"Snow Falling in the Lane," by Edvard Munch

Reverence For Relationships: Poems About The Self, The Community, & The Other

As humans, we are relational beings. Most obviously, we develop and rely on relationships with others (e.g., family, friends, or work associates), creating a sense of community. Less obvious are the relationships we create with ourselves, with activities we do that give us purpose, and with nature. The following poetry collection touches on a variety of impactful relationships between an individual and the self; parents, grandparents, and cherished things; community during a crisis; tribal/clan culture; and God and nature. Who are we if not a compilation of who and what we choose to surround ourselves with?

Sudden Storm

Sometimes there’s being and sometimes there’s Being

There is alive and then there is Alive

just as there is yourself and then your Self

* * *

                   Sometimes it’s just yourself

                   and being alive

                   the burpling spa the only sound

                   a whitenoise noiseless sound

                   Your world inside’s a wasteland contained

                   an ocean of desert tiled and chlorined

                   beyond the clear roof a chromium sky

                   You found the buttons to push and

                   the electricity works and

                   the jacuzzi works and

                   you’re grateful they work and

                   you soak your bones a desperate while and

                   glisten as you get out

                   grateful for being

                   and being alive

* * *

                                      After you emerge from the changing room

                                      you call and then shout and

                                      no one is there

                                      the staff has gone and

                                      you’d known already

                                      you were the only guest but

                                      you’re grateful you got to the inn

                                      in time

                                      There’s a note at the desk with your name on it

                                      that says they filled the fridge in your room

                                      You go have a look and

                                      the room is pristine and

                                      the fridge is full

                                      enough.

                                      Mountainsides block the upper windows

                                      snowdrifts block the lower ones and

                                      the door and

                                      all there is

                                      is being

                                      being alive

                                      and you

* * *

                                                         You’re done nibbling and

                                                         your digestive burpling’s the only sound

                                                         a whitenoise noiseless sound

                                                         until you crinkle the wrappers and toss them

                                                         and wipe down the dresser of crumbs

                                                         Later the brrringgg of a phone will jar

                                                         an icicle will plop and break

                                                         a door will unlatch

                                                         a radio get a signal and

                                                         the distant vroom of a motor elate and

                                                         you’ll no doubt report what you’ve experienced

                                                         like all the times you’ve lived and learned to Love

                                                         but

                                                         right now

                                                         it’s just

* * *

You

                   your Self

                                      and Being

                                                         Alive

“Still Life. Centrifugal Expansion of Colors.” by Gino Severini

After E. E. Cummings, Who Capitalized His Name

O Sweet Creativity

          Mystic Mine and Lodestone of Wild Cunning

     how many

have

     twisted thy arm and

          cast thee to thy knees

     how many

have slighted thy teeming earnestness

          to bestow ribbons, medals and funds

               on adventitious impostors

     how many have

fawned on thee with smiles only

          to pierce thee fatally

               when thou art turned in throes

or

     declined with the honeyed

          Why not try something like this

               (instead of that)

or stood up one week crazed only

          to sit there

               half asleep the next

or thralled compelled to turn thy page only

               to stay later silent when noise

                    was called for

or glanced at the splendor

          hanging in your frame, or

               standing on your pedestal, only

                    to walk on elsewhere

                         as if you never were. . . .

But You,

     ever in bed with Death

          and Might

               in the Ecstasy of IS

have

     answered them all

          and the gods

               only

                    with the horn

                         of ever

                              More!

“The Family Heirloom,” by Helene Schjerfbeck

Teacup and Heirloom

Teacup

On the day it got its first small chip

I didn’t have the heart to toss

it out, so, to protect my lip

from another prick I started to sip

from the other side of the rim, no foul, no loss.

But when additional faults set in,

a second nick, a longer crack,

I’d pick some sturdier specimen.

Respecting, though, what it had been

I set the rose-fired bone-ware cup in back

and didn’t really miss it much

till now, for Rose has given me

the rest of the set plus this glass hutch

to place, like a memory,

behind glass, but in the front, for us to see.

Heirloom

bone china, chipped. twice.

three times. hung too high to reach

on a treasure hook

“Figurine for Ravel’s Bolero Antonia Merce, ‘La Argentina,'” by Carlos Saenz de Tejada

American Beauty

In Buenos Aires, I went for a stroll
in a residential neighborhood where well-
dressed, well-coiffed women and trim, natty men
with briefcases left in the morning from
homes with dirt floors. Their local currency
had just plummeted, savings suddenly drained,
and everyone was out of work, and looking—
but had I not inquired I wouldn’t have known.
All that I saw was that they were good looking
and getting on with it; that loss, or night,
like storms, gives us the opportunity
to become so much more than who we are,
or what we were, or do, or did once, quite;
and passers-by susceptible to sight
and sensitive to iridescence, might
perceive and blink at the rebirth of Beauty
in what we are about to do, before
a storm has cleared, hurt healed, loss been restored,
as in that bustling hour of Buenos Aires
in the random residential neighborhood
where I went for my early morning stroll
to see a world, then waking, getting on,
in one breathtaking beat, right before dawn.

“Untitled (Flame and Mirror),” by Antoni Tapies

Anger & The Status Quo

We hear a scream, soprano, in the distance.

Is it from your family, or clan, or mine?

At last the screaming quiets down. She’s fine.

But then the voice returns—with an insistence,

this time.

                   Neither family arrives

in time to help, nor do we find out who
was in the area, to interview.

Her cries remain anonymous as lives
unlived, then, though her snuffed spark stokes the flame
in back where we have left a pot which boils
long over-brimmed with history, on coils
long over-greased and ready to catch fire.

We vow that we shall turn the burner higher

(This is much easier than to inquire
what happened, or find out the woman’s name,
or that of her attackers. There’s no blame
if no one knows.)

                                then stir the pot of bile

and set the burner low

                                          as if we knew

were we to care, respond, rise up and do,
we’d all be burned to cinders, in a while.

“Winding Brook,” by Egon Schiele

Nature Walk

They brandish their pronouncements like cold swords.
My arms are air and water, glen and brook.
They castigate in King James English words
they’ve honed and, meeting me and sensing harm,
unsheathe, neglecting Nature’s rounding arm.
I take them for a walk and let them look.

Sometimes a flick of water rusts their blade.
Sometimes the heated air turns swords to flames.
I sprinkle, pointing out a bush, a glade,
a learned tree, a high supportive rock,
a heron. Most times nature walks don’t work
at all. I take them for the other times.


James B. Nicola’s poetry and prose have appeared in the Antioch, Southwest, Green Mountains, and Atlanta Reviews; Rattle; Barrow Street; Tar River; and Poetry East, garnering two Willow Review awards, a Dana Literary award, and six Pushcart nominations. His full-length collections are Manhattan Plaza (2014), Stage to Page (2016), Wind in the Cave (2017), Out of Nothing: Poems of Art and Artists (2018) and Quickening: Poems from Before and Beyond (2019). His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. A Yale grad, he currently hosts the Hell’s Kitchen International Writers’ Roundtable at Manhattan’s Columbus Library: walk-ins welcome.

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