Poet Aaron Simon, photographed by Kevin Killian October 30, 2011

I met the San Francisco-based poet Aaron Simon around Halloween 2011, when our hands touched, both of us reaching for an old book, at “Scanners,” the pop-up bookstore art project of the artists and bookmen Matt Borruso and Nick Hoff on Valencia Street, in the Mission district.  This shop resembled an actual bookstore, perhaps one arranged with more care and with much more fantastic merchandise than your average used bookstore, but it was actually open for only a month and it was in an art gallery, and when Aaron and I came to blows, it was the closing night of the exhibition.  He was a powerfully built young man with scruff and a mop of dark curls, his arms, what I could see of them, covered with colorful tattoos that just gave me this Burning Man feeling.  We were both grabbing for “A Sun Cab,” by James Schuyler.  I had never seen the book before, nor even knew it existed, and there it was, for something like $80, and you know what, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it!  Thoughts of Schuyler obediently autographing an armful of his books each time I met him filled my mind, and now he wasn’t around to sign this one.  I think I’m one of those who just likes signed books only!  And eighty dollars?  Oh I don’t know, it was time to pay the rent and I guess that was weighing on me.  I lifted my hand in surrender and let the young man have it, but maybe he was having second thoughts too?  Fairfield Porter did the cover and some of the drawings—oh dear, and it was covered in acetate the way everything published in the 1970s should be.

We started talking and, well, who else but a poet would have been grabbing for “A Sun Cab” in the first place?  He was new to San Francisco from New York, where he had studied at the New School and privately with the New York school mainstay Larry Fagin, and and published the chapbooks “Carrier” and “Periodical Days.”  We talked awhile,  then parted; the bookstore grew hot and crowded with poets and artists and bargainhunters looking for last minute price slashes.  To our total surprise, the hard decision about “A Sun Cab” evaporated when long, lanky pop star Thurston Moore in person plucked it out from under us and tossed it atop of sizeable pile of poetry books, zines, ephemera, sheet music which he had laid aside for himself up at the counter.  Of all the lucky dogs!  Aaron Simon, born in Greensboro, North Carolina, left home at 17, spent some time at Naropa before moving to New York in 2001, hectic times, meeting Fagin and dropping some of the pseudo-Olson Black Mountainese he’d been trying to pull off at Boulder.  The New York school style seemed strangely to fit him like a glove.  I urge you to seek out the poem he wrote on Paul Violi’s death.... 

 I would see him from time to time at readings and then, thanks to Facebook, I began to get a bigger sense of what his life was like.  He and his girlfriend Katy lived nearby, on Elgin Park, the little street tucked behind It’s Tops, the street I remember on which poet Ronald Johnson lived before his final retreat to Kansas.  Everything seemed copacetic with Aaron, though I wasn’t seeing much of his poetry.  And then one day this past winter it all came shrieking to a halt when he was hit by a car and pretty much flattened, here in San Francisco.  Hear the screeching brakes Shadow Morton gave the Shangri-La’s in “Leader of the Pack.”  I felt so helpless, what could I do?  In school they all stop and stare, I can’t hide the tears, but I don’t care.  February 2014, a car making an illegal U-Turn on Mission Street knocked him off his motorcycle and onto the pavement, where he lay, dazed and broken, till the ambulance pulled up.  “Below my left knee, my leg was turned inward, like a perfect right angle.  I'd learn later this was an 'open' fracture, meaning the sheer force of the impact caused the broken bones to rip through the skin. Sports fans may recognize this gruesome injury as the same one sustained by the young Kevin Ware of Louisville in the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.”  His shoulder was also broken but it’s been the leg that’s laid him up.

Leg like a battlefield, courtesy Aaron Simon.

For months, immobilized after surgery, confined to bed, he couldn’t get from room to room, he couldn’t bathe himself, like a toddler he had to be taken to the bathroom.  But the writing soon came back, and I’ve been happy to watch these new poems take shape.  At first I wondered if and how much his trauma was working its way into the writing.  The writing seemed suffused, choked, totally alone and motionless, as though the world continuing around him baffled and hurt him.  I accused him of being whiny, I was a total pain in the ass, a nag.  More weeks went by and Aaron’s on crutches now.  He and Katy came to a reading the other night, a block or two from their apartment.  A new chapbook, “Senses Himself,” appears this fall from Green Zone.  Here’s a recent poem—I should explain that the day he was hit he was meeting poet Bill Berkson, also of San Francisco, for lunch, but never got there.  Well, hasn’t yet but it’ll happen I can tell.



for Bill Berkson


1.  I left early to get a table.

Instead I ate dirt.


2.  I'm not late, I'm lying

naked in the street.


3. Recall the heart witness

tyrannical purple sky.


4. The principal feeling:

The sky is straining to pee.


5.  O Fates! O Body!

Rude sirens cause a scene.


6.  Lightning gown.

When I resurface I'll breathe.


7.  Olive oil. Alum?

I smell wood-smoke. Or wool.


8. Red light distracted

I sleep, you dream.


9.  O memory! You're here,

with license to grow roots!


10.  Paragons, baize

night birds, heat.


11. Where was I? The dawn

air inside a basket.


12. Plan of circumstance

sidelined by a tree.


13. Outside the Palace,

with a bottle and a snack.


14.  Forces collide. It happens.

I'll feel better once I eat.

Originally Published: April 22nd, 2014

Poet, novelist, playwright, art critic, and scholar Kevin Killian earned a BA at Fordham University and an MA at SUNY-Stony Brook. Exploring themes of risk, iconography, invisibility, and vulnerability, Killian weaves fragments of misremembered conversation, sex, and cultural ephemera into his collage-based poems. In a 2009 interview with Tony Leuzzi...