One thing I love about the Outer Cape is how, more often than not, the person working at the grocery store, gas station, library, restaurant, hardware store, or coffee shop is also an artist. By “artist,” I mean anyone who finds joy in creating, who cares about painting, music, poetry, sculpture, or macramé. In a small town, we have a better chance to get to know those other sides of the people around us.
Sim Fidel is one such person. Since Sim moved to Provincetown in the 1990s, he has worked at the Old Reliable Fish House, Rick’s, Blue Door Music, Café Heaven, the Martin House, Strangeways, Now Voyager, Angel Foods, and Joe Coffee (where he was, for many years, not only barista but DJ). In all these places, he created community, fostering a creative, engaged space for fellow workers and customers alike.
Sim’s story of arrival resembles many from those days. He first came with a friend from Boston, planning to stay the summer. When they found a year-round apartment for $450 a month (not a typo!), the friend stayed full-time and Sim shuttled back and forth. A few years later, he moved here full-time. For decades, he was one of the town’s unofficial mayors, keeping tabs on the goings-on, linking newcomers and old salts.
I was lucky enough to meet Sim when I washed ashore in the late ’90s. He was a friend-of-a- friend, and we worked together at the Martin House restaurant, where he waited tables and I (briefly) bussed. There, Sim invented a writing game to pass the time, one I still use when teaching poetry: the psy-ku.
Most readers know what a haiku is, at least in the rudimentary sense: a three-line poem with lines of five, seven, and five syllables. The psy-ku asks writers to create syllabic lines without knowing what comes before or after. It’s a game of craft and chance — and it works. The poems often reveal shockingly wonderful connections and surprising metaphors.
Sim remembers passing waitstaff on the restaurant floor, making eye contact, tapping fingers to count syllables, scrawling a line on paper kept in the kitchen. After closing, the whole staff would read the finished poems over shift drinks. The psy-ku is not Sim’s only word game invention — there were also the “dot-dot” poems, and others. I have many fond memories of conversations with Sim that involved word games or discussions of books, movies, and music.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect person to ask to write a Mad Libs poem. I sent Sim some poems for inspiration and got back his response, based on Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks,” within a day. (Read the original at poets.org/poem/ode-my-socks.)
We met a few days later in New Bedford, where Sim now lives, and I asked him why he chose Neruda’s poem. He said when he skipped to the poem’s final lines — “when it is a matter of two socks/ made of wool/ in winter” — he thought, “Oh, that’s beautiful,” and he was all in. As he wrote his Mad Libs poem, time passed magically. He began in the morning — and suddenly it was afternoon.
What delighted Sim most in working on “Ode to My Drink” was the moment when he suddenly felt the poem was going somewhere. When it wasn’t just words but ideas, connections, and a real story. His poem started as a mechanical process, a game. But when he found the line “with her bartender’s hands,” a world was born. The idea of alcohol and regret surfaced, and the poem became meaningful, resonant, redolent.
What more could one wish from a poem than to be lost in its making? To discover a sense or feeling within yourself as yet unexpressed?