First Edition | Poetry

“First Edition” features original works by Northern California Jewish writers. In the first issue of each month, j. publishes a poem and an excerpt from a piece of new fiction.

Works may be submitted to or Fiction excerpts may run to 2,500 words, but only 800 words will appear in the print edition, with the rest appearing online.

Tesla Rose 25 Months: Four Questions

by john oliver simon

You’re not quite old enough to ask the Questions,

ma nishtanah ha-layla ha-zeh — we try

repeat after me, but you’re not playing that

game — and as for the son, the Haggadah says,

who does not know how to ask, you should yourself

open up to him, though conscientiously

we change son to child and fathers to mothers,

if you believe it was the fathers baking

challah in the night kitchen when the Holy

and Blessed Someone sent fire-winged angels

to say leave the yeast out of the recipe

and get out of Dodge before ten drops of wine

turn into rivers of blood: Ebola, AIDS,

scabies, potato blight, gentrification

and the mortality of little children,

I’ve got a bridge across the Nile to sell you.

So the red sea of blood parted like a comb

and the children of Israel wriggled away,

but you’re just one-eighth Jewish on the wrong side,

not from the husband but the secret doctor,

your blonde grin which brightens up the universe

would gladden the eye of Leni Reifenstahl,

and Muslims are the new Jews — now the phone rings

but I keep writing — so the holiday is

problematic, it raises questions, where was

Moses when the lights went out? Who cut the cheese?

And Elijah, if he came in through our door,

would have to find a seat in your old high chair.

So we drink sweet wine with blessings and we read

what we like from the text between distractions

because it says in every generation

a woman (not to put too fine a point on it)

must see herself as if she personally

had come out of Egypt. And who knows what they’ll

call your generation: Finnegan, Coco,

Hazel Rose, Tesla Rose, those who’ll be twenty-

something in the twenties, a new jazz age,

Zelda, Scott and Babe Ruth all over again?

Next year, which will not be in Jerusalem,

you will know enough to ask the Four Questions.


John Oliver Simon is a poet and translator published from Abraxas to Zyzzyva. His three fathers (ostensible, biological and step), all of the first generation of Jews to attend Ivy League colleges, as well as his blonde goddess shiksa communist mother, descendant of the owner of the largest whorehouse on the Barbary Coast, would be surprised to learn that their one-eighth Jewish great-granddaughter can sing the prayers in Hebrew.