Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

The featured poet for the Open Mic in March 2018 was Tim Vivian.  Vivian is a professor of Philosophy & Religious studies.  He recently retired from being the Priest-in-Charge of an Episcopal Church in Bakersfield.

At Open Mic, Vivian recited a number of poems including “Light, and its Children:  A Midrash at Dusk on John I” and “Shimon Speaks from His Cross:  A Midrash on John 19:18.”  These poems are reprinted at the end of following interview with Vivian.

What is a Midrash?

A midrash (plural: midrashim) is a Jewish term for a reflection on a passage of scripture.

What interested you to write this type of poetry? 

My midrashim offer a Christian perspective on passages of scripture, mostly from the New Testament but some from the Hebrew Bible. Scripture is often story; a midrash is a retelling of a story, after reflection, offering a different perspective.

In the poem, “Light, and its Children,” the words in the 6th & 7th stanza beginning with “Holy silence . . . we dare listen to darkness” impressed me.  Could you expand on these words?

Light is a key part of every religion that I know. Both light and darkness and their meanings go back to primeval times: the deep darkness of night with its fears and yet its rest, and the wonderful new light of the sun in spring, the light each day. John’s Gospel says that Christ is the light who has entered the world and the darkness has overcome it. It takes courage to confront the dark; the parents of the children in the poem refuse to do so.


From “Shimon Speaks from His Cross,” could you tell us more about Maccabeus and possibly why Jesus would have it tattooed?

The tattoo belongs to Shimon. Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish freedom fighter some 200 years before Jesus (and the imagined Shimon). I have no idea if Jews of that time sported tattoos, but I gave Shimon one because he stands in solidarity with the Maccabees against Roman imperialism and occupation. The two others on crosses are lestai, not thieves but bandits; banditry was a form of social protest—and traitorous to the Roman and priestly oppressors. Who are our oppressors now?

How did you become interested writing poetry?

I began writing as a teen, imitating the lyrics of some big rock groups at the time like the Byrds.

What was it like to share your poems in front of an audience?

First time! Since I’m a college professor,  I was mostly used to being in front of people. But poems are much more personal than the classroom, so I was a bit nervous.

Do you have a practice in writing?  such as designate a specific time of day, write as a discipline, or write spontaneously?

I’m very disciplined. I’m now semi-retired at CSUB, teaching two classes in the morning, and I’ve retired as a parish priest, so I devote my afternoons to silence, reading, gardening, and writing. After I finish my school prep and other reading (I daily read fiction, mostly novels), I turn to poetry, reading essays about poems, biographies of poets and, of course, poems themselves. This is also my writing time. Almost all my poems come spontaneously, usually the first line, and I take it from there.

Is there anything else you wish to share with the poetry community?

I think it’s great that we have interest in poetry (and song) in Bakersfield. Poetry, like fiction, opens up vistas, and deep valleys within, for us to explore. Thank you for your efforts.


Light, and its Children:

A Midrash at Dusk on John 1

by Tim Vivian


“ The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not

overcome it.”

—John 1:5


The memory of light is

light. Even the light

in trees no longer here.


In their absence darkness

grows, like new growth

on a dying branch. In


solitude, birds are silent.

Decaying light from

dying branches of palm


trees offer annunciation,

even resurrection. Their

silence brings us renewal.


What measurements do

we here have to offer?

Yet superannuated


light—dare we name

it miracle?—is light.

Holy silence pervades


the opportunities we

have if we dare listen

to darkness, the children


she bears when we are

in defeat. Light once

overcame its darkness.



children heard the good

news, they clapped and

sang, danced, and told


the empty air to boldly

ring the church’s bells.

When their parents hear


these acclimations,

they lock their doors

and close each shutter.




Shimon Speaks from His Cross:

     A Midrash on John 19:18

by Tim Vivian


There they crucified him,

and with him two others,

one on either side, and

Jesus between them.


He probably didn’t see me

die, twisted as he was, north,

as if trying to see Jerusalem.


I wondered what he could see.

He was being executed like

any ordinary bandit, like me.


I had wondered why they had

left the middle post free, with

me and Judas on each side.


Maccabeus: I saw it tattooed

on his wrist, not in Aramaic

but in Hebrew, the language


God spoke when he brought

everything into being, even

these crosses we lived on.


When they brought him, like

us, carrying that crossbeam

across his shoulders, he had


a crowd. I had no one. His

followers were all women.

I didn’t understand that—


at least at first. When I did,

I was so far gone that it

looked to me like the sour


wine someone had given him

had mixed with his blood and

was running into the women’s



*     *     *

“Shimon” is “Simon”; “Judas”

was a very common name in

Jesus’ day. The Judas of the

poem is named after Judas

Maccabeus, leader of the

Maccabees, Jewish freedom

fighters 200 years earlier.




One of the musicians, Brandon Todd, was interviewed about the creative process in writing a song.

What was the name of the song?

The name of the song that I wrote, played, and sang was called “Love Song.” It was originally about a girl I was starting to “fall in love” with in my early high school days (long term). The only difference is (especially from other typical love songs) is that I am questioning on it because I’m very cautious and don’t want to hurt her or me. Because to me, it had to be “Love,” and not REAL LOVE because of the age I was. There was no way to me that I found REAL LOVE that quickly in my years of living. Hence, the name “Love Song,” with quotes on it. Later on in my senior year, I noticed that it could also pretty much mean anything other than girl/boy love. It could be a dream, family, etc.


What influenced you to write songs?

I started mostly in my sophmore year of high school. It was after that first part of the year when I got an electric guitar for my birthday. Then I started playing and practicing, soon joining a guitar club. Then I met a friend who seemed interested in writing and playing songs (later on he moved, I also didn’t think I’d be doing much with my writing, in my young mind thinking of it as just for fun). During all of that, I found out I was capable of singing during a guitar club session. My writing, playing, and singing only grew from there. My main influence was Green Day (my FAVORITE), but all this mainly played out in my life.


What was it like to play at Dagny’s Coffee?

It was interesting for me. It wasn’t much different from performing that song in a classroom my senior year.



Another thoughtful and entertaining evening at Dagny’s Coffee Open Mic.