complexities by drawing a group of poets whose work speaks of their citizenry giving us more than just the standard hippie-go-lucky take. Of course, you will find hippie poetry here, written by proud card carrying hippies, as well as poems from the lower sections of San Pablo Avenue and other less touristy corners.
This book also gave me a chance to read some Berkeley poems from Telegraph Avenue’s own Julia Vinograd aka the Bubblelady (Vinograd’s bio in City of Buds & Flowers mentions that she is known as the Bubblelady but no one calls her that to her face). Vinograd’s contributions to the collection are great, a true reflection of what Berkeley means to those who remember why People’s Park came to be, the sense of responsibility that was an answer to frustration and how that responsibility to an ideal, an artform, a place never has to fade.
I warm my hands
where the rocks are thrown,
where religion whirls at the feet of unruly crowds,
where minds melt down a face without the compass of tears,
because my hands are cold.
My pulse beats slowly so I drink the beating drums.
I have no nerves in myself, but the flute, the heckler, the siren
supply me. I follow a skinny smack-dealing girl
in a mink coat and bare feet,
and I follow a Jesus freak lady,
tall, white-haired, aristocrat born in Russia
as I would come to fire,
for my eyes see only in the light of the fire.
I refuse what they offer
and take the fire instead.
I am the golem of Berkeley
and Berkeley carved its name upon me,
but it doesn’t always work.
And then the city sinks under older cities
and finally the ocean where I swim among the sharks
and the ruins of Atlantis, until I change again.