“Advice to a New Postdoc” by John Nimmo

John Nimmo


From Bozeman airport they’ll take you
to the spill site, the one in your thesis. Expect
a long ride. The road turns to dirt;

the van will stop where a closed gate
blocks the road. The latch is one of those
that cowboys have cobbled together

with ever-increasing complexity since 1873
when barbed wire was invented:
an ungodly arrangement of levers, slots,

sliding bars, wire loops, and holes carved
in the wooden post. Jim and Al in back
will be busy wiring data-loggers.

They’ll glance at the gate, then at you.
Hop out. Walk slowly
while you note the hinges and the slope

of the ground. See if the gate swings only
one way and what the way is. Look
for the bar-in-slot or peg-in-loop or

hook-in-eye, or whatever
actually holds the gate closed. Find
what has to move first. Don’t fiddle, figure it out.

Pause if you need to. Remember prelims?
Prof asks a question, it’s OK to think a minute
before you answer, even get extra points

for the right look on your face. When
you’re sure or pretty sure, slide the bar,
pull the peg, lift the rod, turn the knob, whatever

it takes until the gate swings free. Stand by
as he drives through. Don’t smile. Nod
briefly, if you want. Close it, latch it.

Climb back in. Say nothing. Don’t smile.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015
Tribute to Scientists


John Nimmo: “I’m a scientist, specializing in the physics of environmental systems. And I’m a poet who loves using words to confront the material and immaterial, or what is obvious with what is self-contradictory. Most of the time I’m in Menlo Park, California, where I live with my wife Elsa. Sometimes I conduct field experiments in exotic tropical or desert locations, or, more frequently, at major hazardous waste sites. In poetry and in scientific research, there is always more to write about or to investigate, and no reason why the results of the creative effort cannot surpass the heights achieved before. These two realms relate in ways that are asymmetric but wonderfully strange and complementary. Experiencing poetry leads me to pursue the unexpected, recognize and nurture multiple levels of meaning, and expand mentally by grappling with divergent modes of reasoning—poetry makes me a better scientist.” (web)

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