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?
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
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
Mountainsides block the upper windows
snowdrifts block the lower ones and
the door and
all there is
* * *
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
* * *
After E. E. Cummings, Who Capitalized His Name
O Sweet Creativity
Mystic Mine and Lodestone of Wild Cunning
twisted thy arm and
cast thee to thy knees
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
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. . . .
ever in bed with Death
in the Ecstasy of IS
answered them all
and the gods
with the horn
Teacup and Heirloom
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.
bone china, chipped. twice.
three times. hung too high to reach
on a treasure hook
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.
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,
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.
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.